For basic background on Boniface see Catholic Encyclopedia: Boniface
[Talbot Introduction] The following Life was written in answer to the many requests from Boniface's friends in Britain, France and Germany, who wished, like Bishop Milret of Worcester, to have "an account of the life and glorious end" of their hero. These requests were sent to Boniface's successor in the bishopric of Mainz, Lull, and Willibald was a chosen by him and Bishop Megingoz of Würzburg to satisfy their demand.
Willibald is not to be confused with the 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. That he was an English missionary is proved by the many indications given in his treatment of names. Whilst he always employs the correct spelling and endings for Anglo-Saxon words, he anglicizes the spelling of names and places of Frisian or Germanic origin. He wrote not long after the death of Boniface-to be precise, within thirteen years, for Megingoz, to whom the book is dedicated, died 26 September 768.
The work has been composed on a systematic plan. Each chapter opens with a prologue in which the events to be narrated are briefly outlined, and ends with a verse from the New Testament. Only in the eighth and ninth chapters does this plan fail, and for this reason it has been thought that the whole Life has not been preserved. A number of explanations have been put forward to account for this-for example, the censorship of Bishop Lull on those parts which might have reflected on his conduct-but it is more likely that the author himself did not finally carry out his intentions.
The chief defects of the work are twofold: first, the style is inflated and obscure, due no doubt to his attempt to model himself on St. Aldhelm's writings; second, the comparative meagerness of the facts. In spite of this, the book was much read and even imitated.
Sources: The first edition of the Life of St. Boniface by Willibald was made by Henricus Canisius, Sancti Willibaldi Eickstadiani Liber de Vita S. Bonifacd Martyris, Germanorum Apostoli, etc., at Ingoldstadt in 1603. The critical edition was prepared by W. Levison, Viti Bonifatii auctore Willibaldo, for Scriptores Rerum Germanicarum (Hanover, 1905), pp. 11-57. An English translation, The Life of Saint Bonifae by Willibald was made by George Washington Robinson in 1916 and published at Cambridge, U.S.A.
[The Prologue, part of chapter 1, is omited in Talbot's translation. It is available in the edition by
Thomas Head noted at the end of this document.]
How, in childhood, he began to serve God
What I am attempting to do here is to describe the blessed life and character of Saint Boniface, the archbishop, insofar as I have learned the facts from holy men who lived in daily contact with him and who, therefore, knew his manner of life and were in a position to recall those details that they have heard or witnessed. Though I labor under the disadvantage of having had only an indirect acquaintance with him, my design is to weave into the texture of my narrative and to present in as brief a form as possible all the facts ascertainable by a thorough investigation into his holiness and divine contemplation.
In his very early childhood, after he had been weaned and reared with a mother's usual anxious care, his father lavished upon him more affection than upon the rest of his brothers. When he reached the age of about four or five he conceived a desire to enter the service of God and began to think deeply on the advantages of the monastic life. Even at this early age he had subdued the flesh to the spirit and meditated on the things that are eternal rather than on those that are temporal.
When priests or clerics, traveling abroad, as is the custom in those parts, to preach to the people, came to the town and the house where his father dwelt the child would converse with them on spiritual matters and, as far as the capacity of his tender years permitted, would ask them to advise him on the best means of overcoming the frailties of his nature. After some time, when he had given long consideration to the things of God and his whole nature craved for a future life, he revealed his desires to his father and begged him to take his confidences in good part. His father, taken aback at the views he expressed, rebuked him with violence and, while forbidding him to leave his side, enticed him with promises of worldly success, hoping by this means to retain the boy as guardian, or rather heir of his worldly possessions. Employing all the subtle craft of human wisdom, he endeavored by long discussions to dissuade the boy from carrying out his purpose, and mingled promises with flattery in the hope of persuading him that life in the world would be more congenial for one of his age than the austere regime of the monastic and contemplative life. In order to turn the boy aside from pursuing his purpose he paraded before him all the inducements of pleasure and luxury. But the saint, even at that early age, was filled with the spirit of God. The more his father attempted to hold him back, the more stoutly and doggedly he determined to pursue the heavenly ideal and to devote himself to the study of sacred letters. And in accordance with the workings of divine mercy it fell out in a remarkable way that divine providence not only confirmed him in his undertaking but also changed the obstinate mood of his father, for at one and the same instant his father was struck down by a sudden and fatal sickness, while the boy's intentions, long frustrated, grew in strength and were, by help of God, brought to their fulfilment.
When, by the inscrutable judgment and dispensation of God, the saint's father fell sick, he suddenly changed his previous obstinate attitude and, after calling together all the members of his family, sent the boy under the care of trustworthy messengers to the monastery of Examchester, which was ruled at that time by Abbot Wulfhard. There, surrounded by his friends, he made known to the abbot his desire to enter the monastic life and, in a manner mature for his years, presented his petition according to the instructions previously given to him by his parents. The father of the monastery thereupon took counsel with the rest of the brethren and, after receiving their blessing as is prescribed by the monastic rule," gave his consent. In this way the man of God was bereaved of his earthly father and embraced the adoptive Father of our redemption. He thus renounced all worldly and transitory possessions for the sake of acquiring the eternal inheritance in order that, to quote the words of the Gospel, by forsaking father and mother and lands and the other things of this world he might receive a hundredfold hereafter and possess everlasting life.
How in the beginning he overcame the passions of youth and kept to all that was good.
The first part of our narrative, though briefly expressed, is now completed. We shall now describe the virtuous habits in which the saint trained himself at the beginning of his monastic life. Then, after we have established our work on a firm basis, we can raise the structure little by little to its crowning point.
After he had increased in age and strength and knowledge and, completing the seven years of childhood, had reached the bloom of youth, the grace of God, as later events in this book will show, endowed him with wonderful intellectual qualities. He was conspicuous for the purity of his many virtues learned from the example of earlier holy men, but also for submitting publicly and humbly to the customs of the venerable fathers [of his own monastery]. Moreover, he was endowed with a spark of divine genius and so assiduously fostered it by study that every hour and moment of his long and active life only served to increase: the divine gifts that had been showered upon him. The longer he continued in the service of the priesthood, the more, as we are told by his trusted and intimate friends, did his continual studies and his protracted endeavors in the literary field stimulate him in his search for eternal bliss. This was a marvelous protection against the enticements and diabolical suggestions that beset young men in the flower of their youth and that cloud their minds with a kind of darkness. As a result, the fiery passions of youth and the fleshly lusts that at first made violent assaults upon him lost their power through his ceaseless vigilance and his assiduous inquiries into the meaning of sacred Scripture. His studies, pursued with increasing ardor, led him inevitably to undertake the task of teaching others, a labor that after a short time and in accordance with episcopal and ecclesiastical ordinances he duly carried out. He spurned the fleeting successes of this world and continued under the able guidance of Abbot Wulfhard to follow faithfully and conscientiously the true pattern of monastic observance. When he had outgrown his boyhood and youth his enthusiasm for study and the lack of suitable teachers moved him to seek permission from the abbot and community to pass over to a neighboring monastery. He prayed constantly and perseveringly for the approval of God on his undertaking, and finally, under the inspiration of divine grace, he went to the monastery that to this day is called Nursling. There, attracted by the desire for learning, he became a disciple of the venerable abbot Winbert, of blessed memory, and joined the community of the brethren who dwelt there with him in the Lord. Thus united to the servants of God, he showed great zeal for meditation, devotion to the service of God, perseverance in watching and assiduity in the study of the Scriptures. In this way he became proficient not only in grammar and rhetoric and the writing of verses but also in the literal and spiritual exposition of the Bible. In the end he became so renowned for his profound understanding of the Scriptures and for his skill in imparting his knowledge to others that he was accepted as a trustworthy guide in traditional doctrine. As a teacher he was a model, because he did not refuse to learn f rom his pupils, for it is a principle in monastic houses that no one should presume to rule others unless he has previously learned to submit. No man who has failed to render obedience to the superiors set over him by God can rightly exact obedience from his inferiors. Such obedience as befits a monk was given by the saint to all the members of the community, and particularly to the abbot, and he applied himself assiduously, according to blessed Father Benedict's prescribed form of proper arrangement" to the daily manual labor and the regular performance of his duties. In this way he was an example to all both in word, deed, faith, and purity. All could profit by his good deeds, while he on his side shared in their common eternal reward. But God alone, from whom nothing is concealed, knew the hidden depths of his heart and the extent of his humility and charity that had won for him an ascendancy over all his brethren. They looked upon him with love mingled with fear; and though he was their companion in the pursuit of divine love, they considered him, in the words of the apostle (cf. Rom 12:10) as their father. His kindliness toward the brethren and the extent of his learning increased to such a degree that his fame as a teacher spread far and wide among monasteries both of men and women. Of their inmates great numbers of men, attracted by a desire for learning, flocked to hear him and under his guidance studied the whole extent of the Scriptures; but the nuns, who were unable continually to come to his lectures, stimulated by his vast wisdom and his spirit of divine love, applied themselves with diligence to the study of the sacred texts, scanning page after page as they meditated on the sacred and hidden mysteries.
