Saint Boniface

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Saint Boniface
Saint Boniface by Cornelis Bloemaert.jpg
Saint Boniface by Cornelis Bloemaert, c. 1630
Bornc. 675 [1]
Crediton, Devon
Died5 June 754 (aged c. 79)
near Dokkum, Frisia
Venerated in Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Anglican Communion
Major shrine Fulda Cathedral, St Boniface Catholic Church, Crediton, UK
Feast 5 June
Attributes In bishop's robes, book pierced by a sword (also axe; oak; scourge)
Patronage Fulda; Germania; England (Orthodox Church; jointly with Ss. Augustine of Canterbury, and Cuthbert of Lindisfarne)

Saint Boniface (Latin : Bonifatius; c. 675 [2] – 5 June 754 AD), born Winfrid (also spelled Winifred, Wynfrith, Winfrith or Wynfryth) in the Devon town of Crediton, England, was a leading figure in the Anglo-Saxon mission to the Germanic parts of the Frankish Empire during the 8th century. He organised significant foundations of the Catholic Church in Germany and was made archbishop of Mainz by Pope Gregory III. He was martyred in Frisia in 754, along with 52 others, and his remains were returned to Fulda, where they rest in a sarcophagus which became a site of pilgrimage. Boniface's life and death as well as his work became widely known, there being a wealth of material available—a number of vitae , especially the near-contemporary Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, legal documents, possibly some sermons, and above all his correspondence. He became the patron saint of Germania, known as the "Apostle of the Germans".

Devon County of England

Devon, also known as Devonshire, is a county of England, reaching from the Bristol Channel in the north to the English Channel in the south. It is part of South West England, bounded by Cornwall to the west, Somerset to the north east, and Dorset to the east. The city of Exeter is the county town. The county includes the districts of East Devon, Mid Devon, North Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge, Torridge, and West Devon. Plymouth and Torbay are each geographically part of Devon, but are administered as unitary authorities. Combined as a ceremonial county, Devon's area is 6,707 km2 and its population is about 1.1 million.

Crediton town in Devon, UK

Crediton is a town and civil parish in the Mid Devon district of Devon in England. It stands on the A377 Exeter to Barnstaple road at the junction with the A3072 road to Tiverton, about 7 miles (11 km) north west of Exeter. It has a population of 6,837, increasing to 7,835 at the 2011 Census. Crediton has two electoral wards. The combined population of these wards at the 2011 Census was 7,600.

England Country in north-west Europe, part of the United Kingdom

England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to the west and Scotland to the north. The Irish Sea lies west of England and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. England is separated from continental Europe by the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south. The country covers five-eighths of the island of Great Britain, which lies in the North Atlantic, and includes over 100 smaller islands, such as the Isles of Scilly and the Isle of Wight.


Norman F. Cantor notes the three roles Boniface played that made him "one of the truly outstanding creators of the first Europe, as the apostle of Germania, the reformer of the Frankish church, and the chief fomentor of the alliance between the papacy and the Carolingian family." [3] Through his efforts to reorganize and regulate the church of the Franks, he helped shape the Latin Church in Europe, and many of the dioceses he proposed remain today. After his martyrdom, he was quickly hailed as a saint in Fulda and other areas in Germania and in England. He is still venerated strongly today by German Catholics. Boniface is celebrated (and criticized) [4] as a missionary; he is regarded as a unifier of Europe, and he is seen (mainly by Catholics) as a Germanic national figure. In 2019 Devon County Council with the support of the Anglican and Catholic churches in Exeter and Plymouth, officially recognised St Boniface as the Patron Saint of Devon.

Latin Church Automonous particular church making up of most of the Western world Catholics

The Latin Church, also known as the Western Church or the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest particular church of the Catholic Church, employing the Latin liturgical rites. It is one of 24 sui iuris churches, the 23 others forming the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is headed by the bishop of Rome, the pope – traditionally also called the Patriarch of the West – with cathedra in this role at the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome, Italy. The Latin Church traces its history to the earliest days of Christianity, according to Catholic tradition, through its direct leadership under the Holy See.

Devon County Council British administrative authority

Devon County Council is the county council administering the English county of Devon. Based in the city of Exeter, the council covers the non-metropolitan county area of Devon. Members of the council (councillors) are elected every four years to represent the electorate of each county division, almost all being nominated by the major national political parties.

