Bishop of Mainz, Missionary, Martyr


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"Apostle to the Germans".
Bishop of Mainz, Missionary, Martyr

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His given name was Winfrith, as a small child he experienced a call to the monastic life. He received an excellent education in the Benedictine abbeys of Adescancastre (Exeter) and Nhutscelle (Nursling, between Winchester and Southampton) and became a Benedictine monk, being ordained priest at about age 30. In 716 he volunteered to assist Willibrord as a missionary to the Frisian Saxons. Frisia was a coastal region along the south-eastern corner of the North Sea and smaller parts of northern Germany. His mission was greatly hindered by their King Radbod .

In 718 he accompanied a group of Anglo-Saxon pilgrims to Rome, where Pope Gregory II changed his name to Boniface and entrusted him with a mission to the pagans east of the Rhine, he was never to see England again. For over 30 years he laboured as a missionary.

The turning point in his work was when he cut down an ancient oak dedicated to Thor and convinced the people of the emptiness of paganism and idolatry. Out of the timber salvaged from the tree, Boniface built a small chapel. In 722 he was consecrated bishop of Mainz.

He founded the monastery at Fulda, which for centuries played a key role in the growth of the church in that part of Europe. In 732 the pope made him archbishop of Mainz. In that capacity he instituted reforms in the church in France, in particular establishing the Rule of St Benedict for monasteries in the Carolingian Empire (modern-day eastern France, western Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands.)

Boniface is called the apostle of Germany for his role in bringing them the gospel. He set the church in Germany on a firm course of undeviating piety and irreproachable conduct. In his letters and in the writings of his contemporaries, he appears as a man of purpose and dedication, an innovator with a powerful though wilful personality.

When he was 75 yrs old, with King Radbod dead, Boniface returned to northern Frisia, destroying pagan temples, building churches, and baptising thousands of converts. He died at the hands of a pagan band at Dokkum on the banks of a river. Here he had arranged to hold confirmation and baptism services on the eve of Pentecost Sunday. When some of his supporters made to defend themselves, Boniface ordered that no weapons should be used against their attackers. “Lay down your arms, for we are told in Scripture not to render evil for evil but to overcome evil by good.” Organizer, educator, and reformer, Boniface profoundly influenced the course of intellectual, political, and ecclesiastical history in Germany and France throughout the Middle Ages. Some traditions credit Saint Boniface with the invention of the Christmas tree.

BORN: c. 675, Crediton, Devon, Wessex, Anglo-Saxon England.

DIED: 5 June 754, Dokkum, Frisia