Guided and sustained as he was by supernatural grace, he followed both the example and the teaching of the Apostle of the Gentiles: "Follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. . . . Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 1.13, 2.15).
How he gave instruction to all and assumed the office of teacher, not at his own whim but on the attainment of the proper age
We will now turn our attention for a moment to the general tenor of the saint's daily contemplation and to his perseverance in fasting and abstinence. In this way, making gradual progress, we shall relate with conciseness and brevity his wonderful deeds, follow his life to its close, and examine it in greater detail. By balancing one aspect of his life against another we shall show that the venerable and holy Boniface was an example for us of eternal life in his evenly balanced moderation and that he laid before us the precepts of apostolic learning. Following the example of the saints, he climbed the steep path that leads to knowledge of heavenly things and went before his people as a leader who opens the gates of paradise through which only the upright shall enter.
From tile early days of his childhood even to infirm old age he imitated in particular the practice of the ancient fathers in daily committing to memory the writings of the prophets and apostles, the narratives of the passion of the martyrs and the Gospel teaching of Our Lord. To quote the words of the apostle: whether he ate or drank or whatsoever else he did, he always praised and thanked God both in heart and word; as the psalmist says, "I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth" (Ps 34.1). To such a degree was he inflamed with a love of the Scriptures that he applied all his energies to learning and practicing their counsels, and those matters that were written for the instruction of the people he paraphrased and explained to them with striking eloquence, shrewdly spicing it with parables. His discretion was such that his rebukes, though sharp, were never lacking in gentleness, while his teaching, though mild, was never lacking in force. Zeal and vigor made him forceful, but gentleness and love made him mild. Accordingly he exhorted and reproved with equal impartiality the rich and powerful, the freedmen and the slaves, neither flattering and fawning upon the rich nor oppressing and browbeating the freedmen and slaves but, in the words of the apostle, he had "become all things to all men that [he] might by all means save some" (1 Cor 9.22).
He did not take upon himself the office of preacher either as an expression of his caprice or before the appointed time, nor did he seek the position through contumacy and greed. But he waited, as was in keeping with his humble character, until he had reached the age of thirty or more, when, by the recommendation and choice of his superior and brethren, he was ordained in accordance with the rules laid down by the ecclesiastical decrees. As a priest he received diverse gifts and presents, and as far as he was allowed by the severity of the regular and the monastic life he gave himself up to almsgiving and works of mercy. He always rose before the hours of vigils and occupied himself in the laborious exercise of prayer. Anger could not undermine his patience, rage did not shake his forbearance. Lust was impotent in the presence of his chastity, and gluttony was unable to break down his abstemiousness. He subdued himself by fasting and abstinence to such a degree that he drank neither wine nor beer and in this imitated the great figures of the Old and New Testament. With the Apostle of the Gentiles he could say: "I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preach7 ing to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9.27).
How he was sent to Kent by all the nobles, and how afterward he went to Frisia
In the previous chapter we collected together some isolated examples of Saint Boniface's admirable virtues. We consider that the others that follow, which have been elicited from trustworthy witnesses and that we shall attempt to recount, should not be passed over in silence. These are concerned with his constancy in the projects he had undertaken and his zeal in bringing others to their desired end. When he had trained himself over a long period in the virtues already mentioned and had given proof during his priesthood of many outstanding qualities, there arose a sudden crisis during the reign of Ine, king of the West Saxons, occasioned by the outbreak of a rebellion. On the advice of the king the heads of the churches immediately summoned a council of the servants of God, and as soon as they were all assembled a discussion, satisfactory from every point of view, took place among the priests. They adopted the prudent measure of sending trustworthy legates to Bertwald, the archbishop of Canterbury, fearing that if they made any decision without the advice of the archbishop they would be accused of presumption and temerity. At the conclusion of the discussion, when the entire gathering had reached an agreement, the king addressed all the servants of Christ, asking them whom they would choose to deliver their message. Without hesitation Winbert, the senior abbot present, who ruled over the monastery of Nursling; Wintra, the abbot of Tisbury; Beorwald, the abbot of Glastonbury, and many others who professed the monastic life summoned the saint and led him into the presence of the king. The king entrusted the message and the principal responsibilities of the embassy to him and, after giving him companions, sent him on his way in peace. In accordance with the commands of his superiors he set out with the message and, after a prosperous journey, came to Kent, where he skillfully made known to the archbishop all the
matters, from first to last, that the king had told him. On receiving an immediate reply, he returned home after a few days and delivered the archbishop's answer to the king as he sat with the servants of God, bringing great joy to them all. Thus by the wonderful dispensation of God his good name was made known on all sides, and his reputation was high both among the lay nobility and the clergy. From that moment his influence increased by leaps and bounds, so that he became a regular member of their synodal assemblies.
But because a mind intent on God is not elated nor dependent upon the praise and approbation of man, he began carefully and cautiously to turn his mind to other things, to shun the company of his relatives and acquaintances, and to set his heart not on remaining in his native land but on traveling abroad. After long deliberation on the question of forsaking his country and his relatives, he took counsel of Abbot Winbert, of blessed memory, and frankly disclosed to him the plans that up to that moment he had carefully concealed. He importuned the holy man with loud and urgent requests to give his consent to the project, but Winbert, astounded, at first refused to grant his permission, thinking that delay might turn him away from carrying out his proposals. At last, however, the providence of God prevailed and Boniface's petition was granted.
So great was the affection of the abbot and brethren, with whom he had lived under the monastic discipline, that they willingly provided the money for his needs and continued long afterward to pray to God on his behalf: and so he set out upon his journey and, with God's help, safely completed it.