Early life and first mission to Frisia

Prayer card, early 20th century, depicting Boniface leaving England Hess Boniface leaves England 1.jpg
Prayer card, early 20th century, depicting Boniface leaving England

The earliest Bonifacian vita, Willibald's, does not mention his place of birth but says that at an early age he attended a monastery ruled by Abbot Wulfhard in escancastre, [5] or Examchester, [6] which seems to denote Exeter, and may have been one of many monasteriola built by local landowners and churchmen; nothing else is known of it outside the Bonifacian vitae. [7] This monastery is believed to have occupied the site of the Church of St Mary Major in the City of Exeter, demolished in 1971, next to which was later built Exeter Cathedral. [8] Later tradition places his birth at Crediton, but the earliest mention of Crediton in connection to Boniface is from the early fourteenth century, [9] in John Grandisson's Legenda Sanctorum: The Proper Lessons for Saints' Days according to the use of Exeter. [10] In one of his letters Boniface mentions he was "born and reared...[in] the synod of London", [11] but he may have been speaking metaphorically. [12]

Exeter City in the south west of England

Exeter is a cathedral city in Devon, England, with a population of 129,800. The city is located on the River Exe approximately 36 miles (58 km) northeast of Plymouth and 65 miles (105 km) southwest of Bristol. It is the county town of Devon, and the base of Devon County Council. Also situated in Exeter are two campuses of the University of Exeter - Streatham Campus and St Luke's Campus.

Church of St Mary Major, Exeter former church in Exeter

The Church of St Mary Major, formerly Exeter Minster, was a historic church and parish in the City of Exeter, Devon, dating from the 7th century. It pre-dated the first Exeter Cathedral by some five centuries, was rebuilt several times, but was finally demolished in 1971. It was situated to the immediate south-west of Exeter Cathedral, the site today being a grass lawn.

Exeter Cathedral Church in Devon, United Kingdom

Exeter Cathedral, properly known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter in Exeter, is an Anglican cathedral, and the seat of the Bishop of Exeter, in the city of Exeter, Devon, in South West England. The present building was complete by about 1400, and has several notable features, including an early set of misericords, an astronomical clock and the longest uninterrupted vaulted ceiling in England.

According to the vitae, Winfrid was of a respected and prosperous family. Against his father's wishes he devoted himself at an early age to the monastic life. He received further theological training in the Benedictine monastery and minster of Nhutscelle (Nursling), [13] not far from Winchester, which under the direction of abbot Winbert had grown into an industrious centre of learning in the tradition of Aldhelm. [14] Winfrid taught in the abbey school and at the age of 30 became a priest; in this time, he wrote a Latin grammar, the Ars Grammatica, besides a treatise on verse and some Aldhelm-inspired riddles. [15] While little is known about Nursling outside of Boniface's vitae, it seems clear that the library there was significant. In order to supply Boniface with the materials he needed, it would have contained works by Donatus, Priscian, Isidore, and many others. [16] Around 716, when his abbot Wynberth of Nursling died, he was invited (or expected) to assume his position—it is possible that they were related, and the practice of hereditary right among the early Anglo-Saxons would affirm this. [17] Winfrid, however, declined the position and in 716 set out on a missionary expedition to Frisia.

Minster (church) Honorific title given to particular churches in England

Minster is an honorific title given to particular churches in England, most notably York Minster in York, Westminster Abbey in London and Southwell Minster in Southwell. The term minster is first found in royal foundation charters of the 7th century. Although it corresponds to the Latin monasterium or monastery, it then designated any settlement of clergy living a communal life and endowed by charter with the obligation of maintaining the daily office of prayer. Widespread in 10th-century Anglo-Saxon England, minsters declined in importance with the systematic introduction of parishes and parish churches from the 11th century onwards. It continued as a title of dignity in later medieval England, for instances where a cathedral, monastery, collegiate church or parish church had originated with an Anglo-Saxon foundation. Eventually a minster came to refer more generally to "any large or important church, especially a collegiate or cathedral church". In the 21st century, the Church of England has designated additional minsters by bestowing the status on existing parish churches.

Nursling village in Hampshire, England

Nursling is a village in Hampshire, England, situated in the parish of Nursling and Rownhams, about 6 kilometres north-west of the city of Southampton. Formerly called Nhutscelle, then Nutshalling or Nutshullyng until the mid-19th century, it has now been absorbed into the suburbs of Southampton, although it is not officially part of the city.

Winchester city in Hampshire, England

Winchester is a city and the county town of Hampshire, England. The city lies at the heart of the wider City of Winchester, a local government district, and is located at the western end of the South Downs National Park, along the course of the River Itchen. It is situated 60 miles (97 km) south-west of London and 13.6 miles (21.9 km) from Southampton, its closest city. At the time of the 2011 Census, Winchester had a population of 45,184. The wider City of Winchester district which includes towns such as Alresford and Bishop's Waltham has a population of 116,800.

Early missionary work in Frisia and Germania

Saint Boniface felling Donar's Oak Bonifatius Donareiche.jpg
Saint Boniface felling Donar's Oak

Boniface first left for the continent in 716. He traveled to Utrecht, where Willibrord, the "Apostle of the Frisians," had been working since the 690s. He spent a year with Willibrord, preaching in the countryside, but their efforts were frustrated by the war then being carried on between Charles Martel and Radbod, King of the Frisians. Willibrord fled to the abbey he had founded in Echternach (in modern-day Luxembourg) while Boniface returned to Nursling.

