Some heartfelt sympathy is in order for St. Boniface. He lost his head, after all, to the Frisians when he decided to go back to their neighborhood and try to de-paganize them after once, years before, throwing in the towel on a similar mission. Today, he is the patron saint of Germany, the one man--an Englishman, no less--greatly credited with bringing Christianity to the entire realm. He worked tirelessly for the gospel.
Some historians denigrate his tactics because they were, by present-day standards, extreme, showing little patience with the culture of those who whom he brought the gospel. The most famous tale of his saintly life surrounds his felling of Thor's Oak, a huge tree--so says posterity--whose massive size made it a shrine among the pagan Germans. Boniface would have nothing of such heresy, so he cut it down. In some renditions of the story, at the moment he was at it with his axe, a straight-line wind came by and did the job for him, rather divinely breaking the thing into four chunks, each of which revealed the plain fact that Thor's Oak was rotten in every which way. Whatever happened, the felling of Thor's Oak was the kind of mighty deed that brought him the accolades that sped his ascension to eventual sainthood.
But he lost his head in Friesland, among my ancestors nonetheless, when a gang of the world tallest white folks offed him for destroying their sacred--which is to say, pagan--shrines and sites, something he must have relished doing. The date was June 5, the day before Pentecost, 754 A.D.
There's always another side to the story, however, and one of the Catholic versions goes like this: they attacked him because they believed the boxes he carried with them were filled with gold.
Alas, those boxes held nothing more than books.
Trust me, right now I'd be mad too.
Some stories go further. When surrounded by fierce Fries, he advised his blessed followers to offer no resistance. Then he raised his Bible to protect himself from the blade that tore first through the Word before felling him. He is, after all, a saint.
There's a shrine in Dokkum, Friesland, the Netherlands, a beautiful and welcoming place, in fact, where, just last summer at this time, I bought this beautiful bottle of water from the well right there.
Elegant, isn't it? Cost me two euros, but I liked it the moment I saw it. I don't know that I took back any other curio from our entire visit, save a book I already sold on ebay and grand gouda that's long gone.
My basement is slowly emptying as I cull through all the flotsam and jetsam, but I'm not tossing this bottle of St. Boniface water, not simply because it doesn't take up much space but because it is, to me, something of a symbol of the real human need for faith itself. We want badly to believe--all of us. Me too. We need stories to keep us alive and healthy and humble. We need crosses and holy water, crescent moons and white buffalos, even staggering oaks that can and do fall with rogue winds.
I'm not saying they're all alike, only that we need to believe. I don't need this elegant bottle, but its un-holy water has holy meanings, or so it seems to me.
We need a savior.