Boniface was born Winfrid around the year 680 to a respected and noble English family, and it was to his father’s great displeasure that, at the young age of five, his son devoted himself to the monastic life.
Educated at the monastery school close to Exeter, with further
studies guided by the monks and, later, directed by the learned Abbot
Winbert at the Abbey of Nursling in Winchester, Boniface became a very
learned and popular scholar.
His popularity and skill in teaching attracted many other students
and scholars, for whose benefit he wrote the first Latin grammar known
to have been compiled in English. After continued studies, he was
ordained to the priesthood at the age of thirty.
Convinced of his calling to be a missionary, Winfrid declined the
position of abbot at the monastery of Nursling and obtained from his
superior permission to travel to Frisia to assist the famous missionary,
St. Willibrord, who had been struggling for a long time to bring the
Gospel home to his people. However, the mission ended in failure and
Winfrid was forced to return to England a few months later.
Refusing to give up though, Winfrid set out for Rome to ask the Holy
Father himself for an official mission and the backing of the Church.
Pope Gregory II consented, gave him the new name of Boniface, and
assigned him to work in Thuringia, Germany, where the Church was in bad
shape, isolated, and subjected to superstition and heresy.
However, Boniface received no help from the local clergy and once
more traveled to Frisia to join Willibrord and get training by the
expert missionary. He was so helpful that St. Willibrord wanted to make
Boniface his successor; but after three years of training, Boniface
still felt the pull of the missionary work in Germany that he had left
behind. Returning first to Rome where he was consecrated bishop by the
pope, Boniface set out once more to Hesse.
Boniface had enormous work ahead of him. The pagans, though attracted
to Christianity, were still bound by fear and superstition to their old
religion and gods. To prove to them the falseness of their beliefs and
the reality of the one true God, Boniface called the people together
and, approaching the “sacred” oak of Geismar, struck it down with an
axe, whereupon it split into four parts and fell to the grown in the
shape of a cross. Yet, there stood Boniface, still holding his axe,
unharmed by their gods.
The work of evangelization and conversion advanced steadily
thereafter; and in answer to his appeal, monks and nuns enthusiastically
began to arrive from England to assist him.
Boniface also lent his own support to the Frankish Church which was
also in sad need of repair, setting up councils and synods and
instituting reforms which revitalized the Church there.
One day, while camped in the open fields near the banks of the little
river Borne with his attendants, he was awaiting the arrival of some
confirmandi when they were attacked by a hostile band of pagans. The
saint exhorted his companions to faith and courage and they all died the
death of martyrs. St. Boniface’s body was taken to Fulda where it still