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5 June 2016
posted by Canon Dakin on 14-06-2016

I am not going to talk about the Sunday readings.  Today is June 5th. What is the significance of June 5th? Let me ask another question.  Who is the greatest Englishman ever? I haven’t been able to verify this but I believe that in his History of the English People Churchill nominates a Devon man of the 8th century, Boniface of Crediton. Today is the feast day of St Boniface.  And what do you know about St Boniface? I suggest very little.  Many of you will be familiar with St Walburga’s Road which leads past St Mary’s towards Victoria Hospital. And what would you know about St Walburga? I admit that I myself knew nothinguntil I was appointed to  St Walburga’s church in Preston and even then she only came to life when I went on pilgrimage to Eichstatt in Bavaria where she is buried. There I discovered awhole galaxy of English saints who in the eighth century planted the faith there and who are still powers in the land where their memory is revered.  The inspirer and leader of that missionary movement was Boniface.  He was born at Crediton in Devon shortly before the year 700. His parents christened him Winfrid. He became a monk and was fired with the idea of sharing the faith with his Saxon cousins in Germany.  He did a short apprenticeship with St Willibrord in Holland before going to Rome to be commissioned by the Pope for his work in Germany. He was consecrated bishop on the feast of a Roman martyr, Boniface, and he took Boniface then as his church name. We know a great deal about him through the letters he sent to his friends in England. He asked, for instance, for a copy of the correspondence between Pope Gregory the Great and St Augustine of Canterbury. Gregory himself had carefully planned Augustine’s mission. There were to be two archbishops at York and London each with six diocesan bishops in their care whilst the archbishops were to receive a pallium or badge of office directly from the Pope himself. So the church in England was to have a stable organisation closely bound to Rome.  Boniface took this blueprint and, as Papal Legate, applied it to Germany and France.  He first made sure that he had the support of the local power broker, Charles Martel, whose territory spanned the Rhine. His other tactic was to bring monks and nuns from England whose monasteries and convents became missionary centres. So, if Gregorythe Great was the architect of a united and stable churchin Western Europe, closely bonded to Rome, it was Boniface who built it, creating what became known simply as Christendom. It was because of the work of Boniface that Christopher Dawson, the historian, was able to write that the great turning point in the history of the West was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons.  It is sad that he is relatively without honour in his own country. In Germany he is revered as the national saint.

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