ANGLICAN and Roman Catholic bishops in the West Country are giving their joint support to a campaign to make St Boniface the patron saint of Devon.
Born in Crediton in around 672, St Boniface is little known in Britain, but is the patron saint of Germany and the Netherlands, where he travelled to convert the Frankish Empire to Christianity. He was appointed Archbishop of Mainz in 745, but was martyred while proselytising in what is now northern Holland.
In a joint statement, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Robert Atwell, and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt Revd Mark O’Toole, said: “We are delighted to champion the groundswell of support to acclaim St Boniface as patron saint of Devon. Boniface left his monastery in our lovely county to take the gospel to northern Europe, and was martyred there in 754. He is rightly acclaimed ‘Apostle to the Germans’.
“At a time when our links with Europe are under scrutiny, it is good to honour our historic spiritual links, and to celebrate the faith and courage of this extraordinary man, of whom Devon can rightly be proud.”
The campaigners suggest that St Boniface’s feast day, 5 June, should be celebrated as Devonshire Day. The Boniface Link Association, which fosters Crediton’s contacts with sites in Holland and Germany associated with the saint, believes that it would encourage tourism and support the economy.
Last week, Devon County Council’s cabinet approved a motion supporting the campaign, which was tabled by Nick Way, a Liberal Democrat county councillor for Crediton. He said: “Devon’s only native-born saint, Boniface, has been described by eminent historians as ‘The greatest Englishman of all times’, and is often referred to as the First European because of his important missionary work across a large part of the continent. He is a significant historic figure.
“Cornwall has St Piran, and Dorset has St Wite as their patron saints. Devon should have its own patron saint: it is important for the county’s identity and tourism. People should be able to celebrate St Boniface Day each year on 5 June.”
In Boniface’s time, Crediton was the main seat of Christianity in Devon. His Anglo Saxon name was Wynfrith, from the Saxon words for “friend” and “peace”, but he took the Latin name Boniface, meaning good fate, when he entered Exeter monastery.
He was killed by a mob on Pentecost Sunday in the Dutch town of Dokkum, in Friesland, and is buried at Fulda, the abbey he founded in northern Germany. It is now a place of pilgrimage for Christians.
St Boniface RC Church, in Crediton, holds the national shrine to the saint. The Grade I listed Crediton Parish Church, formally titled the Church of the Holy Cross and the Mother of Him Who Hung Thereon, has an aisle and several artefacts dedicated to St Boniface.