Utrecht City and municipality in the province of Utrecht, Netherlands

Utrecht is the fourth-largest city and a municipality of the Netherlands, capital and most populous city of the province of Utrecht. It is located in the eastern corner of the Randstad conurbation, and in the very centre of mainland Netherlands, and had a population of 347.574 in 2018.

Willibrord Catholic bishop and saint from Northumbria

Willibrord was a Northumbrian missionary saint, known as the "Apostle to the Frisians" in the modern Netherlands. He became the first Bishop of Utrecht and died at Echternach, Luxembourg.

Charles Martel Frankish military and political leader

Charles Martel was a Frankish statesman and military leader who as Duke and Prince of the Franks and Mayor of the Palace, was the de facto ruler of Francia from 718 until his death. He was a son of the Frankish statesman Pepin of Herstal and Pepin's mistress, a noblewoman named Alpaida. Charles successfully asserted his claims to power as successor to his father as the power behind the throne in Frankish politics. Continuing and building on his father's work, he restored centralized government in Francia and began the series of military campaigns that re-established the Franks as the undisputed masters of all Gaul. According to a near-contemporary source, the Liber Historiae Francorum, Charles was "a warrior who was uncommonly [...] effective in battle". Much attention has been paid to his success in defeating an Arab raid in Aquitaine at the Battle of Tours. Alongside his military endeavours, Charles has been traditionally credited with a seminal role in the development of the Frankish system of feudalism.

Boniface returned to the continent the next year and went straight to Rome, where Pope Gregory II renamed him "Boniface", after the (legendary) fourth-century martyr Boniface of Tarsus, and appointed him missionary bishop for Germania—he became a bishop without a diocese for an area that lacked any church organization. He would never return to England, though he remained in correspondence with his countrymen and kinfolk throughout his life.

Pope Gregory II 89th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church (from 715 to 731)

Pope Gregory II was Bishop of Rome from 19 May 715 to his death in 731. His defiance of the Byzantine emperor Leo III the Isaurian as a result of the iconoclastic controversy in the Eastern Empire prepared the way for a long series of revolts, schisms and civil wars that eventually led to the establishment of the temporal power of the popes.

Boniface of Tarsus Roman saint

Saint Boniface of Tarsus was, according to legend, executed for being a Christian in the year 307 at Tarsus, where he had gone from Rome in order to bring back to his mistress Aglaida relics of the martyrs.

Germania part of the settlement area of the Germanic tribes east of the Rhine

Germania was the Roman term for the geographical region in north-central Europe inhabited mainly by Germanic peoples.

According to the vitae Boniface felled the Donar Oak, Latinized by Willibald as "Jupiter's oak," near the present-day town of Fritzlar in northern Hesse. According to his early biographer Willibald, 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. He built a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter from its wood at the site [18] —the chapel was the beginning of the monastery in Fritzlar. This account from the vita is stylized to portray Boniface as a singular character who alone acts to root out paganism. Lutz von Padberg and others point out that what the vitae leave out is that the action was most likely well-prepared and widely publicized in advance for maximum effect, and that Boniface had little reason to fear for his personal safety since the Frankish fortified settlement of Büraburg was nearby. [19] According to Willibald, Boniface later had a church with an attached monastery built in Fritzlar, [20] on the site of the previously built chapel, according to tradition. [21]

Boniface and the Carolingians

Fulda Sacramentary, Saint Boniface baptizing (top) and being martyred (bottom) St Boniface - Baptising-Martyrdom - Sacramentary of Fulda - 11Century.jpg
Fulda Sacramentary, Saint Boniface baptizing (top) and being martyred (bottom)

The support of the Frankish mayors of the palace (maior domos), and later the early Pippinid and Carolingian rulers, was essential for Boniface's work. Boniface had been under the protection of Charles Martel from 723 on. The Christian Frankish leaders desired to defeat their rival power, the non-Christian Saxons, and to incorporate the Saxon lands into their own growing empire. Boniface's campaign of destruction of indigenous Germanic pagan sites may have benefited the Franks in their campaign against the Saxons.

In 732, Boniface traveled again to Rome to report, and Pope Gregory III conferred upon him the pallium as archbishop with jurisdiction over Germany. Boniface again set out for what is now Germany, continued his mission, and used his authority to resolve the problems of many other Christians who had fallen out of contact with the regular hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. During his third visit to Rome in 737–38, he was made papal legate for Germany.

After Boniface's third trip to Rome, Charles Martel erected four dioceses in Bavaria (Salzburg, Regensburg, Freising, and Passau) and gave them to Boniface as archbishop and metropolitan over all Germany east of the Rhine. In 745, he was granted Mainz as metropolitan see. In 742, one of his disciples, Sturm (also known as Sturmi, or Sturmius), founded the abbey of Fulda not far from Boniface's earlier missionary outpost at Fritzlar. Although Sturm was the founding abbot of Fulda, Boniface was very involved in the foundation. The initial grant for the abbey was signed by Carloman, the son of Charles Martel, and a supporter of Boniface's reform efforts in the Frankish church. The saint himself explained to his old friend, Daniel of Winchester, that without the protection of Charles Martel he could "neither administer his church, defend his clergy, nor prevent idolatry."

