St. Boniface

St. Boniface

Today’s feast day reminds me of an unfinished task. Some years ago, while studying the German language, I stumbled across a book that contained a short life of St. Boniface. The book showed an image that depicted Boniface as a bishop with miter and pallium, holding a sword in his right hand with a book impaled on the sword. It struck me as an odd combination. Here is a link to that image created in 17th-century Germany.

A sword run through a book represents the way in which Boniface was martyred. He and his companions were attacked by a large group of robbers. Boniface had taught rejection of violence as a normal way of living. So, when the robbers attacked, he held up a book of the Gospels as his only means of defense. The book was hit by the sword and Boniface was slain by his attackers, as were some 54 others. The attackers hoped to find silver and gold in the baggage of Boniface and his companions, but they found only books and some Mass wine and food. Today that pierced book is in Fulda at the Benedictine monastery where Boniface’s remains were eventually re-interred.

His efforts in Germany

Boniface is famous for cutting Thor’s oak tree near Fritzler, in Hesse. The event was staged to prove that the old German gods had no real power and that Christianity was the one true religion. According to the legend, after Boniface had taken a few swings with his ax, a mighty wind blew down the giant old oak tree. This helped in Boniface’s efforts to solidify Christianity in Germany. It also explains why Boniface is sometimes shown with an ax.  Here is a link.

Born in England in the late seventh century, Boniface was educated by monks and chose to join the Benedictines. In 716 he sailed to the continent to join other monks who were trying to spread and strengthen the faith in the area of Utrecht. He had to abandon his mission when war broke out between Charles Martel and Radbord, the king of the Frisians.

Boniface linked his efforts to the Carolingian family as it spread the Frankish empire north and east into Germany. Apparently there was some benefit to both Christianity and to the civil rulers. The Carolingian kings thought Christianity would aid them in adding the Germanic tribal regions to their empire. Whatever the case, the work of Boniface and other monks from the British Isles had a major impact on the future of Germany. That is why St. Boniface is considered the patron saint of Germany. Boniface is also the patron saint of brewers of beer.


Photo:  Sergej Razvodovskij/PhotoXpress


About the Author

Dan Kroger, O.F.M., a native of Cincinnati, joined the Franciscans in 1967 and was ordained in 1973. He taught high school and served in rural parishes in the Philippines. Dan earned a Ph.D. in Christian ethics at Notre Dame. He also taught at De La Salle University, Manila, until he was assigned to his present post as publisher/CEO at Franciscan Media in 2006.