Dienstag, 20. Januar 2009

St. Boniface, Enlightener of Germany (c. 672)

Feast Day: June 5

(Icon at right by the hand of Alexander Stolyarov. Provided online by Fr. Hieromonk Benedikt of Göttingen, Moscow Patriarchate)

Boniface was born in Crediton in 680AD into a Saxon family. He was baptised Wynfrith or Winfrid (from the Saxon words wine - friend and frith - peace).

Wynfrith was educated in a Benedictine monastery in Exeter and taught at a monastery at Nursling in Hampshire. It was here he compiled England's first dictionary of Latin grammar. He was ordained priest at the age of thirty.

For many years he felt called to missionary work and began his first foreign ministry at thirty-six in Friesland (now part of Holland) in 716. The language of the Frisians was very close to his native Anglo-Saxon, yet his efforts were hampered by ongoing war between Frisian King Radbod and Charles Martel (The Hammer).

Three years later in Rome he was commissioned by Pope Gregory II to be a missionary to Germany. He was given the name Bonifacius, meaning maker of good or good deeds. In accepting the commission from the Roman Patriarch, he was bound to use the Roman, rather than the Celtic Christian formula for baptism and to turn to Rome for guidance. His work took him to Hesse, Friesland and Bavaria.

In 722 he was elevated to bishop- without an established diocese. He was charged to "preach to the heathen east of the Rhine".

Faced with local ambivalence toward Christianity, legend says that in northern Hesse Boniface threatened to cut down the sacred Oak of Geismar dedicated to Thor. Boniface called upon Thor to strike him down if he cut the "holy" tree. When Thor did not strike him down, the people converted. He built a chapel from its wood at the site where today stands the cathedral of Fritzlar. Folklore says this was the origin of the Christmas tree. The symbolic felling of Thor's Oak is commonly regarded as the beginning of German Christianization north and east of the old borders of the Roman Empire. Willibald, a contemporary, wrote:

Many of the people of Hesse were converted [by Boniface] to the Catholic faith and confirmed by the grace of the spirit: and they received the laying on of hands. But some there were, not yet strong of soul, who refused to accept wholly the teachings of the true faith. Some men sacrificed secretly, some even openly, to trees and springs. Some secretly practiced divining, soothsaying, and incantations, and some openly. But others, who were of sounder mind, cast aside all heathen profanation and did none of these things, and it was with the advice and consent of these men that Boniface sought to fell a tree of great size, at Geismar, and called, in the ancient... of the region, the oak of Thor.

The destruction of local pagan shrines was a habit that would come back to haunt Boniface.

In 723 he was taken under the protection of the Frankish king, Charles Martel. His mission continued in Hesse and Thuringia where he established convents (Klosteren) and developed a well-oragnized system of churches. This was the foundation on which the Roman Church grew in later years throughout Germany.

Boniface was a prolific writer. He made frequent request to Saxons in England for supplies, money, books, and monks to help him in preaching and teaching. He also sought and gave advice to other clerics in his home country. Many of his letters can be found, translated, at the Medieval Sourcebook website.

Charles Martel and his sons proved to be important patrons of the Church and assisted in etablishing churches and monasteries. Boniface wrote 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."

In 732 Boniface was consecrated archbishop by Pope Gregory III and subsequently found monasteries and episcopal sees throughout Bavaria, Thuringia, Hesse, and Franconia. In 745 Boniface was elevated to Primate of all Germany by Pope Zachary and was given Mainz as his cathedral. In the period 742-747, Boniface directed a series of reforming councils in Francia that dealt largely with abuses by new and inexperienced clergy.

Charles Martel's oldest son, Carloman, left public life in order to live as a monastic, leaving the entire Frankish kingdom to his younger brother, Pippin the Short. A powerful precedent was set that would forever change the political and religious dynamics in Europe; in 752 Pippin was anointed king by Boniface, the first-known instance in the West of such a ceremony.

He had never relinquished his hope of converting the Frisians, and in 754 he set out with a small retinue for Frisia. He summoned a general meeting for the confirmation of converts not far from Dokkum, Netherlands. Instead of his converts, however, a group of armed inhabitants appeared who slew the aged archbishop. According to their own law (The Lex Frisionum), the Frisians had the right to kill him, since he had destroyed their shrines. His body was taken to Utrecht, then Fulda, where his relics still rest today.

A photo of a relic can be seen here. It rests alongside a bone-fragmentfrom Saint Benedict of Nursia.

Boniface made a significant impact on English and European history. In addition to his long guidance of the early church in Germany, he established the structures which allowed it to co-exist with monarchy. He is the patron saint of both Germany and Holland.

Wikipedia states Saint Boniface's feast day is celebrated on June 5 in the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Anglican Communion and on December 19 in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Preface for the Liturgy of St. Boniface's Day in Old English liturgical books reads:

"It is truly meet and just, right and availing to salvation, that we should always and in all places give thanks to Thee, O Holy Lord, Father almighty, everlasting God, Whose grace chose blessed Boniface to the episcopate, Whose teaching made him wise in preaching, Whose power strengthened him to persevere, that by way of the priestly mitre he might reach the palm of martyrdom, both teaching his subjects by preaching, and instructing them how to live by his example, and confirming them by suffering, that he might come to Thee to be crowned, who had fearlessly overcome the threats of his persecutors.

By his intercession, we beseech Thee, may he cleanse us of our misdeeds who pleased Thee with such choice manifestations of Thy gifts, through Christ our Lord. By Whom Angels praise Thy majesty, Dominions worship, the Powers tremble. The heavens, and the heavenly Virtues, and the blessed Seraphim, concelebrate in one exultation, with whom command our voices also to have entrance, we beseech Thee, humbly confessing Thee, and saying: Holy, Holy, Holy," etc. (from the Old Sarum Rite Missal, 1998 St. Hilarion Press)

St. Boniface Church, Chicago, USA, was established by German immigrants in 1865, with the current building dating from 1903. The church, although of significant architectural interest, fell into disuse in 1990 and its future is in doubt.



aaronandbrighid hat gesagt…

Nice overview of St Boniface. And thanks for posting this icon of him--it reminded me where I got the icon of St Benedict by the same iconographer.