Boniface

680-754. Missionary bishop and martyr. Born near Crediton, Devon, he was trained in abbeys at Exeter and Nursling in Hampshire, and later himself refused an English abbacy. He went to Frisia to serve under the English missionary Willibrord,* and in 719 received Gregory II's authority for his work. After laboring successfully in Thuringia and Bavaria, and seeing thousands of baptisms among the Hessians, he again went to Rome to be consecrated bishop (722). It is unlikely that his name was changed from Wynfrith to Boniface then, but much earlier. He returned to Hesse as a missionary statesman, having also the authority of Charles Martel,* and from there he went on to Thuringia, being made archbishop in 732 by Gregory III, and papal legate in 739-the first one to be sent beyond the Alps. Now he divided Bavaria, Hesse, and Thuringia into dioceses, and began founding Benedictine monasteries, of which Fulda (c.743) was the most famous. The connection with England remained, even to English monastics joining him, whereupon the English reverence for the papacy was transmitted to the new German Church. With Charles Martel's death (741), he was called to Francia by the new mayors, Carloman and Pepin,* to reform the church; this began under the new pope, Zacharias, in 742, and was accomplished through a series of councils. About 747 he became archbishop of Mainz, but resigned after a few years to return to Frisia, where his career ended in martyrdom. His felling of the pagan Oak of Thor at Geismar to make a chapel of its timber comments profoundly on his ministry; perhaps his devotion exceeded that of the popes he served. He renewed their authority beyond the Alps and extended the boundaries of Latin Christendom which had already begun to shrink in Spain owing to Muslim conquest. With Boniface, unity in the Western Church and the empire took form.

See more recent Lives by G.F. Brown (1910); J.J. Laux (1922); and W. Lampen (1949).