‘Devonshire should show far greater pride than she does in this most notable of her sons, for the boy born in Crediton in 680, of rich and noble parentage, lived to become the most outstanding person in all northern Europe who yet remained single-hearted enough to choose a martyr's death.
He received full authority to labour in central Europe... an English Benedictine monk about to repay the debt to Europe which England owed for the Benedictine monks sent to her as missionaries at the end of the sixth century.
Boniface began in Saxony, and then went on to his first call, Friesland, where he worked with and learnt much from the aged and experienced Bishop Willibrord... [I]n 722 he was recalled again to Rome and consecrated bishop. For the next twenty years he worked in Hesse and Thuringia, preaching, converting, organising, founding monasteries and nunneries, repairing churches burnt by infuriated heathen.
The succeeding Pope made him Archbishop of Mainz, primate of all Germany, and there was endless scope for his immense energy and unflagging zeal. Not only did he found many bishoprics and call councils, having indeed “the care of all the churches”, he was also the adviser of kings.
Boniface could... have ended his days as an ecclesiastical statesman, as a powerful Court success, treading a path of privilege in his old age; but he elected to remain faithful to his first love, simple missionary work. When he was seventy-five years old he appointed as his successor one of his Wessex followers, made his testament, and departed with some fifty companions to rough Friesland, carrying with him his shroud, a copy of the Gospels and a work of St Ambrose, of a good death. His mission was attended with great success, and on the eve of Whit-Sunday 755 Boniface was to hold a big confirmation of the converts. The expectant missionary camp was, however, invaded not by a procession of white-robed catechumens but by a rabble of savage warriors, who came to avenge their gods and plunder the Christian invaders. Boniface forbade his followers to fight: “Children, let us not return evil for evil. The day long expected has now come. Fear not them who kill the body but put all your trust in God who will quickly give you entrance to His kingdom”. A remnant escaped by flight, but most of the missionaries gathered around their aged leader. It is said that Boniface awaited the sword's blow with his head laid upon his beloved Gospels, or else that he held the holy book to his heart, which was thrust through without piercing the text: however that may be, a blood-stained Bible is still shown at Fulda as the saint’s relic.
This glorious martyrdom brought both grief and joy to his own land, where a synod determined immediately that his death-day, June 5, should be held in yearly honour by the English Church’.
Sibyl Harton, 1898-1993
O God, who raised up the holy Bishop and Martyr Saint Boniface from the English nation to enlighten many peoples with the Gospel of Christ: grant, we pray; that we may hold fast in our hearts that faith which he taught with his lips and sealed with his blood; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon
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