Saint Boniface: The Iconography

In Frisia, St. Boniface, Bishop of Mainz and Martyr. He came from England to Rome, from whence Pope Gregory II sent him to Germany to preach the faith of Christ to those people. He is justly called the Apostle of the Germans because he brought great multitudes to the Christian religion, especially the Frisians. He was martyred when some furious pagans put him to the sword along with several other servants of God. – Roman Martyrology for June 5

Boniface was an 8th-century bishop who advanced the conversion of Germany to the Christian faith. This was no small accomplishment, as the resistance of pagan authorities was fierce, but the saint was not one to back down. He was noted especially for cutting down a famous oak said to be sacred to Thor. Finally, his pagan opponents attacked the little camp from which he and his companions were endeavoring to evangelize Friesland. The legend says he looked up from his reading to see a warrior rushing at him with a sword. He held up the book to defend himself, but the sword went right through it and killed Boniface on the spot. The event is pictured in this illustration in the Fulda Sacramentarium:
Goettingen, Staats- und Universitaetsbibliothek, Inventory number Hs. Theol. 231. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Other than the standard's bishop's regalia, many images of St. Boniface do not use attributes, but among those that do most have a book pierced by a sword, as in the first image at right. The rest will picture the axe with which he felled the sacred oak, as in the second picture at right.

Prepared in 2016 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University

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St. Boniface with the sword piercing his book. (Source of picture: Andreas Praefke via Wikimedia Commons.)


Sometimes St. Bo­ni­face is pic­tured with an axe, in re­fer­ence to his fell­ing an oak that the pagans con­sidered sac­red to the god Thor on Mount Gu­den­berg in Ger­many.1 (Source of pic­ture: G. Frei­halter via Wiki­media Comm­ons.)


Like this one, a great many im­ages dis­pense with the at­tri­butes and simp­ly pre­sent the saint in his epis­co­pal re­ga­lia with a book and crozier. Fol­low this link for a full-size copy of this picture (1848 x 4288, 300 dpi).

DATES

  • Feast day: June 5
  • Born 675, died 754

NAMES

  • Boniface was born in England under the name Winfrid.

HAGIOGRAPHY

NOTES
1 Butler, II, 478.