Byrgenwerth is a former building for higher education. It is accessible after fighting the Shadow of Yharnam, and lies on the shore of Moonside Lake. Master Willem sits comatose on a balcony overseeing the lake.
Byrgenwerth is an old place of learning. Once, a group of young Byrgenwerth scholars discovered a holy medium deep within the tomb of the gods, carved out below Yharnam. This led to the founding of the Healing Church, and the establishment of blood healing. In this sense, everything sacred in Yharnam can be traced back to Byrgenwerth. Everything begins at Byrgenwerth. An old institution of learning, Byrgenwerth was built in a peaceful, secluded area away from the neighboring city and close to a Great Lake. It is here that a group of individuals studied and explored the depths of human knowledge. Byrgenwerth is where the Great Ones were studied, though in practice this seems mainly to have been a study of how to make contact with them. Among the scholars were Provost (later Master) Willem and Laurence, and given that the first hunter Gehrman knows both it's likely he, too, began here. Willem's motto was simple: “Fear the old blood.” He wished to probe the secrets of the cosmos, but intuited the dangers of transfusing oneself with the blood of gods. Laurence disagreed and, in what Willem termed a betrayal, left Byrgenwerth to found the Healing Church.
There were many students at Byrgenwerth, as evidenced by the great size of the Lecture Building found in the Nightmare. There were, however certain individuals of note other than the students, figures of importance who formed the inner circle so to speak. While not all of them were scholars, for the purpose of this analysis I refer to this group of men as The Byrgenwerth Scholars, or The Scholars for short.
Master Willem was the head of the academy and a highly respected figure. All characters who refer to Willem specifically refer to Master Willem, indicating a deep respect for the figure even if they had differences in beliefs. There is also a reference found on the Rune Workshop Tool which refers to him as Provost Willem. A Provost is an administrator of an academic facility which supports placing Willem as the head of the academy and the leading figure. Master Willem's primary focus of study concerned the limits of human intelligence.
Laurence is a much more enigmatic figure, especially for a character so important. From the Beast skull in the Grand Cathedral, the player witnesses a memory of an encounter between Laurence and Willem, in which Willem accuses the younger Laurence of betraying him. A note left on the Cathedral staircase reads: Place your hand on the altar's sacred covering, and inscribe Master Laurence's adage upon your flesh. That Laurence would be revered so highly infers that he must have been a very significant figure in the Healing Church. It is well documented that the Healing Church has its roots in Byrgenwerth College. The Byrgenwerth Student Uniform states: The Healing Church has its roots in Byrgenwerth, and naturally borrows heavily from its uniform design. The focus not on knowledge. or thought. but on pure pretension would surely bring Master Willem to despair, if only he knew." As Laurence was revered highly by the Healing Church and betrayed Master Willem, this leads credence to the theory that Laurence was in fact one of the Church's founders, splitting from Byrgenwerth in an event that I will later describe as The Schism.
Caryll was a genius runesmith who, through unknown methods, could listen to the scratchings and utterings of the Great Ones. While he could not understand the inhuman words they spoke, he managed to etch them into visual symbols that could be identified. The Rune Workshop Tool gives more insight - Caryll "transcribed the inhuman utterings of the Great Ones into what are now called Caryll Runes".
There are two other individuals may have been members of The Scholars: Gehrman and Rom. Gehrman was most assuredly an acquaintance of both Laurence and Willem. After Rom, the Vacuous Spider, is defeated, you find Gehrman whimpering in his sleep. "Oh, Laurence… Master Willem… Somebody help me… " Gehrman is also, as we know, the first Hunter. He founded the Workshop, located in a hidden section of the Upper Cathedral Ward, and presumably worked with the Church in its infancy. Gehrman may have been a student or scholar, or judging from his combat proficiency may have been a bodyguard for Tomb Excavations or a Handyman for the college at large.
