- For the Roman general of this name, see Bonifacius.
- For the nine Catholic Popes of this name, see List of Popes, though you are likely looking for Pope Boniface VIII.
Saint Boniface (Latin: Bonifacius), (c. 672 – June 5, 754 or 755), the Apostle of the Germans, born Winfrid or Wynfrith at Crediton in Devonshire. He was of good family, and it was somewhat against his father's wishes that he devoted himself at an early age to the monastic life. He received his theological training in the monasteries of Exeter and Nutcell, and at the age of thirty became a priest.
In 716 he set out on a missionary expedition to Frisia, intending to convert the Frisians by preaching to them in their own language, his own Anglo-Saxon language being similar to Frisian, but his efforts were frustrated by the war then being carried on between Charles Martel and Radbod, king of the Frisians.
Winfrid again set out in 718, visited Rome, and was commissioned in 719 by Pope Gregory II, who gave him his new name of Boniface, to evangelize in Germany and reorganize the church there. For five years he laboured in Hesse, Thuringia and Frisia, and on November 30, 722, he was elevated to bishop of the German territories he would bring into the fold of the Roman Church.
A key event occurred in 723, when he felled the sacred oak dedicated to Thor near the present-day town of Fritzlar in northern Hesse, built a chapel from its wood at the site where today stands the cathedral of Fritzlar, and later established the first bishopric in Germany north of the old Roman Limes at the Frankish fortified settlement of Büraburg, on a prominent hill facing the town across the Eder river. The felling of Thor's Oak is commonly regarded as the beginning of German christianization. In 732, he traveled again to Rome to report, and Gregory II conferred upon him the pallium as archbishop with jurisdiction over Germany. Boniface again set out for Germany, baptized thousands and dealt with the problems of many other Christians who had fallen out of contact with the regular hierarchy of the Catholic church. During his third visit to Rome in 737/38 he was made papal legate for Germany. In 745, he was granted Mainz as metropolitan see.
After his third trip to Rome, Boniface went to Bavaria and founded there the bishoprics of Salzburg, Regensburg, Freising and Passau. In 742, one of his disciples, Sturm (also known as Sturmi, or Sturmius), founded the abbey of Fulda not too far from Boniface's earlier missionary outpost at Fritzlar. Although Sturm was the founding abbot of Fulda, Boniface was very involved in the foundation. The initial grant for the abbey was signed by Carloman, the son of Charles Martel. The support of the Mayors of the Palace (maior domos) and later, the early Pippinid and Carolingian rulers, was important to Boniface's success. He balanced this support and attempted to maintain some independence, however, by attaining the support of the papacy and of the Agilolfing rulers of Bavaria.
In Frankish, Hessian and Thuringian territory, Boniface founded the dioceses of Büraburg, Würzburg and Erfurt. By appointing his own followers as bishops, he was able to retain some independence from the Carolingian rulers. He also organised provincial synods in the Frankish Church, and maintained a sometimes turbulent relationship with the king of the Franks, Pepin, whom he may have crowned at Soissons in 751.
He had never relinquished his hope of converting the Frisians, and in 754 he set out with a small retinue for Frisia. He baptized a great number, and summoned a general meeting for confirmation at a place not far from Dokkum, between Franeker and Groningen. Instead of his converts, however, a crowd of armed pagans appeared who slew the aged archbishop. His remains were eventually buried in the abbey of Fulda.
A famous statue of St. Boniface stands on the grounds of Mainz Cathedral. A more modern rendition stands facing the cathedral of Fritzlar.
Saint Boniface is a francophone district of Winnipeg, Manitoba. Formerly a separate city, its basilica, the Saint-Boniface Cathedral is a national historic site. See also Saint Boniface (electoral district), St. Boniface (electoral district), St. Boniface (provincial electoral district), Collège universitaire de Saint-Boniface