Much strengthened by their spiritual support and liberally supplied with earthly goods, the saint lacked nothing necessary for soul and body. Accompanied by two or three of the brethren on whose bodily and spiritual comfort he depended, he set out on his journey; and after traveling wide stretches of countryside, happy in the companionship of his brethren, he came to a place where there was a market for the buying and selling of merchandise. This place is called Lundenwich [i.e. London] by the Anglo-Saxons even to this day. After a few days, when the sailors were about to embark on their return home, Boniface asked permission of the shipmaster to go on board, and after paying his fare he set sail and came with a favorable winds to Dorestad, where he tarried for a while and gave thanks to God night and day.
But a fierce quarrel that broke out between Charles, the prince and noble leader of the Franks, and Radbod, the king of the Frisians, as a result of a hostile incursion by the pagans, caused great disturbances among the population of both sides, and through the dispersion of the priests and the persecution of Radbod the greater part of the Christian churches, which previously had been subject to Frankish control, were laid waste and brought to ruin. Moreover, the pagan shrines were rebuilt and, what is worse, the worship of idols was restored. When the man of God perceived the wicked perversity of Radbod lie came to Utrecht and, after waiting for a few days, spoke with the king, who had also gone there. And having traveled about the country and examined many parts of it to discover what possibility there might be of preaching the Gospel in future, he decided that if at any time he could see his way to approach the people he would minister to them the Word of God. On this purpose of his, his glorious martyrdom many years later set its seal.
A strange thing in the sanctity of the saints is that when they perceive that their labors are frustrated for a time and bear no spiritual fruit they betake themselves to other places where the results are more palpable, for there is nothing to be gained if one stays in a place without reaping a harvest of souls. With this in mind, when the saint had spent the whole of the summer in the country of the Frisians to no purpose and the autumn was nearing its end, he forsook the pastures that lay parched through lack of heavenly and fruitful dew, and, taking several companions with him for the journey, he departed to his native land. There in the seclusion of his monastery he spent two winters and one summer with the brethren, who received him with open arms. In this manner he fulfilled that passage in the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles, where it says: "For I have decided to spend the winter there" (Tim 3:12).
How after the death of his abbot he tarried a short time with the brethren and then went to Rome
Having now touched briefly on the virtues of the saint, we shall make known the subsequent events of his life as we have ascertained them from reliable witnesses, that his life and character may be made more clearly manifest to those who wish to model themselves on the example of his holy manner of life.
After accomplishing his dangerous journey and escaping unharmed from the perils of the sea, he returned to his native soil and rejoined once more the fellowship of his brethren. But when he had enjoyed their company for many days a deep sorrow began to gnaw at his heart and grief weighed heavily on his soul, for as the days went by he noticed that the aging limbs of his master were growing weaker and weaker, and as a violent sickness shook and troubled his body he saw the day of his master's death approaching. At length Winbert laid aside of the prison of his body and breathed his last sigh while the monks looked sadly on. Often in the hearts of the saints the feeling of compassion for those who are overtaken by trouble wells up with particular force. For a time they themselves may be sad at heart, but through putting their trust in the words of the apostle they receive everlasting consolation in the Lord.
On this occasion the saint addressed the brethren with words of comfort and, ever mindful of the tradition of the fathers, exhorted them in a spiritual discourse always to preserve down to their smallest detail both the form of regular organization and the norm of ecclesiastical prescription. He counseled them also to choose someone as their spiritual father. Then all of one accord and with one voice earnestly implored the holy man, who at that time was called Winfrith, to take upon himself the abbatial office. But since he had already forsaken the comfort of his native land and put aside all idea of ruling others, particularly as he was now eagerly preparing to put his own plans into execution, he tactfully declined.
Now when the winter season was over and the summer was well advanced he called to mind his intention of the previous year and carefully set about preparing the journey that had been deferred. Provided with letters of introduction from Bishop Daniel, of blessed memory, he tried to set out on his way to the tombs of the apostles. But for a long time he was detained by the needs of the brethren, who, now bereft of a superior, opposed his departure. Faced with their tears and wailings, he was restrained from leaving them through his feelings of affection and compassion; but so great a mental anguish oppressed him that he knew not which way to turn, for he was afraid that if he forsook the flock that had been committed to his master's care and that was now without a watchful guardian it might be exposed to ravening wolves, but on the other hand he was anxious not to miss the opportunity of going abroad in the autumn season. And when Almighty God, not unmindful of his paternal love, desired to deliver His servant from his perplexity, anxiety, and grief, and to provide a suitable superior for the community, Bishop Daniel busied himself with the brethren's needs and set over the monastery a man of sterling character named Stephen. Thereupon he sped the holy man safely on his pilgrim way.
Bidding farewell to the brethren, he departed, and after traveling a considerable distance he came at length, in fulfillment of his desire, to the town that, as we have said, is called Lundenwich. He embarked immediately on a small swift ship and began to cross the pathless expanse of the sea. The sailors were in good spirits, the huge sails bellied in the northwest wind, and, helped along by a stiff following breeze, they soon came after an uneventful crossing in sight of the mouth of the river called Cuent. Here, safe from shipwreck, they set foot on dry land. At Cuentwick [i.e. Quentvic in Normandy] they pitched their camp and waited until the remainder of the party came together.
When they had all met they set out straightway on their journey, for with the passing of the days the threat of winter hung over them. Many a church they visited on their way to pray that by the help of Almighty God they might cross in safety the snowy peaks of the Alps, find greater kindness at the hands of the Lombards, and escape with impunity from the savage ferocity of the undisciplined soldiery. And when at last, through the prayers of the saints and the providence of God, the saint and his whole retinue had reached the tomb of Saint Peter the Apostle unharmed, they immediately gave thanks to Christ for their safe journey. Afterward they went with deep joy to the Church of Saint Peter, chief of the apostles, and many of them offered up gifts, begging absolution of their sins. Now after several days had passed, the holy man spoke with the venerable man who occupied the Apostolic See, Pope Gregory of blessed memory. [I.e Gregory II, r. 715-31] He was the second pope of that name, predecessor of the more recent Gregory [i.e. Gregory III, 731-7411, and was known as "the Younger" in the vernacular tongue of the Romans. He described the work that was closest to his heart and for which he had labored so anxiously and so long. The saintly pope, suddenly turning his gaze upon him, inquired with cheerful countenance and smiling eyes whether he carried any letters of recommendation from his bishop.
Boniface, coming to himself, drew back his cloak and produced both a parchment folded in the customary fashion and other letters, which he gave to that admirable man of holy memory. As soon as Gregory had taken the letters, he signaled for Boniface to withdraw. After the pope had read the letters of recommendation and examined the writing on the parchment, he thereafter met with Boniface on a daily basis and discussed his plans assiduously, until the approach of the summer season, when it was necessary for Boniface to set out on his return journey. When the end of the month of Nisan, that is April, had been reached, then Boniface, having sought and received both a blessing and letters from the Apostolic See, was sent by the blessed pope to make a report on the savage peoples of Germany. The purpose of this was to discover whether their untutored hearts and minds were ready to receive the seed of the divine Word.
And so, collecting a number of relics of the saints, he retraced his steps in the company of his fellows and reached the frontiers of Italy, where he met Liudprand, king of the Lombards, to whom he gave gifts and tokens of peace. He was honorably received by the king and rested awhile after the weary labors of the journey. After receiving many presents in return, he crossed the hills and the plains and scaled the steep mountain passes of the Alps.
