St. Boniface The Man

Winfrid, also referred to as Wynfrith, was born about 675-680 AD near Crediton in Devonshire, England although other authorities have claimed him for Ireland and Scotland. Descended from a noble family he showed great ability. When he was five, he listened to some monks who were staying at his father's house. They had returned from a mission on the continent. Winfrid was so impressed by them that he resolved to follow their example. His father had intended Winfrid for a secular career but he gave way to his son's wishes and sent him at the age of seven to the monastery of Adescancastre. He was educated under the direction of Abbot Wolfhard. At the age of 12 he went to the Abbey of Nhutscelle in the Winchester Diocese where he became a Benedictine Monk and eventually director of the monastic school at Nursling, in Winchester where he wrote the first Latin grammar in England and gave lectures that were widely copied and circulated.

At age 30 Winfrid became a priest. In 716/17, when he was about 39 years old, his abbot gave permission for him to travel to Freisland (overlaps with modern Holland) as a missionary. He had little success and because of a war between its heathen king Rabad and Charles Martel of France, he was expelled. Winfrid returned to the monastery in England, where he was chosen abbot but declined the position.

In 718/19 Winfrid went to Rome and obtained an audience with Pope Gregory II to preach in Germany and in 719/20 was given authority to preach the Gospel to the people in Germanic Lands to the right of the Rhine. At this time it is said he was given the name Boniface. Winfrid traveled through Bavaria and through Alamannia. He preached in Thuringia and returned to Freisland where he spent three years under the aged and saintly Willibord. He was consecrated regional bishop by Gregory II in 722/23 at age 45. This time under the protection of Charles Martel and the Pope, Boniface made Mainz the center of his episcopacy in 745/45.

At Hessia in Bavaria, Boniface needed to show a sign of strength. He chose to fell an ancient oak, a tree of immense age and girth called Wotan, which was sacred to the god Thor and the pagans in the town of Fritzlar near Geismar. It is said, in the presence of a large number of locals inhabitants, after a few blows of Winfrid's axe, the tree tottered and crashed to the ground, breaking into four pieces and revealing itself to be rotten within. It is further rumored that he used some of the wood from the great tree to build a chapel to St. Peter. From here he returned to Thuringia.

In Thuringia Boniface did not receive any support from the local clergy so he called to England for help. A steady stream of nuns and monks responded to his call for many years, along with money, books, and supplies. He was called upon to support the Frankish Church, which was badly in need of reform. He set up councils and synods and instituted reforms that revitalized the Church there.

In 732/33, when Boniface was 55 years, he was made archbishop and apostolic delegate by Pope Gregory III. He organized the Church of Barvaria and arranged sees in Thuringia and Hessia. In 743/44 it is said he anointed Pepin of the Franks. In 747/48 Pope Zachary appointed Boniface Archbishop of Mainz and Primate of Germanic Lands.

Six years later at age 76, he resigned his bishopric and went on to preach in the Utrecth district of the Netherlands and on the east coast of the Zuider Zee. There, at age 77, he was preparing a group of Frisians for confirmation and on 5 June 754/55, he and some 52 (possibly 37) others were attacked and killed by heathen warriors near Dockum.

Boniface's body was interned in the Cathedral of Fulda in 755/56 in what would have been his 78th year plus or minus 3 years. He is considered the Apostle of Germany.

Boniface, whose name means "good deeds," is shown as a bishop with an axe in the base of a tree. He is often depicted felling the oak tree while pagan priests look on. Also he may be shown holding a book with a knife and a cross. He is the patron of brewers, tailors, and file-cutters.

June 5 - Feast of St. Boniface

Information obtained in 1997 from "Lives of Western Saints" on the Internet