The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Issue 10—Saints and Sanctity (May 2007)   |   Issue Editors: Celia Chazelle & Deanna Forsman

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

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Boniface's Booklife: How the Ragyndrudis Codex Came to be a Vita Bonifatii1

Michel Aaij  
Auburn University Montgomery

2007 by Michel Aaij. All rights reserved. This edition copyright 2007 by The Heroic Age. All rights reserved.

Abstract:  For over a millennium, Bonifacian iconography has been dominated by the image of a sword piercing a book. Originating in the eighth-century Utrecht vita, the standard account of Boniface trying to ward off the Frisian sword with a book was consolidated in the eleventh century by Otloh of Saint Emmeram, who connected the Utrecht narrative to the Ragyndrudis Codex, a valuable codex now in Fulda, close to the saint's cult center. The codex's outside, though, does not correspond with standard hagiography; neither do its (mainly anti-Arian) contents correspond with Boniface's dual goal of conversion and church reform. Nonetheless, the tortured book is a fitting image of a man devoted to his mission; the questionable identification is appropriate since so many questions remain on Boniface's life and death—whether he lived the life of an effective missionary who indeed was the Apostle of the Germans, whose many letters allow us to glimpse the interior life of a radically different man, whether he died as the result of a heathen robbery, Frisian guerilla, or even Frankish conspiracy. The Ragyndrudis Codex has become a Bonifacian vita, and if this metonymy is a clever ploy by an eleventh-century monk to strengthen Fulda's legal and financial status, it has proven no less effective to the believer.

I. Boniface and his book

§1.  The most recent addition to the family of literary genres may be the booklife. Finding its origin in Roland Barthes's Roland Barthes and now taught in English departments, the booklife proposes a union of sorts of writing and living. Whether the genre will be long-lived is an open question, that it can be fruitful is not in doubt. But medievalists already knew that the dividing line between book and life is always thin, especially if that life has been lived in and among books. Boniface, the apostle of the Germans, the founder of Christian Europe, the most famous of martyrs from the conversion age in Northwestern Europe, led such a life.2 As a young man, he studied rhetoric, grammar, perhaps even Greek, and wrote a treatise on grammar and composed artful poems in the style of Aldhelm;3 as a middle-aged man he kept up a correspondence which became one of the most important collections of letters from that period, frequently asking his correspondents in England for books to aid him in his mission and give him comfort; and as a martyr he lives on not just in a great many vitae, but may also be said to live in and through a book, the Ragyndrudis Codex.4

§2.  Not a written vita in the ordinary sense, the eighth-century Ragyndrudis Codex, supposedly used by Boniface to shield himself from heathen Frisian swords at his martyrdom, and displaying cuts made by sword or axe,5 functions like a vita by displaying the violence of the missionary's death and telling the story of a life in service of the Church. As a marker of Boniface's death, the Codex provides a narrative of violent conversion and violent retaliation, and even while the contents of the Codex are rarely read, the Codex has emblematized for perhaps a millennium not only the saint's death but also his life—a difficult identification, since the earliest vita, by Willibald of Mainz, has a different account of Boniface's death. Moreover, the sources that do speak of Boniface holding up a book for self-protection, the Utrecht and Otloh's vitae, written at least a half a century and three centuries after the events respectively, claim the book was a gospel—and the Ragyndrudis Codex is certainly not a gospel. The identification of life and Codex is problematic in other aspects besides historical accuracy: the emblematic role ascribed to the Codex and the emphasis on its damaged outside has served to focus attention on only one aspect of Boniface's mission, the conversion of pagans, whereas the texts inside the Codex speak mainly of combating Christian heresy, an equally important part of his task, and never of conversion. We know that as the Apostle of the Germans Boniface was closer to the OED's definition of "apostle" as "the leader of a great reform" than to its more primary meaning of "the missionary who first plants Christianity in any region;" still, from the popular point of view Boniface was that primary agent of conversion in that part of Europe.6 But, as we shall see, if the contents of the Ragyndrudis Codex do not lead us to Boniface's imagined life as the most important proselytizer of pagan Germans, their study will not necessarily bring us very close to Boniface's life as a church reformer either. The Ragyndrudis Codex marks Boniface's death, and perhaps even signifies his life—though as a sign whose signifier may be deemed unequivocal but whose signified remains mysterious, much like Boniface's life and even his death.

