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 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


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, mitre, and crozier. Follow this link for a full-size copy of this picture (1848 x 4288, 300 dpi).


  • Book pierced by a sword
  • Axe



  • Feast day: June 5 (May 14 in the 1662 Roman Breviary)
  • Born 675, died 754


  • Boniface was born in England under the name Winfrid.


1 Butler, II, 478.