Sunday, June 5, 2011

June 5: St Boniface OSB, Apostle to Germany, Class III

St Boniface was born around 672 in Devon, St Boniface OSB was actually an English monk called Winfrid until he changed his name when commissioned by the Pope as a missionary in 719. He was made a bishop in 722, and eventually became Archbishop of Germany, which he was primarily responsible for evangelizing.

His methods were, shall we say, rather direct - he famously chopped down Thor's Oak, a pagan sacred tree, daring Thor to strike him down if he was real. The saint is credited with the invention of the Christmas Tree as a replacement symbol for the locals...a classic version of inculturation!

He seems to have also played a key role in the politics of the time, helping the Carolingian dynasty along its way to stardom.

His life has many modern resonances - the picture to the left shows him baptising new converts, but one of his concerns early on was the validity of baptisms being conducted by illiterate priests who couldn't quite get the Trinity to have the correct gender...

He was martyred in 754 at the age of 79 (the lower panel of the picture), making one last attempt to convert Frisia. His attackers were apparently enraged at his destruction of their shrines - their blows cut into a book of the Gospels he held before him.

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