He then traversed the territories of the Bavarians and their German neighbors, unknown to him till then, and, in accordance with the injunction of the Apostolic See, proceeded on his journey of inspection into Thuringia." Thus like the busy bee which, borne along by its softly buzzing wings, flits over fields and meadows and picks its way among a thousand different sweet-smelling flowers, testing with its discriminating tongue the secret hoards of honey bearing nectar and completely ignoring all bitter and poisonous juices, and then comes back with nectar to its hive and, to use an illustration from the words of the apostle, "test all things and hold on to what is good" (1 Thess 5.21). In Thuringia the holy man followed the mandate given him by the Apostolic See. He spoke to the senators of each tribe and the princes of the whole people with words of spiritual exhortation, recalling them to the true way of knowledge and the light of understanding that for the greater part they had lost through the perversity of their teachers. By preaching the Gospel and turning their minds away from evil toward a life of virtue and the observance of canonical decrees he reproved, admonished, and instructed to the best of his ability the priests and the elders, some of whom devoted themselves to the true worship of Almighty God, while others, contaminated and polluted by unchastity, had forsaken the life of continence to which, as ministers of the altar, they were vowed.
Afterward, accompanied by his brethren, he went into Francia, and, on learning of the death of Radbod, king of the Frisians, being desirous that Frisia also should hear the Word of God, he joyfully took ship and sailed up the river. In this way he reached districts that had hitherto been left untouched by the preaching of the Gospel. The ending of the persecution raised by the savage King Radbod permitted him to scatter abroad the seed of Christian teaching to feed with wholesome doctrine those who had been famished by pagan superstition. The results of this work, so close to his heart, were swift and spontaneous. The divine light illumined their hearts, the authority of the glorious leader Charles over the Frisians was strengthened, the word of truth was blazened abroad, the voice of preachers filled the land, and the venerable Willibrord with his fellow missioners propagated the Gospel.
When he saw that the harvest was abundant and the laborers were few the holy servant of God offered his services for three year's to Archbishop Willibrord and labored indefatigably. He destroyed pagan temples and shrines, built churches and chapels, and with the help of Willibrord gained numerous converts to the church. When Willibrord grew old and was becoming infirm he decided on the suggestion of his disciples to appoint an assistant to relieve him of the burden of the ministry in his declining years and to choose from his small flock some man of faith who would be able to govern so numerous a people. He summoned to him the servant of God and urged him with salutary words of advice to accept the responsibility and dignity of the episcopal office and to assist him in governing the people of God. Boniface in his humility hastily declined, answering that he was unworthy of the episcopal office, that so great a responsibility ought not to be imposed upon him at so young an age and that he had not yet reached the age of fifty required by canon law. All these excuses he put forward to avoid being raised to this exalted position. Archbishop Willibrord therefore sternly reproved him and urged him to accept the work offered him, adducing, as a final argument, the extreme need of the people over whom he ruled. When not even Willibrord's reproof could bring the saint to acquiesce and every kind of argument had been employed, they amicably agreed to differ. The saint on the one hand, held back by the feeling of humility, declined so high a position of honor; Willibrord on the other, intent on spiritual gain, thought only of the salvation of souls. Accordingly, after they had expressed their personal views, the servant of God, as if taking part in a kind of spiritual contest, at last brought forward an unanswerable argument. He said: "Most holy Bishop, you, as spiritual leader here, know full well that I came to Germany at the express command of Pope Gregory, of holy memory. As the envoy of the Apostolic See sent to the barbarian countries of the west, I freely gave my services to you and to your diocese without the knowledge of my master, to whose service I am bound by vow even to this day. Therefore without the counsel and permission of the Apostolic See and without its express command I dare not accept so exalted and sublime an office." To this rejoinder he added a reasonable request in these words: "I beseech you, therefore, to send me, bound as I am by the ties of my own promise, to those lands to which originally I was dispatched by the Apostolic See."
As soon as Willibrord had learned the reason of the saint's solemn promise, he gave him his blessing and granted him permission to depart. Thereupon the saint set out and reached the place called Amanburch, "nourished," according to the apostle, "on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed" (1 Tim 4.6).
We have given, step by step, proofs of this holy man's virtue and of his perseverance in the work of the Lord in order that we may recall to memory, -both in general and in detail, the subsequent examples of his good deeds.
When he had converted to the Lord a vast number of people among the Frisians and many had come through his instruction to the knowledge of the truth, he then traveled, under the protection of God, to other parts of Germany to preach there and in this way came, with the help of God, to the place already mentioned, called Amanburch. Here the rulers were two twin brothers named Detticand Devrulf, whom he converted from the sacrilegious worship of idols which was practiced under the cloak of Christianity. He turned away also from the superstitions of paganism a great multitude of people by revealing to them the path of right understanding, and induced them to forsake their horrible and erroneous beliefs. When he had gathered together a sufficient number of believers he built a small chapel. Similarly he delivered the people of Hesse, who up to that time had practiced pagan ritual, from the captivity of the devil by preaching the Gospel as far as the borders of Saxony.
Having converted many thousands of people from their long-standing pagan practices and baptized them, he sent to Rome an experienced and trustworthy messenger, Bynnan by name, with a letter in which he made known to the venerable father and bishop of the Apostolic See all the matters that by God's grace had been accomplished, and the number of people who, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, had received the sacrament of baptism. In addition he asked for guidance on certain questions concerning the day-to-day needs of the church and the progress of the people, for he wished to have the advice of the Apostolic See. When the aforesaid messenger had tarried in Rome for some days and the time for his return journey drew near, the bishop of the Apostolic See gave him a letter in reply to the message he had brought on his embassy. Returning immediately, he quickly brought to his master the letter dictated by the pope.
On reading the missive brought to him by the messenger, he learned that he was summoned to Rome, and with all haste he prepared to carry out this injunction in a spirit of complete obedience. Without delay he set out on his journey accompanied by a large retinue and a number of his brethren. Passing through the lands of the Franks and Burgundians, he crossed the Alps and descended through the marches of Italy and the territory held by the soldiers. Eventually he came in sight of the walls of Rome and, giving praise and thanks to God on high, went quickly to the Church of Saint Peter, where he fortified himself in long and earnest prayer. After he had rested his weary limbs for a brief space of time a message was sent to blessed Gregory, bishop of the Apostolic See, saying that the servant of God had arrived; he was then welcomed with great kindness and conducted to the pilgrim's lodge.
A convenient day was fixed for a meeting, and at the appointed time the pontiff came down to the Basilica of Saint Peter the Apostle, and the servant of God was summoned to his presence. After they had exchanged a few words of greeting, the bishop of the Apostolic See interrogated him on his teaching, on the creed and on the tradition and beliefs of his church. To this the man of God gave an immediate and humble reply, saying: "My Lord Pope, as a stranger I am conscious that I lack the skill in the use of the tongue with which you are familiar, but grant me leisure and time, I beseech you, to write down my confession of faith, so that my words and not my tongue may make a reasonable presentation of the truths I believe." To this Gregory agreed at once and commanded him to bring his written statement as quickly as possible. Within a short time he presented his written confession of faith, expressed in polished, eloquent, and learned phrases, and delivered it to the aforesaid pope. He then waited patiently for some days.
