Prior to the work of St. Boniface in central Germany from 716 to 754 A.D., the local Hessian and Thuringian people worshiped pagan gods and honored living things essential to daily life, such as the oak trees of the surrounding forests, which provided everything from building materials to nuts for food. Though Christianity had been introduced to this area, the current practice was actually heresy because people practiced a blend of Christian and pagan beliefs and rituals. St. Boniface not only returned Catholicism to Germany, but kept heresy, the Church’s main challenge during this time period, out of central Germany.
St. Boniface’s goal was to expand the Catholic Church in Germany, ...view middle of the document...
Before Upper Hesse, a part of the old Roman frontier, converted to Christianity, “The way of life was sacrifice to trees and springs, practice of inspections of victims and divination, legerdemain, and incantations; some turned their attention to auguries and auspices and various sacrificial rights.” Many were attracted to Christianity but unwilling to give up their old religion and superstitions, perhaps out of fear being different, or frightened about what would happen to them if their old “gods” reacted in anger.
St. Boniface was born with the name “Winfrid” around 675 in Wessex. He began his education in a monastery near Exeter and then studied under Abbot Winbert in Winchester. He was made director of the school after he finished his studies, and also lectured in the area. He was thirty years old when he became a priest, and, feeling called to mission work in Germany, he and two companions traveled to Freisland, now the north Netherlands. This area was ruled by Radbod, a local tribes whose local leader, first planned to be baptized by, Boniface, but then changed his mind. Winfrid could have stayed in the area as abbot of the two monks he had traveled with, but decided instead to visit Rome and Pope Gregory II. The Pope sent him as a missionary to Bavaria and Hesse, and while continuing the work assigned to him, Boniface also continued to help his friends in what is today Utrecht, Netherlands.
In 722, recognizing his good work, Pope Gregory sent for Boniface and gave him a new honor. With the new name of Boniface, he was made Bishop over Germany. The pope also gave him a letter and it put Boniface under the civil protection of Charles Martel. This meant that the new bishop of Germany held not only the spiritual power of the church, but also had the civil protection of the area ruler. Boniface took with him a book of the sacred laws of the constitution of the church. This assured him that the rules of the Church and customs would remain unchanged.
Boniface now had local support for his work in the forests of central Germany. In order to convince the people that he was right in terms of the Christian faith and practices, St. Boniface needed a very public and solid reason for the natives to let go of the last of their pagan ways and beliefs. He called the tribes to a public display of Christianity’s power in 723. He approached the giant oak of Geismer, a sacred tree dedicated to Thor, god of thunder. He hit the tree with an ax and cracked it into four parts. It was said that the parts landed in the shape of the cross. Boniface stood with the ax in hand, unharmed. The pagans now believed and blessed the power of the Lord. They gave up their former ways and beliefs. St. Boniface, after working with the converts, built an oratory, or school, from the timber of the tree and dedicated it to the honor of Saint Peter the apostle.
His work in Hesse finished, Boniface traveled to Thuringia to speak with leaders of the Christian...