According to German historian Gunther Wolf, the high point of Boniface's career was the Concilium Germanicum, organized by Carloman in an unknown location in April 743. Although Boniface was not able to safeguard the church from property seizures by the local nobility, he did achieve one goal, the adoption of stricter guidelines for the Frankish clergy, [22] which often hailed directly from the nobility. After Carloman's resignation in 747 he maintained a sometimes turbulent relationship with the king of the Franks, Pepin; the claim that he would have crowned Pepin at Soissons in 751 is now generally discredited. [23]

Boniface balanced this support and attempted to maintain some independence, however, by attaining the support of the papacy and of the Agilolfing rulers of Bavaria. In Frankish, Hessian, and Thuringian territory, he established the dioceses of Würzburg, and Erfurt. By appointing his own followers as bishops, he was able to retain some independence from the Carolingians, who most likely were content to give him leeway as long as Christianity was imposed on the Saxons and other Germanic tribes.

Last mission to Frisia

Saint Boniface crypt, Fulda Sint-Bonifatiuscrypte Fulda.jpg
Saint Boniface crypt, Fulda
Nailhole in the Ragyndrudis Codex Nagelung - vergrosserter Ausschnitt.jpg
Nailhole in the Ragyndrudis Codex

According to the vitae, Boniface had never relinquished his hope of converting the Frisians, and in 754 he set out with a retinue for Frisia. He baptized a great number and summoned a general meeting for confirmation at a place not far from Dokkum, between Franeker and Groningen. Instead of his converts, however, a group of armed robbers appeared who slew the aged archbishop. The vitae mention that Boniface persuaded his (armed) comrades to lay down their arms: "Cease fighting. Lay down your arms, for we are told in Scripture not to render evil for good but to overcome evil by good." [24]

Having killed Boniface and his company, the Frisian bandits ransacked their possessions but found that the company's luggage did not contain the riches they had hoped for: "they broke open the chests containing the books and found, to their dismay, that they held manuscripts instead of gold vessels, pages of sacred texts instead of silver plates." [25] They attempted to destroy these books, the earliest vita already says, and this account underlies the status of the Ragyndrudis Codex, now held as a Bonifacian relic in Fulda, and supposedly one of three books found on the field by the Christians who inspected it afterward. Of those three books, the Ragyndrudis Codex shows incisions that could have been made by sword or axe; its story appears confirmed in the Utrecht hagiography, the Vita altera, which reports that an eye-witness saw that the saint at the moment of death held up a gospel as spiritual protection. [26] The story was later repeated by Otloh's vita; at that time, the Ragyndrudis Codex seems to have been firmly connected to the martyrdom.

Boniface's remains were moved from the Frisian countryside to Utrecht, and then to Mainz, where sources contradict each other regarding the behavior of Lullus, Boniface's successor as archbishop of Mainz. According to Willibald's vita Lullus allowed the body to be moved to Fulda, while the (later) Vita Sturmi, a hagiography of Sturm by Eigil of Fulda, Lullus attempted to block the move and keep the body in Mainz. [27]

His remains were eventually buried in the abbey church of Fulda after resting for some time in Utrecht, and they are entombed within a shrine beneath the high altar of Fulda Cathedral, previously the abbey church.



Veneration of Boniface in Fulda began immediately after his death; his grave was equipped with a decorative tomb around ten years after his burial, and the grave and relics became the center of the abbey. Fulda monks prayed for newly elected abbots at the grave site before greeting them, and every Monday the saint was remembered in prayer, the monks prostrating themselves and reciting Psalm 50. After the abbey church was rebuilt to become the Ratgar Basilica (dedicated 791), Boniface's remains were translated to a new grave: since the church had been enlarged, his grave, originally in the west, was now in the middle; his relics were moved to a new apse in 819. From then on Boniface, as patron of the abbey, was regarded as both spiritual intercessor for the monks and legal owner of the abbey and its possessions, and all donations to the abbey were done in his name. He was honored on the date of his martyrdom, 5 June (with a mass written by Alcuin), and (around the year 1000) with a mass dedicated to his appointment as bishop, on 1 December. [28]


Willibald's vita describes how a visitor on horseback come to the site of the martyrdom, and a hoof of his horse got stuck in the mire. When it was pulled loose, a well sprang up. By the time of the Vita altera Bonifatii (9th century), there was a church on the site, and the well had become a "fountain of sweet water" used to sanctify people. The Vita Liudgeri, a hagiographical account of the work of Ludger, describes how Ludger himself had built the church, sharing duties with two other priests. According to James Palmer, the well was of great importance since the saint's body was hundreds of miles away; the physicality of the well allowed for an ongoing connection with the saint. In addition, Boniface signified Dokkum's and Frisia's "connect[ion] to the rest of (Frankish) Christendom". [29]


Saint Boniface memorial in Fritzlar, Germany Bonifatius Fritzlar.jpg
Saint Boniface memorial in Fritzlar, Germany

Saint Boniface's feast day is celebrated on 5 June in the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, the Anglican Communion and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

A famous statue of Saint Boniface stands on the grounds of Mainz Cathedral, seat of the archbishop of Mainz. A more modern rendition stands facing St. Peter's Church of Fritzlar.