§3.  The history of the Codex is far from clear. Its provenance is either Luxeuil or a monastery associated with it; its date is usually given as 720-730.7 The Ragyndrudis for whom the codex is named and whose name appears on the last page cannot be identified,8 and there is no evidence that Boniface brought the codex with him on his final journey, that it ever was in Friesland, or that he ever even owned it.9 As often, the association between saint and relic is established afterward by the various vitae. Patrick Geary argues in Furta Sacra that relics already present in churches and monasteries had their histories written for them in retrospect, giving the story of the translation—the theft—of Saint Foy's relics to the monastery at Conques as one such example.10 We can discern a similar process in the identification of the Ragyndrudis Codex, now archived as Codex Bonifatianus 2, as the ultimate Bonifacian book. So let us turn to those vitae, to provide an account of how the Codex became a life.

II. Boniface's death and the outside of the Ragyndrudis Codex

§4.  The traditional story of Boniface's martyrdom is a composite of different accounts.11 On the morning of 5 June 754, Boniface and a group of fellow missionaries prepare to baptize a number of recent converts on the banks of the Boorne river, near Dokkum, Friesland. A group of armed (heathen) bandits appears; they kill everyone including Boniface, who dies vainly trying to protect himself by holding a bible over his head. This latter detail, of Boniface protecting himself, is not found in the earliest vita, that by Willibald of Mainz.12 His Vita Bonifatii, written probably around 760, makes no mention of Boniface holding up a book or making any other attempt to shield himself; indeed, Willibald says Boniface went quite willingly to his death, holding relics (Willibald, Vita Bonifatii 8). Of course, there is no reason to suppose that Willibald's version is more truthful than any other: he did not know Boniface personally and he was not a witness; on the contrary, we might say, his account, in which Boniface addresses his companions, imploring them to lay down their arms and to trust in God despite the tumult around him (Willibald, Vita Bonifatii 8), conforms as much to our expectations of how a saint should die as to how he might have died. Then again, Willibald's hagiography need not be untruthful simply because it is hagiography.

§5.  The earliest mention of Boniface defending himself with a book is made in the first half of the ninth century, in the Vita altera Bonifatii, written in Utrecht and preserved in a revision ascribed to Radbod, bishop of Utrecht (900-917).13 The unknown author invokes an eyewitness who claims that Boniface "sacrum ewangelicum codicem capiti suo imposuerit," that he held a codex of the holy gospel over his head, though not so much to avoid death as to experience the gospel's (spiritual) protection in death (Radbod Vita altera Bonifatii 16). Despite such testimony, the account poses a few problems. Lutz von Padberg pointed out the discrepancy between Willibald's Boniface who was willing to earn martyrdom14 and the Boniface of later hagiographers defending himself with a book (von Padberg 1996, 26). One might also argue that the alleged witness, a young girl at the time of the murder, incorrectly regarded the Ragyndrudis Codex as a gospel, but that argument presupposes that both the witness and the Codex were actually present at the martyrdom. At any rate, it seems that regardless of the vita's accuracy, the Codex itself was not present in Utrecht: the vita makes no reference to an existing book. Nor does Otloh of Saint Emmeram, who writes the Vita Bonifatii auctore Otloh while visiting Fulda around 1063, make an unequivocal identification, though after him the Codex will indeed be equated with the martyr's gospel.