At length he was invited once more and was conducted within the Lateran Palace, where he cast himself prostrate upon his face at the feet of the apostolic pontiff and begged for his blessing. Gregory quickly raised him from the ground, and, after giving into the hands of the servant of God the document in which the pure and uncontaminated truth of the faith was clearly expressed, he invited him to sit at his side. With wise counsel and wholesome doctrine he admonished him to preserve at all times the deposit of the faith and to the best of his ability to preach it vigorously to others,. They discussed and debated many other matters relating to holy religion and the true faith, and in his exchange of views they spent almost the whole day. At last the pope inquired how the people who previously had been steeped in error and wickedness received his preaching of the true faith. On learning that a vast number had been converted from the sacrilegious worship of idols and admitted to the communion of the church, the pope told him that he intended to raise him to the episcopal dignity and set him over peoples who up to that time had been without a leader to guide them and who, in the words of our Lord, -languished as sheep without a shepherd." The holy man, because he dared not contradict so great a bishop of the Apostolic See, consented, that is, obeyed. And so the highest bishop, he of holy authority, set a day for the ordination: November 13.
When the holy day' for the sacred solemnity dawned, which was both the feast day of Saint Andrew and the day set aside for his consecration, the holy pontiff of the Apostolic See conferred upon him the dignity of the episcopate and gave him the name of Boniface. He put into his hands the book in which the most sacred laws and canons of the church and the decrees of episcopal synods have been inscribed or compiled, commanding him that henceforth this norm of church conduct and belief should be kept inviolate and that the people under his jurisdiction should be taught on these lines. He also offered to him and to all his subjects the friendship of the holy Apostolic See thenceforth and for ever. By, means of his most sacred letters, the pope placed the holy man, now strengthened by episcopal rank, under the protection and devotion of the glorious leader Charles.
After Boniface had passed by devious ways through the densely populated territories of the Franks he came at last into the presence of the aforesaid prince and was received by him with marks of reverence. He delivered to him the letters of the bishop of Rome and of the Apostolic See, and after acknowledging the prince as his lord and patron, returned with the leader's permission to the land of the Hessians in which he had previously settled.
Now many of the Hessians who at that time had acknowledged the Catholic faith were confirmed by the grace of the Holy Spirit and received the laying-on of hands. But others, not yet strong in the spirit, refused to accept the pure teachings of the church in their entirety. Moreover, some continued secretly, others openly, to offer sacrifices to trees and springs, to inspect the entrails of victims; some practiced divination, legerdemain, and incantations; some turned their attention to auguries, auspices, and other sacrificial rites; while others, of a more reasonable character, forsook all the profane practices of the Gentiles [i.e., pagans] and committed none of these crimes. With the counsel and advice of the latter persons, Boniface in their presence attempted to cut down, at a place called Gaesmere, a certain oak of extraordinary size called in the old tongue of the pagans the Oak of Jupiter. Taking his courage in his hands (for a great crowd of pagans stood by watching and bitterly cursing in their hearts the enemy of the gods), he cut the first notch. But when he had made a superficial cut . Suddenly, the oak's vast bulk, shaken by a mighty blast of wind from above crashed to the ground shivering its topmost branches into fragments in its fall. As if by the express will of God (for the brethren present had done nothing to cause it) the oak burst asunder into four parts, each part having a trunk of equal length. At the sight of this extraordinary spectacle the heathens who had been cursing ceased to revile and began, on the contrary, to believe and bless the Lord. Thereupon the holy bishop took counsel with the brethren, built an oratory from the timber of the oak and dedicated it to Saint Peter the Apostle. He then set out on a journey to Thuringia, having accomplished by the help of God all the things we have already mentioned. Arrived there, he addressed the elders and the chiefs of the people, calling on them to put aside their blind ignorance and to return to the Christian religion that they had formerly embraced. For, after the authority of their kings came to an end, Theobald and Heden bad seized the reins of government. Under their disas trous sway, which was founded more upon tyranny and slaughter than upon the loyalty of the people, many of the counts had been put to death or seized and carried off into captivity, while the remainder of the population, overwhelmed by all kinds of misfortunes, bad submitted to the domination of the Saxons. Thus when the power of the leaders, who had protected religion, was destroyed, the devotion of the people to Christianity and religion died out also, and false brethren were brought in to pervert the minds of the people and to introduce among them under the guise of religion dangerous heretical sects. Of these men the chief were Torchtwine, Zeretheve, Eaubercht, and Hunraed, men living in fornication and adultery, whom, according to the apostle, God had already judged (cf. Heb 13:4). These individuals stirred up a violent conflict against the man of God; but when they had been unmasked and shown to be in opposition to the truth, they received a just penalty for their crimes.
When the light of faith had illumined the minds of the people and the population had been loosed from its bonds of error, when also the devil's disciples and the insidious seducers of the people, whom we have already mentioned, had been banished, Boniface, assisted by a few helpers, gathered in an abundant harvest. At first he suffered from extreme want and lacked even the necessaries of life, but, though in straitened circumstances and in deep distress, he continued to preach the Word of God. Little by little the number of believers increased, the preachers grew more numerous, church buildings were restored and the Word of God was published far and wide. At the same time the servants of God, monks of genuinely ascetic habits, were grouped together in one body and they constructed a monastery in a place called Orthorpf. In the manner of the apostles (cf. 1 Cor 4.12), they procured food and clothing with their own hands and contented themselves with constant labor.
By this means the report of his preaching reached far-off lands so that within a short space of time his fame resounded throughout the greater part of Europe. From Britain an exceedingly large number of holy men came to his aid, among them readers, writers, and learned men trained in the other arts. Of these a considerable number put themselves under his rule and guidance, and by their help the population in many places was recalled from the errors and profane rites of their heathen gods. While some were in the province of Hesse and others scattered widely among the people of Thuringia, they preached the word of God in the countryside and in the villages. The number of both peoples who received the sacraments of the faith was enormous and many thousands of them were baptized. On the death of Gregory the Second, of blessed memory, ruler of the Apostolic See, the renowned Gregory he Younger" ascended the papal throne. Once more Boniface's messengers journeyed to Rome and spoke with the holy pontiff of the Apostolic See, presenting to him the pledge of friendship that his predecessor had previously bestowed upon Saint Boniface and his people. They assured the pope of Boniface's devoted and humble submission to the Apostolic See both in the past and for the future, and begged the pontiff, in accordance with the instructions they had received, to allow his loyal subject to remain in the brotherhood and communion of the pope and Apostolic See. To this the pontiff gave an immediate reply and granted to Saint Boniface and to all those under his care fraternal and friendly communion both with himself and the Apostolic See. Furthermore, he gave the archiepiscopal pallium to the envoys, loaded them with gifts and the relics of numerous saints, and dispatched them homewards.
When his envoys returned bearing the immediate responses of the pope, Boniface, rejoicing greatly, was deeply comforted by the support of the Apostolic See and inspired by the abundance of divine mercy. Thus he built two churches. One was in Frideslare, which he dedicated to Saint Peter, prince of the apostles. The other was in Amanburch, which he dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel. He attached two small monasteries to these two churches and invited a large number of monks to serve God there, with the result that even to this day praise and blessing and thanksgiving are offered to the Lord our God.
When all these arrangements had received their final completion he set out on a journey to Bavaria where Hugobert was then duke. Here he continued to preach and to make visitations of all the churches. So great was his zeal and spiritual courage that he condemned and expelled in accordance with canonical decrees a certain schismatic named Eremwulf, who was imbued with heretical opinions. Boniface then converted the people of this misguided sect from their worship of idols. After this he departed from them and returned to the people of his own diocese, being moved by a desire, as the apostle puts it, to come to his own brethren (Cf. Rom 15:23).