The UK National Shrine is located at the Catholic church at Crediton, Devon, which has a bas-relief of the felling of Thor's Oak, by sculptor Kenneth Carter. The sculpture was unveiled by Princess Margaret in his native Crediton, located in Newcombes Meadow Park. There is also a series of paintings there by Timothy Moore. There are quite a few churches dedicated to St. Boniface in the United Kingdom: Bunbury, Cheshire; Chandler's Ford and Southampton Hampshire; Adler Street, London; Papa Westray, Orkney; St Budeaux, Plymouth (now demolished); Bonchurch, Isle of Wight; Cullompton, Devon.

Bishop George Errington founded St Boniface's Catholic College, Plymouth in 1856. The school celebrates Saint Boniface on 5 June each year.

In 1818, Father Norbert Provencher founded a mission on the east bank of the Red River in what was then Rupert's Land, building a log church and naming it after St. Boniface. The log church was consecrated as Saint Boniface Cathedral after Provencher was himself consecrated as a bishop and the diocese was formed. The community that grew around the cathedral eventually became the city of Saint Boniface, which merged into the city of Winnipeg in 1971. In 1844, four Grey Nuns arrived by canoe in Manitoba, and in 1871, built Western Canada's first hospital: St. Boniface Hospital, where the Assiniboine and Red Rivers meet. Today, St. Boniface Hospital is the second-largest hospital in Manitoba.


Some traditions credit Saint Boniface with the invention of the Christmas tree. The vitae mention nothing of the sort. However, it is mentioned on a BBC-Devon website, in an account which places Geismar in Bavaria, [30] and in a number of educational books, including St. Boniface and the Little Fir Tree, [31] The Brightest Star of All: Christmas Stories for the Family, [32] The American normal readers. [33] and a short story by Henry van Dyke, "The First Christmas Tree". [34]

Sources and writings

Saint Boniface statue in Fulda, Germany Bonifatiusstatue Fulda.jpg
Saint Boniface statue in Fulda, Germany


The earliest "Life" of Boniface was written by a certain Willibald, an Anglo-Saxon priest who came to Mainz after Boniface's death, [35] around 765. Willibald's biography was widely dispersed; Levison lists some forty manuscripts. [36] According to his lemma, a group of four manuscripts including Codex Monacensis 1086 are copies directly from the original. [37]

Listed second in Levison's edition is the entry from a late ninth-century Fulda document: Boniface's status as a martyr is attested by his inclusion in the Fulda Martyrology which also lists, for instance, the date (1 November) of his translation in 819, when the Fulda Cathedral had been rebuilt. [38] A Vita Bonifacii was written in Fulda in the ninth century, possibly by Candidus of Fulda, but is now lost. [39]

The next vita, chronologically, is the Vita altera Bonifatii auctore Radbodo, which originates in the Bishopric of Utrecht, and was probably revised by Radboud of Utrecht (899–917). Mainly agreeing with Willibald, it adds an eye-witness who presumably saw the martyrdom at Dokkum. The Vita tertia Bonifatii likewise originates in Utrecht. It is dated between 917 (Radboud's death) and 1075, the year Adam of Bremen wrote his Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum , which used the Vita tertia. [40] [41]

A later vita, written by Otloh of St. Emmeram (1062–1066), is based on Willibald's and a number of other vitae as well as the correspondence, and also includes information from local traditions.


Boniface engaged in regular correspondence with fellow churchmen all over Western Europe, including the three popes he worked with, and with some of his kinsmen back in England. Many of these letters contain questions about church reform and liturgical or doctrinal matters. In most cases, what remains is one half of the conversation, either the question or the answer. The correspondence as a whole gives evidence of Boniface's widespread connections; some of the letters also prove an intimate relationship especially with female correspondents. [42]

There are 150 letters in what is generally called the Bonifatian correspondence, though not all them are by Boniface or addressed to him. They were assembled by order of archbishop Lullus, Boniface's successor in Mainz, and were initially organized into two parts, a section containing the papal correspondence and another with his private letters. They were reorganized in the eighth century, in a roughly chronological ordering. Otloh of St. Emmeram, who worked on a new vita of Boniface in the eleventh century, is credited with compiling the complete correspondence as we have it. [42]

The correspondence was edited and published already in the seventeenth century, by Nicolaus Serarius. [43] Stephan Alexander Würdtwein's 1789 edition, Epistolae S. Bonifacii Archiepiscopi Magontini, was the basis for a number of (partial) translations in the nineteenth century. The first version to be published by Monumenta Germaniae Historica (MGH) was the edition by Ernst Dümmler (1892); the most authoritative version until today is Michael Tangl's 1912 Die Briefe des Heiligen Bonifatius, Nach der Ausgabe in den Monumenta Germaniae Historica, published by MGH in 1916. [42] This edition is the basis of Ephraim Emerton's selection and translation in English, The Letters of Saint Boniface, first published in New York in 1940; it was republished most recently with a new introduction by Thomas F.X. Noble in 2000.