§6.  Otloh may have been prompted by a specific detail in Willibald's account: the heathen robbers, after killing the missionaries, attempted to destroy the missionaries' books, and these books were collected afterwards by those who brought the bodies back from Dokkum to Fulda, where, Willibald says, "inlesi et intemerati, in quo usque hodie animarum prosunt saluti" (Willibald, Vita Bonifatii 8), "unharmed and intact, [they] are used with great advantage to the salvation of souls even at the present day" (Talbot 1954, 58). Willibald's remark, coupled with the preservation of three manuscripts in Fulda,15 lends credibility to Otloh, who reports on the miraculous preservation of the books which he says are still in the possession of the church. One of these he identifies as a gospel cut through the middle with a sword.16 This gospel, Otloh says, was used either as a physical or a spiritual shield, "pro tutela capitis" or "pro clipeo spiritali" (Otloh, Vita Bonifatii 2.27). As Petra Kehl explains in her important study Kult und Nachleben des Heiligen Bonifatius im Mittelalter (754-1200), Otloh's vita was written to strengthen the argument for the continuation of Fulda's exempt status, in the debate between abbot Egbert of Fulda and bishop Adalbero of Würzburg, who claimed authority over Fulda, which lay in his diocese (1993, 112). Pope Zachary had granted Fulda exemption in 751; it was accountable only to Rome, not to the bishop.17 Strengthening Boniface's connection with Fulda would strengthen Fulda's case, and the addition of a contact relic might help it even more. The identification with the Ragyndrudis Codex goes awry, however, since Otloh describes a single incision—the Ragyndrudis Codex has three, two of which are very evident in the binding, and of course the Codex is not a gospel. In "Bonifatius und die Bücher," the most comprehensive study of the importance of the Ragyndrudis Codex to date, Lutz von Padberg goes to great lengths to tease out historical fact from the various records. After careful consideration of the Willibald, Utrecht, and Otloh vitae, he proposes that Otloh may have referred to a lost gospel associated with Boniface, one of the reasons being that Otloh, who spent a few years in Fulda, would have had the opportunity to investigate the Ragyndrudis Codex and would not have made such a mistake (von Padberg 1994, 31-32). In the course of time, the Ragyndrudis Codex would have stepped in to fill the place of the now lost gospel.

§7.  Gereon Becht-Jördens, in a sometimes scathing critique of von Padberg's article, has a different and in some ways even devious argument. Otloh, he says, indeed refers to the Ragyndrudis Codex but never investigated it. Since it was already held as a relic and probably enclosed in a reliquary, he had to rely on oral and literary tradition circulating in Fulda. We presume, though Becht-Jördens does not state so, that the book having one instead of three cuts is a relatively insignificant detail. Moreover, the crosses on the cover of the Codex may have led an uninformed original observer to the assumption that it is indeed a gospel, especially if its reliquary status consequently bars further investigation. Therefore Becht-Jördens need not propose a lost gospel, but he does need a lost Vita Bonifacii prosaice et metrice conscripta, a hagiography upon which to found the hypothetical literary tradition on which both Otloh's account and the Fulda tradition would have been based; indeed, he claims to find reference to such a vita in a sixteenth-century catalogue (Becht-Jördens 1996, 26). What's more, he suggests that Boniface himself may have caused extraordinary attention being paid to a book rightly or wrongly associated with him: the saint may have suggested to Burkhard, one of his students in Würzburg, to "find" a gospel used by Saint Kilian in that saint's grave and elevate the book to the status of a relic, which in turn would elevate the status of the saint's grave and the diocese that held it (Becht-Jördens 1996, 28-30). Of course for Boniface, a man who brought literacy as well as the Word of God, such identification with a book could prove very beneficial, and, as Becht-Jördens correctly points out, such a contact relic can be more easily identifiable as belonging to a particular saint than a set of bones which can hardly be distinguished from another.18 The Ragyndrudis Codex, in the final analysis, may or may not have been in Friesland with Boniface, but either way, the legend of the Schutzhypothese is a literary trope, according to Becht-Jördens: he finds two examples (one certain, in the Gesta Karoli, and one possible, in an eighth-century redaction of the life of Gregor I) of besieged clerics laying a gospel on their heads to prove they are speaking the truth (1996, 24-25).19 In the case of Boniface, then, the gospel is held up not as protection from heathen killers but as testimony of the truth of God's Word.

§8.  Whether one sides with von Padberg's criminological analysis or with Becht-Jördens's more literary argument (both lacking conclusive evidence), and whether Otloh had the Ragyndrudis Codex in mind or not (he is never more specific than in the above-quoted phrase), for later generations this identification is definitive; it holds currency in Fulda for many centuries, and this in itself may speak in favor of Becht-Jördens. Still, an interesting dilemma remains: according to von Padberg, the identification, based on Otloh, of the Ragyndrudis Codex with his gospel is incorrect, but Otloh's story is basically true (or at least an attempt at historical truth). According to Becht-Jördens, our identification of Otloh's gospel with the Ragyndrudis Codex was Otloh's already, but we have misread his (and the Utrecht) account as a literal description rather than as a trope—and the Codex need not come from Friesland anyway. Either way, until we find evidence such as von Padberg's missing gospel with the one incision or Becht-Jördens's missing prose and metrical vita, we cannot be sure about the status of the Ragyndrudis Codex.20 Despite such uncertainty, Otloh's vita remains the most detailed and the Utrecht vita the oldest sources of Bonifacian iconography all over the continent.21

