St. Boniface of Mainz
- When he lived: Saint Boniface of Mainz lived from around 672 AD to 754 AD.
- Where he lived: He was born in England and lived in various parts of Europe during his lifetime, including England, Germany, and Frisia (now a part of the Netherlands). He was a notable figure in what is now Germany, particularly in the city of Mainz.
- Notable world events during the time of his life: During the 7th and 8th centuries, there were several significant world events. These include:
- The rise of the Arab Empire, which occurred following the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, led to the Islamic Conquest and the spread of Islam across the Middle East, North Africa, and Spain.
- The establishment and expansion of the Tang Dynasty in China, which is often considered a high point of Chinese civilization,
- The Book of Kells, a masterpiece of medieval Christian art, is thought to have been created in the British Isles around 800 AD.
- Charlemagne was born in 742 AD, towards the end of Boniface’s life. Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, would become one of the most significant rulers in European history, uniting much of Western Europe during the early Middle Ages.
- The ongoing migration and settlement of the Germanic tribes across Europe
- His patronage: St. Boniface of Mainz is recognized as the patron saint of Germany. He is also considered the patron saint of brewers, tailors, and the Netherlands, and he is invoked for protection from fear of death.
Winfrid, the future Saint Boniface, was born in the year 672 in England. He came from a high nobility family that was respected and prosperous. When he was young, he devoted himself to monastic life. However, his father was against the whole idea because he had other plans for his future. After some time, he agreed, and Winfrid was admitted to the Benedictine monasteries of Adescancastre under the Abbot Winbert. At the abbey school, Winfrid began his teaching career. Through hard work, he climbed the ladder of leadership and was appointed to the position of priest at the age of 30. The first Latin grammar, which was produced in England, was written by Winfrid at the abbey school.
Winfrid went on a missionary expedition to Frisia in 716. He intended to convert the inhabitants by preaching to them in their language. His own Old English language had a similar dialect to Frisian. However, the war between Frankish leader Charles Martel, a Christian, and the pagan Radbod, king of the Frisians, hindered Winfrid from preaching the gospel. This forced him to return to Nursling without making any progress.
Commission and Early Missions
Pope Gregory II had so much faith in Winfrid to such an extent that he gave him a task to preach in Germany in 718. The pope wanted Winfrid to reorganize the Frankish churches and implement Roman Catholic doctrine. After traveling through the German province of Bavaria, he discovered that the churches and monasteries worshipped God in truth and spirit. He also visited the Merovingian duchy of Alamannia, where he found that the churches still followed Roman Catholic doctrine.
However, the central German territory of Thuringia, which was considered Christian by Rome, rebelled and killed the newly converted Duke Gotzbert and his son, Hethan II. They were attempting to force the populace to accept Christianity. The majority of people in this territory were non-believers who practiced idolatry. Winfrid tried in vain to rectify this horrific situation, which was against the teachings of Jesus Christ.
When King Radbod of Frisia died, Winfrid saw this as an opportunity to preach the Good News and win souls for Jesus Christ. He traveled to Frisia, where he lived for three years under the guidance of St. Willibrord. While he was there, he managed to convert multitudes from paganism. The majority of Christians who had to backslide during the persecution of Radbod returned to worship Jesus Christ in truth and spirit.
After completing his mission in Frisia, Winfrid returned to Thuringia, where he continued spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. He managed to establish a monastic cell at Amoneburg with the help of two newly converted Germanic chiefs. This was a center where native clergy were to be taught the things of God.
Winfrid’s devotion and dedication led to his appointment as regional bishop by Pope Gregory II on November 30, 722. His name was changed to Boniface, a name that belonged to the legendary fourth-century martyr Boniface of Tarsus. The pope instructed the dioceses of Thuringia and Hesse to obey the new bishop. As the pope’s representative, Boniface was to be protected by the Frankish ruler Charles Martel.
Saint Boniface Destroys Thor’s Oak
Boniface took it upon himself to destroy the pagan places of worship. In the year 723, he cut down
the sacred oak tree dedicated to Thor After destroying Thor’s altar, people expected a form of punishment to be meted out to Boniface by the pagan gods. However, nothing happened to the bishop, and the people immediately converted to Christianity. Boniface did not stop there; he went on to use the oak’s wood to build a chapel at the site. Due to his hard work and dedication, the pope appointed Boniface to the position of Archbishop.
In his endeavor to devote himself completely to the mission of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the pagan states, Boniface resigned from his Archbishop position in 738. However, Pope Gregory III did not accept his resignation but promoted him further by giving him the authority of a legate of the Holy See.
He was also granted Mainz, an important key Frankish stronghold, as his Metropolitan See in 745. With the authority vested in him, Boniface proceeded to establish the bishoprics of Salzburg, Regensburg, Freising, and Passau.
Death of Boniface
Boniface never lost hope of converting the Frisians. In 754, he traveled again to Frisia, where he baptized a great number of people. He called for a general meeting at a place between Franeker and Groningen. However, a group of armed pagan inhabitants appeared. They were angry with Boniface’s attempt to destroy their native religion. They martyred him on June 5, 754. He was buried in the abbey church of Fulda.
The Orthodox Church recognizes Boniface as a patron saint of Germany. He is portrayed in paintings with a book, pierced by a sword.
5 Interesting Facts About St. Boniface of Mainz
- Boniface is known for converting Germany to the Christian faith more than any other Christian missionary.
- St. Boniface used the wood from Thor’s Oak to build a chapel to show the world that idols have no power over Christians.
- St. Boniface’s feast day is celebrated on June 5 by the Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, and Anglican Communion. However, the Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day on December 19.
- He is credited with unifying Europe. He is considered by German Catholics to be a national figure.
Prayer to St. Boniface of Mainz
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
God, thank You for the unique calling You have for each person. I know that You have special goals in mind for each of Your creations, including me. Help me to know and follow Your Will in my life. St. Boniface, how hard it must have been to know that your family disapproved of you entering the religious life! I have also felt that my vocation was being blocked at times. Whether disapproved of by family members or mocked by society, I have questioned what God was actually telling me to do.
Imagine, however, if you had never entered religious life! How many souls would not have come to know Christ? St. Boniface, I ask that you intercede on my behalf. Help me to know and be strong in my vocation. Guide me on the path that leads to God. Likewise, help me to also encourage vocations in those around me. Help me to never stand in the way of someone’s true calling from God. Give me the grace to help others discern God’s will in their own lives. Help me to always be a positive encouragement to others.
I also ask that you keep in mind my intentions. (State your intentions here.)
St. Boniface, pray for us!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.