Some fifteen preserved sermons are traditionally associated with Boniface, but that they were actually his is not generally accepted.

Grammar and poetry

Early in his career, before he left for the continent, Boniface wrote the Ars Bonifacii , a grammatical treatise presumably for his students in Nursling. Helmut Gneuss reports that one manuscript copy of the treatise originates from (the south of) England, mid-eighth century; it is now held in Marburg, in the Hessisches Staatsarchiv. [44] He also wrote a treatise on verse, the Caesurae uersuum, and a collection of riddles, the Enigmata, influenced greatly by Aldhelm and containing many references to works of Vergil (the Aeneid , the Georgics , and the Eclogues ). [45] Three octosyllabic poems written in clearly Aldhelmian fashion (according to Andy Orchard) are preserved in his correspondence, all composed before he left for the continent. [46]

Additional materials

A letter by Boniface charging Aldebert and Clement with heresy is preserved in the records of the Roman Council of 745 that condemned the two. [47] Boniface had an interest in the Irish canon law collection known as Collectio canonum Hibernensis , and a late 8th/early 9th-century manuscript in Würzburg contains, besides a selection from the Hibernensis, a list of rubrics that mention the heresies of Clemens and Aldebert. The relevant folios containing these rubrics were most likely copied in Mainz, Würzburg, or Fulda, all places associated with Boniface. [47] Michael Glatthaar suggested that the rubrics should be seen as Boniface's contribution to the agenda for a synod. [48]

Anniversary and other celebrations

Boniface's death (and birth) has given rise to a number of noteworthy celebrations. The dates for some of these celebrations have undergone some changes: in 1805, 1855, and 1905 (and in England in 1955) anniversaries were calculated with Boniface's death dated in 755, the "Mainz tradition"; in Mainz, Michael Tangl's dating of the martyrdom in 754 was not accepted until after 1955. Celebrations in Germany centered on Fulda and Mainz, in the Netherlands on Dokkum and Utrecht, and in England on Crediton and Exeter.

Celebrations in Germany: 1805, 1855, 1905

Medal minted for the Boniface anniversary in Fulda, 1905 1905 boniface coin.jpg
Medal minted for the Boniface anniversary in Fulda, 1905

The first German celebration on a fairly large scale was held in 1805 (the 1050th anniversary of his death), followed by a similar celebration in a number of towns in 1855; both of these were predominantly Catholic affairs, which emphasized the role of Boniface in German history. But if the celebrations were mostly Catholic, in the first part of the 19th century the respect for Boniface in general was an ecumenical affair, with both Protestants and Catholics praising Boniface as a founder of the German nation, in response to the German nationalism that arose after the Napoleonic era came to an end. The second part of the 19th century saw increased tension between Catholics and Protestants; for the latter, Martin Luther had become the model German, the founder of the modern nation, and he and Boniface were in direct competition for the honor. [49] In 1905, when strife between Catholic and Protestant factions had eased (one Protestant church published a celebratory pamphlet, Gerhard Ficker's Bonifatius, der "Apostel der Deutschen"), there were modest celebrations and a publication for the occasion on historical aspects of Boniface and his work, the 1905 Festgabe by Gregor Richter and Carl Scherer. In all, the content of these early celebrations showed evidence of the continuing question about the meaning of Boniface for Germany, though the importance of Boniface in cities associated with him was without question. [50]

1954 celebrations

In 1954, celebrations were widespread, in England, Germany, and the Netherlands, and a number of these celebrations were international affairs. Especially in Germany, these celebrations had a distinctly political note to them and often stressed Boniface as a kind of founder of Europe, such as when Konrad Adenauer, the (Catholic) German chancellor, addressed a crowd of 60,000 in Fulda, celebrating the feast day of the saint in a European context: "Das, was wir in Europa gemeinsam haben, [ist] gemeinsamen Ursprungs" ("What we have in common in Europe comes from the same source"). [51]

Papal visit, 1980

When Pope John Paul II visited Germany in November 1980, he spent two days in Fulda (17 and 18 November). He celebrated mass in Fulda Cathedral with 30,000 gathered on the square in front of the building, and met with the German Bishops' Conference (held in Fulda since 1867). The pope next celebrated mass outside the cathedral, in front of an estimated crowd of 100,000, and hailed the importance of Boniface for German Christianity: "Der heilige Bonifatius, Bischof und Märtyrer, bedeutet den 'Anfang' des Evangeliums und der Kirche in Eurem Land" ("The holy Boniface, bishop and martyr, signifies the beginning of the gospel and the church in your country"). [52] A photograph of the pope praying at Boniface's grave became the centerpiece of a prayer card distributed from the cathedral.

