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St. William

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Death: ~1070

William, an English priest who had come to Denmark to evangelize the country, became bishop of Roskilde in 1044. Denmark was then ruled by the nominally Catholic king, Sweyn Estridsen. When on a certain New Year's Eve drunken revelers at a royal banquet had made insulting comments about the king, the monarch sent his guards after the offenders to slay them as they were attending the late night office of Matins at a nearby church. The next morning, as King Sweyn approached the same church to attend Mass, he was confronted at the door by Bishop William, attired in his episcopal vestments. William barred the way with his crosier, telling the king, "Stand back, executioner!" The king's courtiers drew their swords, ready to strike down the bishop, but he stood his ground and offered his neck, declaring himself ready to die in defense of the Church. The king turned and retreated in shame. Later, he came back to the church, barefooted and divested of his royal robes, to express his deep contrition. William went to greet him and gave him absolution for his crime. For the rest of their lives, the two remained close friends.


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