How he expelled the heretics from the provinces of Bavaria and divided it into four dioceses
We have spent no little time in recounting some of the merits of Boniface in order that we may describe, though not in detail, the powerful religious sense that guided him throughout the whole of his life. For, as history shows, it is a characteristic of the saints that, setting the example of others before their own eyes, they arouse in themselves the desire for better things, and as their life draws to its close they increase the love of God in their hearts.
When a considerable number of churches had been built in Hesse and Thuringia and a superior had been appointed over each church he set out on a journey to Rome for the third time, accompanied as usual by a group of disciples. His intention was to have further discussions with the apostolic father and to commend himself in his declining years to the prayers of the saints. When at the end of his long and painful journey he was brought into 'the presence of the apostolic lord Gregory, the second pope to be called "the -Younger," he was received with great kindness and was held in such veneration by ,everyone, as well Romans and strangers, that many flocked together to to his preaching. A multitude of Franks and Bavarians, as well as of Saxons arriving from Britain and other provinces, followed his teaching with the closest attention.
When he had spent the better part of a year in these parts, visiting and praying at the shrines of the saints, he took his leave of the venerable bishop of the Apostolic See and returned home, carrying with him many gifts and sacred relics of the saints. After traversing Italy, he came to the walls of the city of Picena, and, as his limbs were weary with old age, he rested awhile with Liudprand, king of the Lombards.
On his departure from Italy he made a visit to the Bavarians, not only because Duke Odilo had sent him an invitation but also because he himself was desirous of seeing them. He remained among them for some time preaching the Word of God, restored the sacraments of the faith to their primitive purity, and banned those men who destroyed the churches and perverted the people. Some of these had arrogated to themselves the dignity of bishops, others the office of priests, while others, by these and by a thousand other lying pretexts' had led the greater part of the populace into error. The saint, who had dedicated himself to God's service from his earliest childhood and was therefore ill able to brook the insult offered to his Lord, compelled Duke Odilo and his subjects to forsake their evil, false, and heretical doctrines and put them on their guard against the deceitfulness of immoral priests. With the consent of Duke Odilo he divided the province of Bavaria into four dioceses and appointed over them four bishops, whom he consecrated for this purpose. Of these, the first, John by name, was appointed to the see in the town that is called Salzburg. The second was Erembert, who took upon himself the obligation of governing the church in the city of Regensburg. When everything was set in order in Bavaria, a Christian form of life established and the prescriptions of canon law enforced, Boniface returned home to his own diocese. He governed the people committed to his care, diligently provided for the needs of his flock, and appointed priests to defend the faithful and deliver them from the attack, of ravening wolves.
The temporal rule of the glorious leader Charles eventually came to an end and the reins of power passed into the strong hands of his two sons Carloman and Pepin. Then by the help of God and at the suggestion of the archbishop Saint Boniface the establishment of the Christian religion was confirmed, the. convening of synods by orthodox bishops was instituted among the Franks and all abuses were redressed and corrected in accordance with canonical authority. On the saint's advice the unlawful practice of concubinage among the layfolk was suppressed while the sacrilegious marriages of the clergy were annulled and the sinful parties separated. So great was the religious fervor kindled by the teaching of Saint Boniface that Carloman and Pepin freed the faithful to a large extent from the evil practices in which through long neglect they had become deeply rooted and through which, partly by giving rein to their own passions, partly by being misled by the insidious doctrines of heretics, they had forfeited their right to eternal bliss. For so thoroughly had the heretics quenched the light of religious teaching among the people that a dark impenetrable gloom of error had settled down over a large section of the church. Two of the heretics, for example, named Adalbert and Clement, led astray by this greed for filthy lucre, strove with all their might to turn away the people from the truth. But when the holy archbishop Boniface with the cooperation of the leaders Carloman and Pepin forcibly ejected them from the communion of the church they were delivered, according to the apostle, "to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor 5:5).
How throughout his whole life he preached with zeal and how he departed from this world
During the rule of Carloman all the bishops, priests, deacons, and clerics and everyone of ecclesiastical rank gathered together at the ruler's instance and held four synodal councils. At these Archbishop Boniface presided, with the consent and support of Carloman and of the metropolitan of the see and city of Mainz. And being a legate of the Roman Church and the Apostolic See, sent as he was by the saintly and venerable Gregory II and later by Gregory III, he urged that the numerous canons and ordinances decreed by these four important and early councils should be preserved in order to ensure the healthy development of Christian doctrine. For as at the Council of Nicaea, held under Constantine Augustus, the errors and blasphemies of Arius were rejected; as under Theodosius the Elder an assembly of one hundred and fifty bishops condemned Macedonius, who denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit; as in the city of Ephesus under Theodosius [II] two hundred bishops excommunicated Nestorius for declaring that there are two Persons in Christ; and as at the Council of Chalcedon an assembly of six hundred and thirty bishops, basing their decision on an earlier one of the fathers, pronounced an anathema against Eutyches, an abbot of Constantinople, and Dioscorus, who defended him, for attacking the foundations of the Catholic faith - So in the Frankish territories, after the eradication of heresy and the destruction of wicked conspirators, he urged that later developments of Christian doctrine and the decrees of the general councils should be received. With this in view there should be a meeting of the bishops in synod each year in accordance with the decree of the aforesaid council of bishops. This holding of synods had fallen into desuetude through the constant fear of war and the hostility and attacks of the surrounding barbarian tribes and through the attempts of hostile enemies to destroy the Frankish realm by violence. They had been forgotten so completely that no one could recall such an assembly's having taken place within living memory. For it is in the nature of the world to fall into ruin even though it is daily restored, while if no attempt is made to reform it it quickly disintegrates and rushes headlong to its predestined doom. Therefore if in the course of this mortal life means have been discovered to remedy such evils they should be preserved and strongly defended by Catholics and fixed indelibly in the mind. Otherwise human forgetfulness and the enticement of pleasure, both of them instigated by the devil, will prove a stumbling block. For this reason the holy bishop, in his anxiety to deliver his people from the baleful influence of the devil, repeatedly urged Carloman to summon the episcopal synods already mentioned in order that both present and later generations should learn spiritual wisdom and should make the knowledge of Christianity available to all. Only in this way could unsuspecting souls escape being ensnared.
After he had set before all ranks of society the accepted norm of the Christian life and made known to them the way of truth, Boniface, now weak and decrepit, showed great foresight both as regards himself and his people by appointing a successor to his see, as ecclesiastical law demands. So, whether he lived or whether he died, the people would not be left without pastors and their ministration. He promoted two men of good repute to the episcopate, Willibald and Burchard, dividing between them the churches that were under his jurisdiction in the land of eastern Franks and on the Bavarian marches. To Willibald he entrusted the diocese of Eichst5tt, to Burchard that of Würzburg, putting under his care all the churches within the borders of the Franks, Saxons, and Slavs. Nevertheless, even to the day of his death he did not fail to instruct the people in the way of life.
Then Pepin, with the help of the Lord, took over the rule of the kingdom of the Franks as the happy successor to his above-mentioned brother [i.e. Carloman]. When disorders among the people had subsided, he was elevated to the kingship. From the outset he conscientiously carried out the vows he had sworn to the Lord, to put into effect without delay the synodal decrees, and he renewed the canonical institutions which his brother, following the advice of the holy archbishop Boniface, had so dutifully set on foot. He showed the saint every mark of veneration and friendship and obeyed his spiritual precepts. But because the holy man, owing to his physical infirmities, was not able to attend the synodal assemblies, he decided, with the king's approval and advice, to appoint a suitable person to minister to his flock. To his purpose he appointed Lull, a disciple of outstanding ability, whose duty it would be to continue his instruction to the people. He consecrated him bishop, and committed to his care the inheritance that he had won for Christ by his zealous efforts. Lull was the man who had been his trusted companion on his journeys and who had been closely connected with him both in his sufferings and his consolations.
