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Sunday, 3 February 2013

Saint Boniface

Boniface was born 680/675ish AD at Crediton in Wessex.

His original name was Winfrid, Wynfrith, or Wynfryth meaning "friend of peace". He was given the name of Boniface by the Pope when he was sent to evangelize the Germans.

Winfrid was of a respected and prosperous family - his mother was a British chieftain’s daughter and his father a Saxon war leader.

A notable scholar, he was educated at a monastery in Exeter and at Nursling near Winchester.

It was somewhat against his father's wishes that he devoted himself at an early age to the monastic life. He received his theological training in the monasteries of Exeter and Nutcell, and at the age of thirty became a priest.

Early in his career, before he left for the continent, Boniface wrote an Ars Grammatica, a grammatical treatise presumably for his students in Nursling where he was an Abbot.

In 729AD he was commissioned by Pope Gregory II to evangelize Germany.

While preaching to some German Druids, Boniface laid his axe to a tree which they worshiped to prove that God's power was superior to Thor's. Boniface started to chop the oak down, when suddenly a great wind, as if by miracle, blew the ancient oak over. When the god did not strike him down, the people were amazed and converted to Christianity.

Saint Boniface felling Donar's Oak

Boniface lobbied the Pope for several years to place horseflesh into the forbidden category as he regarded it as a pagan residue that was tinged with barbarism. His campaign was successful and horseflesh became the only food specifically outlawed for Christians.

Boniface became the first person to recruit women into mission work, when he bought over nuns from Britain to teach education and domestic science.

Having aggressively defied their gods, demolished their shrines and cut down their trees, Boniface was massacred on June 5, 754 by pagan Saxons near Dokkum, West Friesland (now in the Netherlands). This happened because his patron Charlemagne (with those policies he did not uniformly agree) had brutally suppressed the Saxons on many occasions. However the motive appears to have been robbery rather than religion.

Saint Boniface by Cornelis Bloemaert, c. 1630
Boniface was laid to rest in the Church of our Saviour in the monastery at Fulda. His tomb became a place of pilgrimage unable to accommodate the constant strain of pilgrims so the Ratgar Basilica was built at the beginning of the 9th century to accommodate his tomb. The tomb of St Boniface now lies in the Fulda Cathedral crypt. (The cathedral was built in the early 18th century on the foundation of Ratgar Basilica).

Through his efforts to reorganize and regulate the church of the Franks, Boniface helped shape Western Christianity, and many of the dioceses he proposed remain until today.

He is the patron Saint of Germany.

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