St. Boniface is known as "the Apostle of Germany." He was born at Crediton in Devonshire about 680, while St. Giles was still alive. His English name was Winfred, and when he was five he was sent to school at the Benedictine monastery at Exeter. At this time England had finally become Christian. Winfred wanted to return to land of his parents (Germany) as a missionary and bring them to Christ.
Winfred knew that if he was to become a missionary he would have to work and study very much. He became a monk and did so well that he became the head of an abbey school not far from Winchester, which was at that time the capitol of England. When he was thirty-six he found a trading ship in London about to sail to Germany. He and two or three companions began their missionary journey.
He found that things were not what he expected when arrived at Friesland. There was a war between the people of Friesland and the Franks (French). The Franks were led by Charles Martel, and they were Christians. Boniface soon realized that as long as the Christian Charles Martel was killing German pagans with his battle-ax they were not about to listen to him. Why would they listen to Boniface telling them that they must give up their war like ways and bow down before the cross of Christ when another Christian was waging war against them. Boniface left Germany very sad and went back to England to think of another way to convert the German people.
He set out once more but, this time went to Rome. He asked the Pope what he should do. The Pope sent him back to Germany to study the situation and report on the best way to convert the Germans. Boniface crossed the Alps and so came first to the south of Germany _ to Bavaria and then went northward to Thuringia, where once Christianity had been known. By the time he reached Friesland on the borders of the North Sea, everything had changed. Charles Martel had won his battles, the pagan duke of the Frisians was dead, and Christianity was proclaimed the religion of the land. In those days the country was whatever religion the ruler believed. Since Charles Martel was Christian, and he now ruled, Friesland was now Christian.
But really the people were not Christian in their hearts. Many of them still practiced the pagan religion openly. They worshipped the old gods, Odin and Thor. Boniface sent for help from his religious brothers in England. They came and helped Boniface go about the country founding monasteries and nunneries which were centers of teaching for the pagans all around. The Pope made Boniface the Bishop of All Germany and Charles Martel made sure that he was protected. Boniface once wrote to his friend the Bishop of Winchester that without Charles's help he could neither defend his monks nor prevent idolatry. But, Boniface went about all the time risking his own life to preach the Gospel and to try to make the Germans Christian at heart.
One of the sacred places of the pagan Germans was near Geismar. There was an enormous oak tree called "Thor's Oak" which grew there. Boniface called together all the people of the neighborhood who he knew still met there in the dead of night to worship Thor. When they were all there together he took an ax and cut a small notch at the base of the tree. He said see how sacred your tree is, and the pagans thought that Thor was going to kill Boniface for attacking him and the tree. But, suddenly the oak's vast bulk was shaken by a mighty blast of wind, and crashed to the ground, shivering its topmost branches into fragments in its fall; as if by the express will of God, because the monks there had done nothing to cause it. Many of the heathen there who were expecting Thor to strike Boniface with a thunderbolt were converted on the spot. They helped Boniface and the monks build a little chapel dedicated to St. Peter, from the timber of the oak.
Boniface continued his work of conversions till he was over seventy. He appointed a day when all those who had recently been baptized should come together so that he as their Bishop, could confirm them. No sooner had they gathered than a great number of pagans, armed with spears and shields, rushed upon them. The people wanted to stand and fight but, Boniface would not let them. He remembered those long-ago days when fighting had prevented him from making any converts. He said, "Lay down your arms, for we are told in Scripture not to render evil for evil but to overcome evil by good. Endure with steadfast mind the sudden onslaught of death that you may be able to reign evermore with Christ." While he spoke the enemy rushed on the Christians and killed them. After the pagans left, St. Boniface's body was found still holding onto a book he had been reading _ St. Ambrose's How to die well.
St. Boniface was first buried in his cathedral at Mainz, but later it was remembered that he wanted to be buried in the Abbey of Fulda, which he had built at the beginning of his missionary work, so his body was reburied there.
Germany was now added to the lands of the Cross: but in Spain the battle was raging.
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