Boniface of Crediton, missionary and martyr. Born, probably at or near Crediton, circa 675; died in Friesland 754 or 755; feast day 5th June. He was christened Wynfrith, but is always known as Boniface, the name he used later on.
Until he was about forty he was a monk, first at Exeter and then at Nursling, near Southampton. His chief concern in those days was study and the handing on of the fruits of his study by teaching and preaching . He expounded the Bible and compiled the first Latin grammar written in England.
In the year 718, Boniface left his homeland, never to return, to take the gospel to the heathen tribes of Germany. He made an immediate impression as one who moved with power, and the results of his mission were lasting.
St. Boniface’s activities ranged over Hesse, Bavaria, Westphalia, the Thuringenland and Württemberg. Three times he journeyed to Rome to report progress to the Pope, and on the second visit he was made a bishop, eventually establishing his see at Mainz.
To help in his work, he enlisted other English missionaries from Wessex, women as well as men, Lull, Willibald, Walburga and Lioba among them. The text of many letters written by and about Boniface still exists, they are valuable historical documents and give a picture of a great and loveable man.
Probably in the year 732, Pope Gregory III made him archbishop, and his later years were busy with organising the West German and reforming the Frankish church, in concert with King Pepin the Short. When he was over severity he still had no thought of rest and turned his attention to Holland. There he ended his life in martyrdom.
At a place called Dokkum, he and his companions were set upon by heathen Frieslanders and put to the sword. When they broke in on him he was sitting quietly in a tent, reading. Shortly after, Archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury wrote to St. Lull that “we in England lovingly reckon Boniface among the best and greatest teachers of the faith” and among our special patrons. St. Boniface is an important figure in the history of western Europe, but today he is much better remembered in Germany than among his fellow countrymen.
His tomb at Fulda (where he founded a monastery) is revered as a sacred spot.
St Boniface & the Christmas Tree
It is told that Saint Boniface, a monk from Crediton, Devonshire, England who established Christian churches in France and Germany in the 7th Century, one day came upon a group of pagans gathered around a big oak tree about to sacrifice a child to the god Thor. To stop the sacrifice and save the child’s life Boniface felled the tree with one mighty blow of his fist. In its place grew a small fir tree. The saint told the pagan worshippers that the tiny fir was the Tree of Life and stood for the eternal life of Christ.
It is also told that Saint Boniface used the triangular shape of the fir tree to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. By the 12th Century, Christmas trees were hung from ceilings as a symbol of Christianity.
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