Above: Map of Francia
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT WILLIBRORD (658-NOVEMBER 7, 739)
Apostle to the Frisians
Also known as Clement of Echternach
His feast day = November 7
SAINT BONIFACE OF MAINZ (675-JUNE 5, 754)
Apostle to the Germans
Also known as Winfrid, Wynfrith, and Wynfryth
His feast transferred from June 5
Sts. Willibrord and Boniface were missionaries whose stories I can recount most effectively in one post, not two.
SAINT WILLIBRORD (658-739)
St. Willibrord, born Clement, was the Apostle to the Frisians and a relative of St. Alcuin of York (735-804). St. Willibrord, a Northumbrian native, was son of St. Wilgils/Hilgis of Ripon (feast day = January 31), a convert to Christianity. St. Wilgils/Hilgis entrusted his son to the Church and became a holy hermit. Young Clement studied at Ripon Abbey under the tutelage of his mentor, St. Wilfrid of Ripon (634-709), then abbot there and later the Bishop of York, Lichfield, and Hexham, in that order. Clement became a Benedictine monk and spent twelve years at Rathmalsigi Abbey (in Ireland). The abbot was St. Egbert of Lindisfarne (639-739).
Frisia was coming under the influence of Francia. Pepin II, Mayor of the Palace from 680 to 714, requested that St. Egbert send missionaries to Frisia. The abbot sent twelve monks, including Clement. Early efforts, headquartered at the court of Pepin II, proved unsuccessful most of the time. Nevertheless, Clement established a base of operations at Utrecht. On November 21, 695, Pope St. Sergius I (reigned 687-701) consecrated Clement a bishop and named him Willibrord.
[Aside: Many of the sources I consulted identified the pontiff erroneously as Sergius III. J. N. D. Kelly makes clear, however, in The Oxford Dictionary of Popes (1986) that it was Sergius I and that Sergius III reigned from 904 to 911.]
The first stage of the Frisian mission spanned 695-716 and met with much success. St. Willibrord presided over the building of both a monastery and a cathedral at Utrecht, plus the founding of many congregations. This frightened chieftain Rabdod, who conquered Frisia in 716 and spent the remaining three years of his life undoing the work of St. Willibrord and his missionaries by destroying all ecclesiastical structures and killing missionaries. Meanwhile, St. Willibrord and companions attempted (without much success) to evangelize in Denmark.
The Frisian mission resumed in 719. St. Willibrord and companions, including St. Boniface, who had evangelized in Frisia as early as 716, rebuilt the Church in the region. St. Willibrord retired to Echternach Abbey, Echternach (now in Luxembourg), which he had founded. He died at the abbey on November 7, 739. Veneration of him as a saint began immediately.
St. Willibrord is the patron of convulsions, epilepsy, epileptics, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, and the Archdiocese of Utrecht. According to a Medieval legend, an epidemic caused the cattle around Echternach Abbey to tremble then die. Peasants in the region, the legend tells us, invoked St. Willibrord. As they processed to his shrine, the story states, some of the peasants danced in a manner resembling the convulsions of the cattle, hence some of those patronages.
SAINT BONIFACE OF MAINZ (675-754)
St. Boniface of Mainz, born Winfrid and also known as Wynfrith and Wynfryth, assisted St. Willibrord in Frisia before becoming the “Apostle to the Germans.” Winfrid/Wynfrith/Wynfryth was a native Exeter, in the Kingdom of Wessex, in England. He, born in 675 and educated at monasteries, faced early opposition from his father to his plan to become a monk. His father changed his mind eventually, however. Our saint taught at the school attached to Nursling Abbey. At the age of 30 years he became a priest. He also wrote a Latin grammar, a series of riddles, and a treatise on poetry, participated in the Frisian mission, first in 716 then again in 719-722. In 722 Pope St. Gregory II (reigned 715-731) appointed him to be a missionary bishop (without a diocese) in Germany and named him Boniface. Ten years later our saint became a missionary archbishop. He did not receive an appointment to a diocese until 743, when he became the Archbishop of Mainz. The “Apostle to the Germans” led a successful missionary venture sponsored by Frankish rulers. His immediate legacy included congregations, abbeys, and three dioceses.
St. Boniface and 52 others became martyrs near Dokkum, Frisia, on June 5, 754, prior to a planned confirmation service. A band of violent pagans attacked them yet did not kill the Church there.
Our saint is the patron of brewers, Germany, file cutters, tailors, the Diocese of Fulda (in Germany), and the Archdiocese of Saint-Boniface (in Manitoba, Canada).
We of the Church in 2016 stand on the broad shoulders of saints such as Willibrord and Boniface, who risked much to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and influenced civilization positively long after their lifespans ended. We do not know how long-lasting our influences (direct and indirect, as well as positive and negative) will be. May we strive, by grace, to be the most effective ministers of grace possible.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
AUGUST 3, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOANNA, MARY, AND SALOME, WITNESSES TO THE RESURRECTION
Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servants
St. Willibrord, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of Frisia; and
St. Boniface of Mainz, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of Frisia and Germany.
Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom,
that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Psalm 96 or 96:1-7
–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 716