§9.  This iconography undergoes a curious transformation in the beginning of the modern period. The earliest image of the martyrium appears in a late tenth-century Fulda Sacramentarium,22 and it depicts the martyrdom with Boniface in the center, holding a book in self-defense, the standard Bonifacian image for centuries to come. In the seventeenth century, however, this image changes: while Boniface is still sometimes depicted in a defensive posture, holding a book cut through with a sword, in others we see the martyr himself now holding a sword which pierces a book, very much abstracted from the martyrdom scene. How we are to read this inversion allegorically is not so easy to determine, but the change from a book cut through by heathens to a book pierced by the martyr's sword is far-reaching.23 Various solutions present themselves, none of them satisfying. From a practical point of view, it is safe to say that if a sculptor wished to present the saint, and only the saint, with all the attributes of his martyrdom, this is the only way to do it—it removes the need for a murderer to hold the sword, so to speak.24 An image from 1641 on the title page of a Utrecht breviary seems to depict a stage in between the Fulda Sacramentarium and the saint actually holding the sword: Boniface holds a book in which a sword is stuck, as if the attacker who wielded it just left the scene.25 A few earlier images, such as that by Abraham Bloemaert from 1630,26 and practically all images after 1641 have the saint hold the sword, an esthetically much more satisfying solution than the Utrecht breviary presents. The danger may be that the sword thus becomes the missionary's weapon, even if we allow that the martyr acquires the sword accidentally, so to speak, holding onto it only to retain the book. Of course the saint who told his armed guard to lay down their weapons does not need a sword in the first place, and it is true that the saint is invariably portrayed in poses far from bellicose.27 Still, an armed saint is a dangerous saint, and Boniface is often depicted holding a sword as if it were a cross and vice versa. At least one Nazi ideologue seems to have taken advantage of this interchangeability: Robert Luft's 1937 publication Die Verchristung der Deutschen, which laments the conversion of the Germanic tribes and sees Boniface as perhaps second in guilt only to Charlemagne, features a cover with a hand holding up a cross side by side with a hand holding up a sword.28

§10.  Too much stress on the sword, though, distracts from the book, and if that book is indeed a weapon, it may have been just as effective a weapon as the sword. Pierced though it may be, damaged by heathen weaponry, but as Willibald already told us miraculously unharmed, it continues to bring the Word to those who spurned it. Held up by Boniface in many images besides those depicting his martyrium, opened or closed, pierced or not, the book has undergone an abstracting move—no longer (just) the martyr's shield, it has now become an attribute with an intrinsic meaning, though that meaning is far from clear.29 The martyr, without his fifty colleagues and his Frisian murderers, proudly and almost defiantly holds aloft the sword that earlier killed him and the book that saved him, even though it could not protect his earthly body. Everything changes—the martyr, the weapon, the book—and so, likewise, the Ragyndrudis Codex, always firmly identified as Boniface's shield in Fulda (despite Willibald), is revealed as a fluid symbol capable of meaning life and death simultaneously—the death of the saint's earthly body, and his eternal life; but also the deadly violence of the Frisian heathen, his violent death and that of his independent Friesland, and ultimately his birth into the Christian Carolingian empire. This polyvalence is underscored in the discrepancy between its role in Bonifacian iconography and its contents, and a discussion of this discrepancy—the book does not contain what tradition tells us it does, and has very little, if anything, to do with the Frisian mission—will, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, lead us to those Frisians whose lives were so irrevocably altered by Boniface.