When the Lord willed to deliver his servant from the trials of this world and to set him free from the vicissitudes of this mortal life, it was decided, under God's providence, that he should travel in the company of his disciples to Frisia, from which he had departed in body though not in spirit. And this was done so that in dying there he might receive the divine recompense in the place where he had begun his preaching.
To Bishop Lull he foretold in an astonishing prophecy the approaching day of his death and made known to him the manner in which he would meet his end. Then he drew up plans for the construction of further churches and for the evangelization of the people. "My wish," he said, "is to complete the journey on which I have set my heart, and nothing can prevent me from doing so. The day of my departure from this life draws near and the time of my death is approaching. In a short time I shall lay aside the burden of my body and receive the prize of eternal bliss. But you, my dear son, must bring to completion the building of the churches that I began in Thuringia. Earnestly recall the people from the paths of error, finish the construction of the basilica at Fulda, which is now in the process of building, and bring thither this body of mine now wasted by the toil of years." When he had ended his instructions he added the following words, or words to this effect: "Carefully provide everything that we shall need on our journey, not forgetting to place in the chest, where my books are kept, a linen sheet in which my aged body may be wrapped. "
At these sad words Bishop Lull could not restrain his tears and gave vent to his profound sorrow; but Boniface, having expressed his last wishes, went about his business unconcerned. After the lapse of a few days, he still persevered in his decision to set out on the journey, and so, taking with him a few companions, he went on board a ship and sailed down the Rhine. Eventually he reached the marshy country of Frisia, crossed safely over the stretch of water, which in their tongue is called Aelmere, [i.e. the Zuider Zee] and made a survey of the lands round about, which up till then had borne no fruit. After bravely hazarding the perils of the river, the sea and the wide expanse of the ocean, he passed through dangerous places without fear of danger, and visited the pagan Frisians, whose land is divided into many territories and districts by intersecting canals. These territories, though bearing different names, are, nevertheless, the property of one nation. But since it would prove tedious to give a list of these districts one after the other, we will merely mention one or two of them by name to prove the veracity and add to the continuity of our narrative. in this way the place and its name will bear witness to the activities of the saint as we relate them and show the kind of death that took him from this world.
This, then, is how he traversed the whole of Frisia, destroying pagan worship and turning away the people from their pagan errors by his preaching of the Gospel. The' pagan temples and gods were overthrown and churches were built in their stead. Many thousands of men, women, and children were baptized by him, assisted by his fellow missionary and suffragan bishop Eoban, who, after being consecrated bishop in the city which is called Trecht [i.e. Utrecht], was summoned to Frisia to help Boniface in his old age. He was also assisted in his labors by a number of priests and deacons whose names are subjoined: Wintrung, Walthere, Ethelhere, priests; Hamrind, Scirbald, and Bosa, deacons; Wachar, Gundaecer, Illehere and Hathowulf, monks: These in company with Saint Boniface preached the Word of God far and wide with great success and were so united in spirit that, in accordance with the teaching of apostolic practice, they were "of one heart and soul" (Acts 4:32). Thus they deserved to share in the same crown of martyrdom and the same final and eternal reward.
When, as we have already said, the faith had been planted strongly in Frisia and the glorious end of the saint's life drew near, he took with him a picked number of his personal followers and pitched a camp on the banks of the river Bordne, which flows through the territories called Ostor and Westeraeche and divides them. Here he fixed a day on which he would confirm by the laying-on of hands all the neophytes and those who had recently been baptized; and because the people were scattered far and wide over the countryside, they all returned to their homes, so that, in accordance with the instructions laid down by the holy bishop, they could meet together again on the day appointed for their confirmation.
But events turned out otherwise than expected. When the appointed day arrived and the morning light was breaking through the clouds after sunrise, enemies came instead of friends, new executioners in place of new worshipers of the faith. A vast number of foes armed with spears and shields rushed into the camp brandishing their weapons. In the twinkling of an eye the attendants sprang from the camp to meet them and snatched up arms here and there to defend the holy band of martyrs (for that is what they were to be) against the insensate fury of the mob. But the man of God, hearing the shouts and the onrush of the rabble, straightway called the clergy to his side, and, collecting together the relics of the saints, which he always carried with him, came out of his tent. At once he reproved the attendants and forbade them to continue the conflict, saying: "Sons, cease fighting. Lay down your arms, for we are told in Scripture not to render evil for good but to overcome evil by good. The hour to which we have long looked forward is near and the day of our release is at hand. Take comfort in the Lord and endure with gladness the suffering He has mercifully ordained. Put your trust in Him and He will grant deliverance to your souls." And addressing himself like a loving father to the priests, deacons, and other clerics, all trained to the service of God, who stood about him, he gave them courage, saying: "Brethren, be of stout heart, fear not them who kill the body, for they cannot slay the soul, which continues to live for ever. Rejoice in the Lord; anchor your hope in God, for without delay He will render to you the reward of eternal bliss and grant you an abode with the angels in His heaven above. Be not slaves to the transitory pleasures of this world. Be not seduced by the vain flattery of the heathen, but endure with steadfast mind the sudden, onslaught of death, that you may be able to reign evermore with Christ."
Whilst with these words he was encouraging his disciples to accept the crown of martyrdom, the frenzied mob of pagans rushed suddenly upon them with swords and every kind of warlike weapon, staining their bodies with their precious blood.
Suddenly, after the mortal remains of the just had been mutilated, the pagan mob seized with exultation upon the spoils of their victory (in reality the cause of their damnation) and, after laying waste the camp, carried off and shared the booty; they stole the chests in which the books and relics were preserved and, thinking that they had acquired a hoard of gold and silver, carried them off, still locked, to the ships. Now the ships were stocked with provisions for the feeding of the clerics and attendants and a great deal of wine still remained. Finding this goodly liquor, the pagans immediately began to slake their sottish appetites and to get drunk. After some time, by the wonderful dispensation of God, they began to argue among, themselves about the booty they had taken and discussed how they were to share the gold and silver they had not even seen. During the long and wordy discussion about the treasure, which they imagined to be considerable, frequent quarrels broke out among them until, in the end, there arose such enmity and discord that they were divided into two angry and frenzied factions. It was not long before the weapons that had earlier murdered the holy martyrs were turned against each other in bitter strife. After the greater part of the mad freebooters had been slain, the survivors, surrounded by the corpses of their rivals for the booty, swooped down upon the treasure that had been obtained by so much loss of life. 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 plate. Disappointed in' their hope of gold and silver, they littered the fields with the books they found, throwing some of them into reedy marshes, hiding away others in widely different places. But by the grace of God and through the prayers of the archbishop and martyr Saint Boniface the manuscripts were discovered, a long time afterward, unharmed and intact, and they were returned by those who found them to the monastery, in which they are used with great advantage to the salvation of souls even at the present day.
