Saint of the Month

Saint of the Month

Boniface of Crediton (feast day 5 June)

Shortly after Boniface’s death in 754, Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury wrote “we in England lovingly reckon Boniface among the best and greatest teachers of the faith, and among our special patrons”. Born in 675 in Crediton, Devon and Christened Wynfrith, Boniface (as he was later known) became a monk whose chief concern was study, teaching and preaching. During this time he compiled the first Latin grammar written in England. At the age of 43, feeling called to be a missionary, he travelled to Rome to receive a Papal commission to evangelise parts of what is now Germany. One famous incident at this time was his felling of a sacred oak at Geismar in Hesse. Taking as an example an evergreen fir tree pointing to heaven (an example leading to the Christmas tree), which was growing beneath the oak’s branches, his preaching lead to widespread conversions.

Assisted by monks and nuns from England he established monasteries to further his missionary work, bringing as well as the gospel, education and wellbeing. Consecrated a bishop (again in Rome) in 722 he received an archbishop’s pallium ten years later. Shortly after Charles Martel defeated the Saxons of Westphalia, Boniface wrote a letter to the English people, asking for their prayers and help in the conversion of those who “are of one blood and bone with you”. As a result he received many gifts of books, vestments, relics etc. At this time, once again he visited Rome. His work is important, not just for its pioneering missionary activities but also as significantly his organisation of the Church. Becoming Archbishop of Mainz, he founded bishoprics across Germany, and also he worked to reform the Church in France, where he presided over reforming councils in 742 and 747, also ensuring the establishment of the Benedictine order, and the Rule of St Benedict as the basic code for all monasteries.

Approaching eighty years of age, he decided to hand over his work in Germany to others, and returned to Frisia, which he had visited in 716. While he and his party were camped on the banks of the Bome River near Dokkum (in what is now Holland), a band of pagans broke into their encampment and slaughtered them. They found him, apparently, sitting quietly in his tent, reading.

There are several things about the life of St Boniface. We often speak of ‘the Dark Ages’ seldom seeing the light blazing forth across Europe. We also easily miss the contribution of English men and women to Europe’s evangelisation, but also its education, its health, and its governance. St Boniface is an important figure in the history of Western Europe, but today he is much better remembered in Germany than among his own people. In Germany and Holland he is widely venerated. He deserves to be better known and appreciated in the country of his birth.


Fr. Brian

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