III. Boniface's life and the contents of the Ragyndrudis Codex

§11.  The contents of the Codex have certainly received less attention than its tortured outside. A first glance reveals that it does not even look like a gospel, despite the cross motifs on its covers; it lacks the ornamentation and beauty of especially the gospels produced at Luxeuil, and while its brown ink and red capitals are not unattractive, it is a utilitarian book for a scholar and church reformer rather than a sumptuous textual display of Roman wealth and Christian power, not the kind of beautiful book the saint asked his friend the abbess of Eadburga for in 735:

Sic et adhuc deprecor, ut augeas quod cepisti, id est, ut mihi cum auro conscribas epistolas domini mei sancti Petri apostoli ad honorem et reverentiam sanctarum scripturarum ante oculos carnalium in predicando, et quia dicta eius, qui me in hoc iter direxit, maxime semper in presentia cupiam habere (Tangl 1916, no. 35).

And so I beg you to continue the good work you have begun by copying out for me in letters of gold the epistles of my lord, Saint Peter, that a reverence and love of the Holy Scriptures may be impressed on the minds of the heathens to whom I preach, and that I may ever have before my gaze the words of him who guided me along this path (Emerton 1976, 64-5).

However, the Codex acquires a different kind of beauty. By way of Fulda tradition and its codification through Otloh it receives an almost metonymical connection with the martyr. For visitors to the Fulda Dommuseum this is especially strong, since they see the battered outside of the book immediately after returning from the altar which displays the top of Boniface's skull.30 Thus the Codex suggests Boniface's death by pointing directly at his martyrdom, while the reported miraculous preservation of its contents parallels the enduring power of the Word of God and the accessibility of Boniface's life—or at least, his life as portrayed in the vitae and the popular accounts based on them.

§12.  Boniface is remembered for a variety of reasons, but surely one of them is that his eighth-century martyrdom was a rare occurrence—his was the first since the two Hewalds had been put to death by Saxons in 695. His death proved instrumental for Christian politics, as Willibald tells us: within days, a band of Christians moved into the area and killed all those who did not convert, "superstitiosorum tam uxoribus quam etiam filiis necnon servis et ancillis depraedatis" (Willibald, Vita Bonifatii 8), "taking as spoil the wives and children, men and maid-servants of the pagan worshipers" (Talbot 1954, 58). Boniface's death led very quickly to the pacification of the Frisian countryside, a decisive and perhaps final stage in the conversion and Frankish domination of northwestern continental Europe.

§13.  However, his goal was Roman orthodoxy at least as much as conversion, as is shown by two early documents in the Boniface correspondence. Boniface's oath at his confirmation as bishop in 722 says nothing about conversion, and is given exclusively to maintaining orthodoxy:

Promitto . . . me omnem fidem et puritatem sanctae fidei catholicae exhibere et in unitate eiusdem fidei Deo operante persistere, in qua omnis christianorum salus esse sine dubio conprobatur; nullo mode me contra unitatem communis et universalis aecclesiae suadente quopiam consentire [. . .]. Sed et, si cognovero antestites contra instituta antiqua sanctorum patrum conversari, cum eis nullam habere communionem aut coniunctionem; sed magis, si valuero prohibere, prohibeam; si minus, fideliter statim domno meo apostolico renuntiabo. (Tangl 1916, no. 16)

I . . . promise . . . that I will show entire faith and sincerity toward the holy catholic doctrine and will persist in the unity of the same, so God help me—that faith in which, beyond a doubt, the whole salvation of Christians exists. I will in no wise agree to anything which is opposed to the unity of the Church Universal. [. . .] But, if I shall discover any bishops who are opponents of the ancient institutions of the holy Fathers, I will have no part nor lot with them, but so far as I can will restrain them or, if that is impossible, will make a true report to my apostolic master. (Emerton 1976, 41)

Following Boniface's confirmation as orthodox is the first papal letter in the correspondence, written in 722 by Pope Gregory II, which opens on a note of distress caused by lack of Roman discipline and the remains of Germanic superstition in the German church:

Sollicitudinem nimiam gerentes pro speculatione credita, quia 'in umbra mortis' aliquas gentes in Germaniae partibus vel plaga orientali Reni fluminis antiquo hoste suadente errare quasi sub relegione christiana idolorum culture eos servire cognovimus. . . (Tangl 1916, no. 17)

Hearing, to our great distress, that certain peoples in Germany on the eastern side of the Rhine are wandering in the shadow of death at the instigation of the ancient enemy and, as it were under the form of the Christian faith, are still in slavery to the worship of idols. . . (Emerton 1976, 42)

