Born in late 11th century York, William entered the church. Initially holding the prebendary of Weighton, he was later appointed canon treasurer of York Minster and archdeacon of the East Riding. He accompanied Thurstan of York on embassies to Rome in the dispute with Thurstan of Canterbury about the primacy of the former’s independence, which was upheld in 1127. In 1141, William was elected to the see of York, although this was contentious, following two previous unsuccessful elections of other candidates. His election as not supported by the archdeacons of York, or the Cistercian monasteries of Yorkshire. He was also accused of simony, being consecrated after the proof of his innocence in 1143 .
However, William’s troubles continued past his election. Four years later, he was removed from office by the Pope, and replaced with Henry Murdac, abbot of Fountains. This action was supported by Bernard of Clairvaux, and was symptomatic of continued political tension within the church. This was unpopular with the people of York, especially given their appreciation for the teaching and example of William: they even refused to allow his replacement to enter the city!
In humility, William accepted the decision of the Pope, leaving for Sicily. After this, he returned to Winchester, a city he knew, and lived an austere life in the monastic tradition. However, in 1153 both Murdac and the Pope died, and William was asked to return to York to resume his See. In contrast to the cool welcome received by Murdac, the people of York and the surrounding areas flocked to welcome William back to his native city. At his solemn entry across the Ouse bridge, the bridge collapsed under the weight of the crowds – but miraculously, nobody was harmed. William’s earthly reward was short-lived, however, and he fell ill after celebrating the Eucharist in the minster the next year. Many suspected that he had been poisoned by a fellow priest, although the case remained unresolved. William’s cult quickly developed, with the sweet smell of sanctity surrounding his tomb in the minster, which was found to contain his uncorrupted body. He was canonized in the first half of the thirteenth century by Honorius IIII, and his restored shrine even today stands below the high altar at York Minster, where his rediscovered relics can be venerated. William shows us that a life lived in quiet and humble submission to God’s will, even if it might make us seem weak, and to give us a life without peace, eventually unites us with God forever. William is the patron of our City, and we ask his intercession particularly for the City of York, and our mission within it.