After having generously donated, William of Orange was received at the abbey of Gellone by his friend Benedict of Aniane, former military officer like him, and finally settled there living a monastic life, having known a rather tormented existence as a layman, that of a famous warrior.
After he passed away in 812 the abbey became a very famous place of pilgrimage, due to the renown of its benefactor and was an obligatory stopping place on the way to Santiago de Compostela. At the same time, the Via Tolosana, an ancient sheep migration track, was seeing a parade of pilgrims. The chemin de St Guilhem, which came from Aubrac by the north, was also becoming busy and well known, and in addition to the pilgrims, was attracting merchants and mule drivers. The Romieux also took this road on their pilgrimage to Rome, joining up with the Via Tolosana from the north.
The legend of William, who became Saint Guilhem after his sanctification, has been relayed to us through an animated song which minstrels have spread over time in the lands of the “Oïl” language.
The mother of this Franc warrior was the beautiful Aude, daughter of Charles Martel and sister of Pépin. He was named count of Toulouse by the emperor Charlemagne, his cousin. His warrior name, “Fièrebrace”, boasted the legendary strength of his sword strokes. Following this he became the count of Aquitaine and waged war all across the kingdom of Louis the Pious.
It was while taking the town of Orange by a ruse, that he discovered among the Sarrasins the beautiful Oriabel, daughter of the defeated lord. His love for her gave much materiel for minstrels and poets, since it was as passionate as it was lasting. On the death of his wife, who had become the christian countess Guibourc, he entered the abbey of Gellone where he was to spend the rest of his life.
In his luggage he brought the Catechism, said to be of Gellone, and a piece of the holy cross which Charlemagne would have given to him. These relics represented an essential element for the pilgrims, things with miraculous powers. In these times, it was difficult to heal the body or the soul with medicine, apart from in these holy places.
Around the year one thousand, the abbey was at its maximum frequentation. Then, with Hundred Year’s war and the great plague, the roads became much less secure and the flow of pilgrims in the kingdom dwindled little by little.