Monday, June 7, 2010
St.Boniface Bishop and Martyr
The earliest "Life" of Boniface, written by Willibald around 765, does not mention his place of birth but that at an early age he attended a monastery at Examchester. The vita written by Otloh of St. Emmeram (1062-1066) says that his birth was at Crediton, but it is not clear on what basis this was.
Winfrid was of a respected and prosperous family. Against his father's wishes that he devoted himself at an early age to the monastic life. He received his theological training in the Benedictine monasteries of Adescancastre, near Exeter and (presumably) Nursling, on the western edge of Southampton, under the abbot Winbert. Winfrid taught in the abbey school and at the age of 30 became a priest. He wrote the first Latin grammar produced in England.
In 716 AD, Winfrid set out on a missionary expedition to Frisia, intending to convert the inhabitants by preaching to them in their own language, his own Old English language being similar to Old Frisian. His efforts, however, were frustrated by the war then being carried on between Charles Martel and Radbod, king of the Frisians, and he returned to Nursling.
In 723, Boniface felled the holy oak tree dedicated to Thor near the present-day town of Fritzlar in northern Hesse. He did this with the Prophet Elijah in mind. Boniface called upon Thor to strike him down if he cut the holy tree. According to St Boniface's first biographer, Willibald (an Anglo-Saxon priest come to Mainz after Boniface's death, not to be confused with the saint), Boniface started to chop the oak down, when suddenly a great wind, as if by miracle, blew the ancient oak over. When Thor did not strike him down, the people were amazed and converted to Christianity. All belief in Thor ended. He built a chapel from its wood at the site where today stands the cathedral of Fritzlar. Later he established the first bishopric in Germany north of the old Roman Limes at the Frankish fortified settlement of Büraburg, on a prominent hill facing the town across the Eder River.
He had never relinquished his hope of converting the Frisians, and in 754 he set out with a small retinue for Frisia. He baptized a great number and summoned a general meeting for confirmation at a place not far from Dokkum, between Franeker and Groningen. Instead of his converts, however, a group of armed inhabitants appeared who slew the aged archbishop. Boniface's hagiographer reports that the Frisians killed the saint because they believed the chests he carried with him contained gold and other riches, but were dismayed when they discovered that there were only the bishop's books contained within.
His remains were eventually buried in the abbey of Fulda after resting for some time in Utrecht, and they are entombed within a shrine beneath the high altar of Fulda cathedral. The forcible conversion of Germany up to the Elbe River was executed by Charlemagne, who destroyed the Saxons' independence, though not that of the Frisians, in the last decades of the eighth century.