BONIFACE of CREDITON
Boniface of Crediton
Born 680 AD - Died 754AD
Saxon monk, missionary and martyr.
The First European Patron Saint of Germany and The Netherlands.
Boniface, then known as Wynfrith, was born in Crediton,
Devon, in about 680AD. He went to study at the Benedictine Monastery
at Nursling, near Southampton. So able and respected did he prove to
be, that when the old Abbot died, Wynfrith was offered his place: but
he felt called to the life of a missionary and in 716 set sail to convert
the heathen tribes in Frisia (now Friesland, The Netherlands). Although
his first mission was not a success, his subsequent
work in Frisia and Hesse, this time backed by papal authority,
gained him the
reputation of being an outstanding missionary and administrator. It was
at this time that the Pope gave him the name of Boniface. In 722, Pope
Gregory II made him Bishop of all Germany east of the Rhine,
and Boniface embarked on 30 years of missionary work in Hesse and Thuringia.
He boldly tackled superstition, including the felling of Thor's sacred
Oak at Geismar by his own hand in front of hostile tribesmen, and laid
the foundation of a flourishing new church. In 738, he was made Archbishop,
and crowned Pepin King of all the Franks at Soissons in 751 - an act
which ensured the alliance between the Frankish crown and the Papacy
which was to be the foundation of Charlemagne's Holy Roman Empire 50
years later. At the age of 70, he set out again to tame the wild tribes
of Frisia. On 5 June 754/5, he and his companions were surprised at dawn
by a band of heathen warriors near Dokkum. Boniface was struck down by
a sword which pierced the holy book he raised to shield his head. His
body was taken to Fulda for burial in accordance with his wishes.
Boniface baptising. Eleventh century sacramentary from Fulda
597 Saint Columba, champion of Celtic Christianity, dies. Saint Augustine,
champion of Roman Christianity, arrives in Britain.
632 Death of the Prophet Mohammed in Mecca.
663 Synod of Whitby decides to acknowledge Roman Christianity.
680 Birth of Wynfrith (Boniface) at Crediton.
717 The Caliph proclaims himself Emir in Southern France.
723 Defeat of the old rivals: Boniface fells Thor's Oak at Geismar.
732 Defeat of the new rivals: Charles Martel, the Frankish leader, routs the
Muslims at the Battle of Tours/Poitiers.
739 Monastery founded at Crediton, traditionally thought to be at the request
743 Birth of Charlemagne, grandson of Charles Martel, son of Pepin.
751 Pepin crowned King of All the Franks by Boniface at Soissons.
754/5 Boniface martyred at Dokkum in Frisia and buried at Fulda in Hesse.
768 Charlemagne King of the Franks.
800 Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor.
909 Foundation of the first bishopric of Devon at Crediton till 1050.
Legend of the Christmas Tree
A pleasant tradition credits Boniface with the invention of the Christmas Tree.
The Oak of Thor at Geismar was chopped down by Boniface in a stage-managed
confrontation with the old gods and local heathen tribes. A fir tree
growing in the roots of the Oak was claimed by Boniface as a new symbol. "This
humble tree's wood is used to build your homes: let Christ be at the
centre of your households. Its leaves remain evergreen in the darkest
days: let Christ be your constant light. Its boughs reach out to embrace
and its top points to heaven: let Christ be your Comfort and Guide".
THE OAK OF GEISMAR
The tree became a sign of Christ in the world for the German peoples, and nowadays it is a universal reminder of Christmas.
A Prayer of Saint Boniface
Eternal God, the refuge and help of all your children,
we praise you for all you have given us,
for all you have done for us,
for all that you are to us.
In our weakness, you are strength,
in our darkness, you are light,
in our sorrow, you are comfort and peace.
We cannot number your blessings,
we cannot declare your love:
For all your blessings we bless you.
May we live as in your presence,
and love the things that you love,
and serve you in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Badge of St Boniface
Friend of Peace: Maker of Good
Boniface was born just at that time when the Saxon conquest of Devon
was complete. The British peoples had been driven steadily further west
by the Saxon war leader Cenwealh. One battle was fought in 661 at Posentesbyrig
which could be the Iron Age hill fort at Posbury 2 miles south of Crediton.
The Saxons would therefore control the fertile lands of the Exe and Creedy
An attractive tradition says that Boniface's father was a Saxon thegn
(lord) and his mother was British. They named their son Wynfrith, "Friend
of Peace" to show that the two peoples had come together.
According to William of Malmesbury, the monk historian (born 1090),
the Britons and Saxons lived side by side in Exeter until the tenth century.
St Petroc's was the British church and St Sidwell's the Saxon. The young
Wynfrith, as a monk in Exeter, would have seen the different traditions
and problems of Celtic and Roman Christian practices.
He was the spiritual child of the new "English" church. The
old Celtic monk-missionaries with their personal holiness and fiery evangelism
were part of his inheritance. So, too, was the Roman genius for order
and discipline. As he founded monasteries Boniface promoted the Rule
of Saint Benedict as their model and guide. The Benedictine influence
upon European society became immense through the Middle Ages. Boniface's
journeys and letters show his own energy and spirituality. In a new ecumenical
age, we can welcome this fusion of Christian traditions and graces which
In giving his life to the service of bringing tribes and peoples together ("for
they are bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh") Wynfrith won a new name
bestowed on him by Pope Gregory II, Bonifacius (Boniface)"maker of good".
The National Shrine
The Roman Catholic Church of Saint Boniface, Crediton, receives many pilgrims
who come to see the two relics of the Saint given by the Bishop of Fulda and
authenticated by him. They form an important physical link with the Saint. A
stone from the tomb of Saint Boniface is incorporated into the building. A sculptured
relief of Boniface felling the Oak of Geismar provides a focus for pilgrim devotions.
Stained glass made by the monks of Buckfast Abbey was donated in honour of a
The Boniface Centre
A large and attractive centre for the whole community, its churches and its
visitors, has been built alongside the great Collegiate Church of the Holy
Cross in Crediton. The story of Saint Boniface continues to be lived out
as people from different Christian traditions, all walks of life and the
of the world are welcomed in.
Crediton Parish Church
A large wooden sculpture of the Saint, and a commemorative window will be found
in the Parish
Church of the Holy Cross.
The statue of Boniface as a youth and
the Saint Boniface Well can be visited in Newcombes meadow, whilst the supposed
birthplace of the Saint is at Tolleys, near Mill Street.
The Society of Saint Boniface
Crediton in England, Dokkum in the Netherlands and Fulda in Germany have since
1954 re-opened and now actively maintain close ties following the life-message
of St. Boniface. The objective of the Society of St. Boniface of Crediton,
stated in its Rules, is "to spread the fame of St Boniface throughout
the world". The Society seeks by spreading the
fame of the Saint to foster Christianity and its Message not only in Europe
but throughout the world.
The Boniface Link Association
This is a secular organisation whose main aim is to support the Charter of
Friendship between Dokkum and Crediton, signed in 1988. It also aims to support
links between Crediton and other places, both in this country and abroad,
which have some connection with St Boniface.
To help you explore Crediton a Town Trail leaflet is available from
the Parish Church and Crediton Tourist Information Centre, High Street,
Crediton. (Tel: 01363 772006).
Text prepared by The Reverend Anthony Geering.
Printed by Mid Devon District Council 1999.
St Boniface Cathedral, FULDA, Germany
DOKKUM, The Netherlands