Saturday, 5 June 2010

Feast of St Boniface

Today is the feast of St Boniface OSB, one of my favourite Benedictine saints.

St Boniface (aka Winfrid) was born around 672, a product of the same English intellectual and spiritual tradition that gave us St Bede and many others.  He is famous though, for leading the mission to evangelise and re-evangelise Germany and surrounding areas.  A monk, he established a chain of men's and women's monasteries throughout these lands by persuading his monastic brothers and sisters to join him on the continent, and imported with them the cultural traditions that had been preserved and handed down through the lively intersection of Anglo-Saxon and Irish monasticism.

Commissioned by the Pope in 719, he eventually became Archbishop of what is now more or less Germany, and seems to have played a key role in the establishment of the Carolingian regime.  Much of St Boniface's correspondence with his fellow monks and nuns, as well as bishops and Popes, has survived, and makes interesting reading and have a certain resonance in these similarly chaotic times. Here is an extract from the introduction to one of the published collections:

"The correspondence of St. Boniface as edited by Tangl contains many letters which belong to several other people in his circle, such as Lull, and to various correspondents in England and in Rome...The more homely and affectionate side of his nature appears in his letters to nuns, his preoccupation with the education of his disciples and subjects in his letters to abbots and bishops in England; whilst the difficulties of conversion, of organization, of church reform and many other matters are the subject of his letters to the Popes. Nowhere else in this period do we find so vivid a picture of the discouraging conditions amongst which the missionaries laboured and died. But in spite of the moral degradation of the Frankish clergy whom he strove to reform, in spite also of the poverty, dangers, ostracism and opposition which he met, there is no echo in these letters of discouragement, self-pity or weariness. We see him forging patiently and with complete confidence the instruments by which Europe was to be converted-the establishment of convents and monasteries, the foundation of bishoprics, centres of education and schools, submitting all to the ever-watchful guidance of the Popes, to whose devoted and constant service he had pledged himself at the outset of his missionary career." 

You can read a selection from those letters here.

St Boniface was martyred in 754 when at the age of 79 he made one last attempt to convert Frisia, and he was cut down even as he held up the Gospel book to defend himself.

A happy name day to all Bonifaces, particularly those who are monks!

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