Disillusioned by the loss of the treasure on which they had reckoned, the murderers returned to their dwellings. But after a lapse of three days they were visited with a just retribution for their crimes, losing not only all their worldly possessions but their lives also. For it was the will of the omnipotent Creator and Savior of the world that He should be avenged of His enemies; and in His mercy and compassion He demanded a penalty for the sacred blood shed on His behalf. Deeply moved by the recent act of wicked savagery, He deigned to show the wrath He had concealed so long against the worshipers of idols. As the unhappy tidings of the martyr's death spread rapidly from village to village throughout the whole province and the Christians learned of their fate, a large avenging force, composed of warriors ready to take speedy retribution, was gathered together and rushed swiftly to their neighbors' frontiers. The pagans, unable to withstand the onslaught of the Christians, immediately took to flight and were slaughtered in great numbers. In their flight they lost their lives, their household goods, and their children. So the Christians, after taking as their spoil the wives and children, men and maidservants of the pagan worshipers, returned to their homes. As a result, the pagans round about, dismayed at their recent misfortune and seeking to avoid everlasting punishment, opened their minds and hearts to the glory of the faith. Struck with terror at the visitation of God's vengeance, they embraced after Boniface's death the teaching they had rejected while he still lived.
The bodies of the holy bishop and of the other martyrs were brought by boat across the water called Aelmere, an uneventful voyage of some days, to the above-mentioned city that is called Trecht. There the bodies were deposited and interred until some religious and trustworthy men of God arrived from Mainz. From there they had been sent in a ship by Bishop Lull, the successor of our holy bishop and martyr, to bring the body of the saint to the monastery built by him during his lifetime on the banks of the river Fulda. Of these men there was one named Hadda, remarkable for his continence and chastity, who planned the journey and organized the party. On him particularly and on all the brethren who accompanied him Lull imposed the obligation of setting out on the journey and of bringing back the sacred body in order that greater honor and reverence might be paid to the holy man and greater credence might be given to all the facts they saw and heard.
The venerable and holy company came to the above-mentioned city [Utrecht] and was met by a small throng of people. But the count of the city declared in the hearing of all that an edict had been issued by King Pepin forbidding anyone to remove the body of Bishop Boniface from that place. As, however, the power of Almighty God is greater than the strength of men,' suddenly in their presence a marvelous miracle took place, wrought through angelic rather than human intervention. The bell of the church, untouched by human hands, began to ring, as if the body of the saint was issuing a warning, and every person present, smitten by a sudden feeling of awe, was struck with terror and cried out that the body of this holy man should be given up. The body, consequently, was handed over at once and was taken away in great honor by the brethren already mentioned. And so, to the accompaniment of psalms and hymns, without having to row against the current of the stream, the body was brought, thirty days after the saint's decease, to the city of Mainz. It fell out by the wonderful providence of God that on one and the same day, although no fixed arrangement had been made, there assembled together for the interment of this great man not only the envoys who had brought the sacred body but also many men and women of the faith from distant and widely scattered districts, just as if they had been forewarned of the event. Moreover, Lull, the saint's successor, who at that time was engaged at the royal palace and was not informed of the arrival of the sacred body and was quite ignorant of what was afoot, came to Mainz almost at the same hour and moment. And though all strangers and citizens alike were weighed down with sorrow and grief, yet they experienced a great joy. For while they were struck with grief when they considered the circumstances of his death, they felt, on the other hand, that he would protect them and their heirs for all time to come. Therefore the people with the priests, deacons, and all ranks of the clergy carried the sacred body, with hearts torn by conflicting emotions, to the spot that he had decided upon during his lifetime. A new sarcophagus was made in the church and the body was laid in it with all the customary rites of burial. When the ceremony was over they all returned to their homes, strengthened and comforted in the faith.
From that moment the spot in which the sacred body was interred became the scene of many divine blessings through the prayers of the saint; many of those who cam e there, troubled by various sicknesses and diseases, were healed in soul and body. Some who were at death's door and practically lifeless, deprived of everything except their last breath, were restored to vigorous health. Others, whose eyes were dim with blindness, received their sight; others, bound fast by the snares of the devil, unbalanced in mind and out of their sense, regained their peace of mind and after their cure gave praise and thanks to God. God deigned to honor and enrich His servant, who possessed this great gift, and glorified him in the eyes of present and future ages, forty years after his pilgrimage was over, i.e., 716, which year is reckoned as the year of the Incarnation of our Lord seven hundred and fifty-five, the eighth indiction. He occupied the episcopal thirty-six years, six months, and six days. Thus, in the manner described above, on the fifth day of June, crowned with the palm of martyrdom, he departed to the Lord, to whom be.honor and :glory for ever and ever. Amen.
How in the place where the blood of the martyrs was shed a living fountain appeared to those who were surveying the site for a church
Now that we have narrated the outstanding events in the saint's childhood, boyhood, youth, middle life, old age, let us return to the marvelous happenings that were wrought by the help of God after his life's work was over, and make known to men the sanctity of his life.
Let us recall to memory a miracle that people still remember and recount. This story was told to us by the venerable Bishop Lull, who learned it from King Pepin, who in turn heard it from eyewitnesses. The story as related by Lull goes as follows: A plan was drawn up with the advice of the ecclesiastical authorities and the majority of the Frisian people to raise an enormous mound of earth on the spot where some years before the precious blood of the holy martyr had been spilled. This was because the violent neap and spring tides at different times of the year affect the ocean swell and cause disturbances in the incoming and outgoing floods of water. On the mound they proposed to build a church (as was done later) and to construct on the same spot a monastery for the servants of God. But when the mound had been raised and the work of building it up had been completed, the residents and inhabitants of the district began to discuss on their return home the difficulty of obtaining fresh water, for throughout almost all Frisia this is a great problem both for man and beast. At last a certain man named Abba, who was an administrator under King Pepin and director of the work in question, taking some attendants with him, mounted his horse, rode over the hill, and inspected the mound. Suddenly and unexpectedly the horse of one of the attendants, which had barely trod upon the ground, felt it sinking and giving way altogether. With its forelegs held firmly in the soil, the horse rolled helplessly about until those who were more active and experienced hurriedly dismounted from their horses and extricated it as it lay fast in the earth. At once an astonishing miracle happened, worthy to be remembered by all those who were present and saw it. A fountain of water much clearer than any found in that country, extraordinarily sweet and pleasant to the taste, came bubbling up and flowed out through innumerable channels until it formed a considerable stream. Astounded at this miracle, they returned to their homes in joy and gladness, spreading the news in the churches of what they had seen.
C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, Being the Lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Leoba and Lebuin together with the Hodoepericon of St. Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St. Boniface, (London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954)
The copyright status of this text has been checked carefully. The situation is complicated, but in sum is as follows. The book was published in 1954 by Sheed & Ward, apparently simultaneously, in both London and New York. The American-printed edition simply gave 'New York' as place of publication, the British-printed edition gave 'London and New York'. Copyright was not renewed in 1982 or 1983, as required by US Law. The recent GATT treaty (1995?) restored copyright to foreign publications which had entered US public domain simply because copyright had not be renewed in accordance with US law. This GATT provision does not seem to apply to this text because it was published simultaneously in the US and Britain by a publisher operating in both countries (a situation specifically addressed in the GATT regulations). Thus, while still under copyright protection in much of the world, the text remains in the US public domain.
Some years ago, a collection of such hagiographical texts, including some texts from Talbot, was published:
Thomas F.X. Noble and Thomas Head, Soldiers of Christ: Saint and Saints' Lives from Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, (University
Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995).
Soldiers of Christ uses, among others, the Talbot translated texts, but is much improved by additional notes by the two editors, and by new translations of some parts. Readers from outside the US should consult this volume, and readers in the US would find it profitable to do so.
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.
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© Paul Halsall, September 1, 2000