2004 celebrations

In 2004, anniversary celebrations were held throughout Northwestern Germany and Utrecht, and Fulda and Mainz—generating a great amount of academic and popular interest. The event occasioned a number of scholarly studies, esp. biographies (for instance, by Auke Jelsma in Dutch, Lutz von Padberg in German, and Klaas Bruinsma in Frisian), and a fictional completion of the Boniface correspondence (Lutterbach, Mit Axt und Evangelium). [53] A German musical proved a great commercial success, [54] and in the Netherlands an opera was staged. [55]

Scholarship on Boniface

The literature on the saint and his work is extensive. At the time of the various anniversaries, edited collections were published containing essays by some of the best-known scholars of the time, such as the 1954 collection Sankt Bonifatius: Gedenkgabe zum Zwölfhundertsten Todestag [56] and the 2004 collection Bonifatius—Vom Angelsächsischen Missionar zum Apostel der Deutschen. [57] In the modern era, Lutz von Padberg published a number of biographies and articles on the saint focusing on his missionary praxis and his relics. The most authoritative biography is still Theodor Schieffer's Winfrid-Bonifatius und die Christliche Grundlegung Europas (1954). [58] [59]

See also

Related Research Articles

The Concilium Germanicum was the first major Church synod to be held in the eastern parts of the Frankish kingdoms. It was called by Carloman on 21 April 742/743 at an unknown location, and presided over by Boniface, who was solidified in his position as leader of the Austrasian church. German historian Gunther Wolf judges that the Concilium was the high point in Boniface's long career.

Fritzlar Place in Hesse, Germany

Fritzlar is a small German town in the Schwalm-Eder district in northern Hesse, 160 km (99 mi) north of Frankfurt, with a storied history.

Büraburg castle ruin

The Büraburg was a prominent hill castle with historic significance, on the Büraberg hill overlooking the Eder river near the town of Fritzlar in northern Hesse (Germany). Only foundation walls remain, and a church dedicated to St. Brigida.

Donars Oak Sacred tree of the Germanic pagans

Jove's Oak was a sacred tree of the Germanic pagans located in an unclear location around what is now the region of Hesse, Germany. According to the 8th century Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, the Anglo-Saxon missionary Saint Boniface and his retinue cut down the tree earlier the same century. Wood from the oak was then reportedly used to build a church at the site dedicated to Saint Peter. Sacred trees and sacred groves were widely venerated by the Germanic peoples.

Lullus Archbishop of Mainz

Saint Lullus was the first permanent archbishop of Mainz, succeeding Saint Boniface, and first abbot of the Benedictine Hersfeld Abbey.

Leoba Anglo-Saxon nun

Leoba was an Anglo-Saxon Benedictine nun and is recognized as a saint. In 746 she and others left Wimborne Minster in Dorset to join her kinsman Boniface in his mission to the German people.

Wilhelm Levison was a German medievalist.

Eigil (c.750-822) was the fourth abbot of Fulda. He was the nephew and biographer of the abbey's founder and first abbot Saint Sturm. We know about Eigil primarily from the Latin Life that the monk and teacher of Fulda, Candidus Bruun composed about him after his death.

Eoban was a companion of St. Boniface, and was martyred with him on his final mission. In Germany, he is revered as a bishop and martyr.

Theodor Schieffer was a German historian. He was professor of medieval history at the University of Mainz, then at the University of Cologne, and since 1952 he was president of the Association for Middle Rhine Church History. He is the author of Winfrid-Bonifatius und die christliche Grundlegung Europas, the authoritative biography of Saint Boniface.

Saint Sturm, also called Sturmius or Sturmi, was a disciple of Saint Boniface and founder and first abbot of the Benedictine monastery and abbey of Fulda in 742 or 744. Sturm's tenure as abbot lasted from 747 until 779.

<i>Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum</i>

The Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum is a Latin collection of capitularies identifying and condemning superstitious and pagan beliefs found in the north of Gaul and among the Saxons during the time of their subjugation and conversion by Charlemagne.

Hülfensberg mountain in Thuringia, Germany

The Hülfensberg is a 448 m high, heavily wooded mountain in the Geismar municipality in the Eichsfeld district, Thuringia, Germany. The mountain has been a pilgrimage site since the late Middle Ages, and on its summit are a church containing a 12th-century crucifix, a Franciscan friary, a chapel dedicated to Saint Boniface, and a large free-standing cross.

Megingoz was the second bishop of Würzburg from 753 until his retirement in 768.

Lutz E. von Padberg is a German historian whose specialty is medieval history and in particular the Christianization of the Germanic peoples. He is an expert on Saint Boniface, having written biographies of the saint and studies of his veneration.

Ragyndrudis Codex codex from the Middle Ages

The Ragyndrudis Codex is an early medieval codex of religious texts, now in Fulda in Germany, which is closely associated with Saint Boniface, who, according to tradition, used it at the time of his martyrdom to ward off the swords or axes of the Frisians who killed him on 5 June 754 near Dokkum, Friesland. This long association has given the codex the status of a contact relic.

