Dates for assembly: June 5 St Boniface's Day

27th May 2005 at 01:00
Born in Devon, and England's patron saint for 300 years, St Boniface is not widely known in his own country, but is honoured as a patron of Holland and Germany

Outline script for assembly leaders

Few people outside Devon have heard of Boniface. Born in Crediton about 680, he was given the strange name (for a boy) of Wynfrith or Winifred.

Stranger still, at the age of five, he was sent away from home to become a monk. For years, he lived in monasteries near Exeter. Then he visited Rome.

There, it was the Pope who suggested he change his name. He also told him to travel to northern Europe to preach the Christian faith. This he did, eventually reaching a town called Geismar in eastern Germany.

On a nearby mountain grew a sturdy oak believed to be sacred to the Norse god of thunder, Thor. Boniface wanted to prove Thor was powerless and did not even exist so he said he would cut his tree down. Believing Thor would strike him dead if he did, the townsfolk climbed the mountain to watch.

Boniface gripped an axe and took a mighty swing at the oak. The blade sank into its trunk. Boniface wrenched it free and took another swipe. By now there was a rustling in its upper branches. The crowd believed Thor was angry. Boniface dealt more blows to the tree. Then, with a mighty groan, it shuddered and fell. The crowd was sure Boniface was dead under the weight of the trunk. But he stepped smiling out of the pile of broken branches.

Much of that area consequently became Christian. Meanwhile, Boniface noticed a tiny fir tree growing at the root's of "Thor's oak" and chose the evergreen as a new Christian symbol of eternal light and life. In the 19th century, that symbol was adopted in Britain in the form of the Christmas tree.

One of Boniface's other achievements was to write the first Latin textbook used in English schools.

Follow-up

Research and describe the life of a medieval monk.

Explore the derivations of the names of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

The website of a church in Birmingham dedicated to St Boniface has a fuller account of his life: www.stboniface.org.ukwhowas.htm

Accessible biographies in French, German and Dutch can be reached from www.saintboniface.infohome

David Self

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