Rom, as he is encountered, is a large Great One who is found at the bottom of the Moonside Lake of Byrgenwerth. Rom's title is that of the Vacuous Spider, and he is shown to be a very relatively weak Great One. Rom's only real strength comes from the Spider Kin he can spawn to defend him, other than that he is barely capable of defending himself either through carelessly hurling shards of energy, or thrashing wildly. When you encounter Rom, it serves as the turning point from simply hunting Beasts to a sudden understanding that you have barely scratched the surface of a much darker truth. But Rom is not a fully developed Great One. Micolash, in his communing with the cosmos, mutters: "As you once did for the vacuous Rom, grant us eyes, grant us eyes. Plant eyes on our brains, to cleanse our beastly idiocy." Rom was not always a Great One. Eyes planted on his brain to cleanse his idiocy, Rom ascended to become one. Vacuous is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as: Having or showing a lack of thought or intelligence; mindless. The word comes from the Latin 'vacuus' meaning empty, along with the suffix -ous, meaning by the nature of.
Rom may have been an unintelligent man, a peasant or even a simpleton. He may have been a scholar or student that was apathetic about his studies or simply thoughtless in his nature of the world. Or, it's possible that Micolash simply hurls the term vacuous at him as an insult, with a bitter jealousy. We can see, however, that Rom's dominion in the Moonside Lake is utterly empty. Vacuous not only defines Rom himself, but also his empty, lacking home at the bottom of the lake.
Now have a look at The Scholars as a collective unit, having explored each one individually. Willem, Laurence, Micolash, Gehrman, Rom, and Carryl were individuals at the Byrgenwerth College, an institution dedicated to the furthering of knowledge and the exploration of the massive Labyrinth built underground. It was in this Labyrinth that the scholars made the discovery that put every event in Bloodborne into motion. Indeed, the entire history of Bloodborne can be traced to a single defining moment, in which The Scholars discovered something deep inside the ancient Pthumerian Crypts. The Executioner Alfred muses that Once a group of young Byrgenwerth scholars discovered a holy medium deep within the tomb. This led to the founding of the Healing Church, and the establishment of blood healing.. Deep inside the Labyrinth, the Scholars discovered the Old Blood. It is unclear exactly what was found, but in the upper level of the Byrgenwerth mansion we can find the Empty Phantasm Shell. "Empty invertebrate shell that is said to be a familiar of a Great One. The Healing Church has discovered a great variety of invertebrates, or phantasms, as they are called." Whatever was found, it was proof of the existence of the Great Ones. It's possible that The Scholars discovered Ebrietas, the abandoned and left-behind Great One who would later commune with the Healing Church. They certainly discovered a source of the Old Blood, the tainted Blood of the Great Ones. Whether it was Ebrietas or something else is unclear.
With the discovery of the Old Blood and of the Great Ones, everything changed. Evolution became the goal; push the limits of humanity and become something greater. Ascend to the level of the Great Ones, push humanity into its next stage. A scribbled note found in the Nightmare Lecture Hall reads: "Master Willem was right. Evolution without courage will be the ruin of our race." However it quickly became apparent that some of The Scholars, and Laurence in particular, differed in their belief on how the evolution should be carried out. Carryl's Eye Rune states: "Eyes symbolize the truth Master Willem sought in his research. Disillusioned by the limits of human intellect. Master Willem looked to beings from higher planes for guidance, and sought to line his brain with eyes in order to elevate his thoughts." However, Carryl's Metamorphosis Runes state: "The discovery of blood made their dream of evolution a reality. Metamorphosis, and the excesses and deviation that followed, was only the beginning."
There are two different resources that you can collect: Blood Echoes, and Insight. The Echoes are the method in which you gain power, and Insight is the method in which a Hunter gains knowledge. While some at Byrgenwerth believed that knowledge and understanding of the Great Ones and the higher planes of existence would lead to humanity's uplifting, others believed that it was through the imbibing and fusing with the Old Blood that would lead to humanity's ascension. This was a concept anathema to everything Willem stood for.