Petra Kehl is a German scholar of the Middle Ages, specifically of the veneration of saints. Kehl's monograph Kult und Nachleben des hl. Bonifatius (1993) is one of two monographs on the veneration of Saint Boniface. Her study was praised by one reviewer as written "with meticulous care", and by another as "an account that deserves wide recognition, a standard for scholarship for years to come". Kehl lives in Fulda, where she runs a publishing company specializing in historical fiction, religious literature, and children's literature.

Michael Tangl was an Austrian scholar of history and diplomatics, and one of the main editors of the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, for whom he published the correspondence of Saint Boniface, an edition still used by scholars and considered the definitive edition.



  1. Boniface, Saint. 3 (15th ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 1974. pp. 31–32. ISBN   0-85229-305-4.
  2. Aherne, Consuelo Maria. "Saint Boniface". Britannica. Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  3. Cantor 167-68.
  4. Van der Goot 1–2, 17.
  5. Levison 6.
  6. Talbot 28.
  7. Schieffer 76–77; 103–105.
  8. St Mary Major – Cathedral Yard, Exeter Memories website, 2015
  9. Orme 97; Hockey 106.
  10. Levison xxix.
  11. Emerton 81.
  12. Flechner 47.
  13. Levison 9.
  14. Schieffer 105–106.
  15. Gneuss 38.
  16. Gneuss 37–40.
  17. Yorke.
  18. Levison 31–32.
  19. von Padberg 40–41.
  20. Levison 35.
  21. Rau 494 n.10.
  22. Wolf 2–5.
  23. Wolf 5.
  24. Talbot 56.
  25. Talbot 57.
  26. Schieffer 272-73.
  27. Palmer 158.
  28. Kehl, "Entstehung und Verbreitung" 128-32.
  29. Palmer 162.
  30. "Devon Myths and Legends."
  31. Melmoth, Jenny and Val Hayward (1999). St. Boniface and the Little Fir Tree: A Story to Color. Warrington: Alfresco Books. ISBN   1-873727-15-1.
  32. Papa, Carrie (2008). The Brightest Star of All: Christmas Stories for the Family. Abingdon Press. ISBN   978-0-687-64813-9.
  33. Harvey, May Louise (1912). The American normal readers: fifth book: "How Saint Boniface Kept Christmas Eve." 207-22. Silver, Burdett and Co.
  34. Dyke, Henry van. "The First Christmas Tree" . Retrieved 30 December 2011.
  35. This is not the Willibald who was appointed by Boniface as Bishop of Eichstatt: "The writer of the Life was a simple priest who had never come into direct contact with Boniface and what he says is based upon the facts that he was able to collect from those who had been Boniface's disciples." Talbot 24.
  36. Levison xvii–xxvi.
  37. Levison xxxviii.
  38. Levison xlvii.
  39. Becht-Jördens, Gereon (1991). "Neue Hinweise zum Rechtsstatus des Klosters Fulda aus der Vita Aegil des Brun Candidus". Hessisches Jahrbuch für Landesgeschichte (in German). 41: 11–29.
  40. Levison lvi–lviii.
  41. Haarländer.
  42. 1 2 3 Noble xxxiv–xxxv.
  43. Epistolae s. Bonifacii martyris, primi moguntini archiepiscopi, published in 1605 in Mainz and republished in 1625, and again in 1639, Paris.
  44. Gneuss 130, item 849.
  45. Lapidge 38.
  46. Orchard 62–63.
  47. 1 2 Meeder, Sven (2011). "Boniface and the Irish Heresy of Clemens". Church History . 80 (2): 251–80.
  48. Glatthaar 134-63.
  49. Weichlein, Siegfried (2004). "Bonifatius als politischer Heiliger im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert". In Imhof, Michael; Stasch, Gregor K. (eds.). Bonifatius: Vom angelsächsischen Missionar zum Apostel der Deutschen (in German). Petersberg: Michael Imhof Verlag. pp. 219–34.
  50. Nichtweiß 283-88.
  51. Pralle 59.
  52. Grave 134.
  53. Aaij.
  54. Hartl.
  55. Henk Alkema (music) and Peter te Nuyl (libretto). Bonifacius. Leewarden, 2004.
  56. Ed. Cuno Raabe et al., Fulda: Parzeller, 1954.
  57. Eds. Michael Imhof and Gregor Stasch, Petersberg: Michael Imhof, 2004.
  58. Lehmann 193: "In dem auch heute noch als Standardwerk anerkannten Buch Winfrid-Bonifatius und die christlichen Grundlegung Europas von Theodor Schieffer..."
  59. Mostert, Marco. "Bonifatius als geschiedsvervalser". Madoc. 9 (3): 213–21. ...een nog steeds niet achterhaalde biografie


Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Archbishop of Mainz
Succeeded by