Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Saint Boniface, the English Apostle

Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (1833‑1898)
St Boniface
From Cartoons for a Window at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst, Kent
Charcoal and graphite on paper
731 x 400 mm
Tate Britain, London

This is one of the six British saints in a window in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Speldhurst, Kent. 

The designs were executed in 1875 and the glass was in place the following year by  The Morris Company

The other saints were: St Alban, St Aidan, St Helena, St Oswold and St Walburga. 

It is conscious medievalism, Gothic. It attempts  to summon up a time that probably never existed. But it was and is an inspiration

Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich 1712 -1774
Saint Boniface Felling the Sacred Oak
Oil on canvas
74.4 x 104.5 cm
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

The Christian saint and martyr Boniface was born Winifrid and probably in England

He was Archbishop of Mainz, 744-54. 

He was a Scholar and missionary among Germanic peoples, the "Apostle of the German peoples"

Martyred, he was buried at Fulda and is still widely venerated in Germany and Holland

According to the 8th century Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi, Boniface felled the Donar Oak, ("Jupiter's oak" ) near the present-day town of Fritzlar in northern Hesse. 

Boniface started to chop the oak down, when suddenly a great wind blew the ancient oak over. 

When the pagan god did not strike him down, the people were amazed and converted to Christianity. 

He built a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter from its wood at the site. The chapel was the beginning of the monastery in Fritzlar.

Fritzlar was the birthplace of the German Empire which lasted from the 10th century until the Napoleonic Wars in the 19th century

In 1741 Dietrich was appointed court painter to Augustus III at Dresden (He was also King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1734 until 1763, as well as Elector of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire from 1733 until 1763)

Thus the painting depicting the Apostle of Germany has  more political meaning than religious

Edward Dujardin (1817 - 1889)
Saint Boniface kneeling on the ground being blessed by Saint Willibrord
Pen lithograph
113 millimetres  x 83 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Edward Du Jardin was a Belgian painter based in Antwerp. He painted many religious works including Stations of the Cross

A political Flemish extremist, this work of his is religious and bears no political message

Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical Officio Sanctissimo (22nd December 1887) extolled St Boniface when talking about the Church in Bavaria thus:
" But he to whom beyond others praise is certainly due, in that he nourished and cherished the faith in Bavaria, is St. Boniface, the Archbishop of Mayence, who also is celebrated in an undying and most trustworthy account as the father of Christian Germany, its Apostle and Martyr.  
He fulfilled the office of legate to the Roman Pontiffs Gregory the Second and Third, and Zachary, in whose favour he stood high, and in their name and by their authority he divided the country of Bavaria into dioceses, and thus, having constituted a regular hierarchy, handed on the faith which had been planted there to future generations.  
St. Gregory II, writing to Boniface himself, says: 
"The field of the Lord, which was lying waste, and had grown unfruitful through infidelity with the thorns of thistles, being tilled by the ploughshare of Thy doctrine, has received the seed of the word and brought forth an abundant harvest of faithfulness." (Ep. xiii. ad Bonifacium - cfr. Labbeurm Collect. Conc. v., viii.) 
From that time the religion of the Bavarians remained safe and sure through all changes in civil affairs, although in course of time very sharply tried. For indeed there ensued those broils and contentions of the empire against the priesthood which were so bitter, enduring, and destructive; in these, however, there was more to rejoice than to sadden the Church in Bavaria."
These were words written just after Bismarck`s Kulturkampf

More recently on the 1250th anniversary of the Martyrdom of St Boniface, Saint John Paul II recalled in 2004 that
"St Boniface was discouraged neither by the difficulties caused by the obstacles he encountered nor by failure and defeats.  
He bequeathed to others for their guidance his own experience of life:   
"Let us stand firm in the fight on the day of the Lord, for days of affliction and misery are here.... We are not dogs that cannot speak, nor silent observers, nor mercenaries fleeing from wolves! Instead, we are hard-working Pastors who watch over Christ's flock, who proclaim God's will to people whether important or ordinary, rich or poor... in season and out of season" (Boniface to Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the year 747)."