In the next part of the sentence Gregory will refer to the unconverted German peoples, but the first part of the mission is to root out heresy among those who profess to be Christian. It may seem that the heresies referred to in Gregory's letter and Boniface's oath suggest a practical use for the Ragyndrudis Codex, which, apart from Isidore's Synonyma and Ambrose's De bono mortis, contains a collection of texts concerned with heresy, especially Arianism, including the Disputatio beati Cerealis episcopi Castellensis contra Maximinum Arriomanitam and the Epistula Agnelli episcopi Ravennatensis ad Arminium De ratione fidei. However, while Willibald's vita and the Boniface correspondence do mention Boniface's struggle against heresy in, for instance, Hessen and Thuringia, these did not seem to involve Arianism. The most common complaint in Willibald is of enduring superstition:

Alii etiam lignis et fontibus clanculo, alii autem aperte sacrificabant; alii vero aruspicia et divinationes, prestigia atque incantationes occulte, alii quidem manifeste exercebant; alii quippe auguria et auspicia intendebant diversosque sacrificandi ritus incoluerunt (Willibald, Vita Bonifatii 6).

Moreover, some continued secretly, others openly, to offer sacrifices to trees and springs, to inspect the entrails of victims; some practised divination, legerdemain and incantations; some turned their attention to auguries, auspices and other sacrificial rites (Talbot 1954, 45).31

As common as complaints about such superstitions are the charges of adultery and fornication: even when there is mention of heresy, such as during Boniface's mission in Thuringia, heretics seem to be judged solely on their moral conduct (Willibald, Vita Bonifatii 6). Other problems involve church officials being married or fathering children, or are of an economic nature, such as local leaders infringing upon church rights and especially church property, to be addressed at the various synods Boniface would hold.32 Theodor Schieffer makes much of Boniface's reaffirmation of church discipline and Roman orthodoxy at his first synod, the Concilium Germanicum of 742, held in Austrasia, and I summarize his findings: the synod, under Boniface's direction, condemns the seizure by the nobility of church property; prescribes the Benedictine rule for monks and nuns; places priests firmly under the authority of their bishop; condemns "wandering" bishops and priests unless authorized by the synod; and condemns in the strongest terms the increasing worldliness of the clergy and the neglect of celibacy. Mention is made of older German customs which are to be rooted out, including such enduring superstitions as amulets and soothsaying—but not of Arianism or any other deviant form of Christianity (Schieffer 1954, 209-11).33

§14.  The lack of attention to Arianism is understandable, given that the only area in Boniface's domain where it might still have occurred was Bavaria, a long way from Austrasia, and even there its continued existence is doubtful. According to Theodor Schieffer, a case of heresy in Bavaria, involving a priest called Eremwulf, might have involved Arianism; however, he calls that possibility "nicht unbedingt ausgeschlossen, aber in keiner Weise wahrscheinlich," not impossible, but in no way likely (Schieffer 1954, 170).34 Near the beginning of his still authoritative study of the saint and his work he comments:

Die eben abgeklungene arianische Phase der Kirchengeschichte ist aus dem Geschichtsbilde des Zeitalters um 700 nicht wegzudenken, aber wenn es auch nicht ganz ausgeschlossen ist, daß Bonifatius in Baiern auf gewisse schwache Spuren des Arianismus stieß, so war doch diese kirchliche Sonderform als ganze für ihn überwundene Vergangenheit, mit der er sich nicht mehr eigentlich auseinanderzusetzen brauchte. (Schieffer 1954, 41)

The Arian phase of church history, which had just ended, cannot be left out of the historic view of the time period around 700, but even if it is not completely out of the question that Boniface found certain weak traces of Arianism in Bavaria, still for him this special kind of religiosity as a whole was a part of history, with which he really did not have to deal anymore.

Even if Boniface would have found a use for the anti-Arian texts in the Codex in Bavaria, the dateline speaks against its use at the time of his martyrdom: as far as we can tell, he had not been in Bavaria since he consecrated Willibald as priest in Eichstätt in 740 (Makris 1998; Bauch 1984, 80).

§15.  It is difficult to prove that Boniface had to be concerned with Arianism and that this concern explains at least part of the contents of the the Ragyndrudis Codex. As a result, it may well be that the actual chain of reasoning is sometimes reversed: because the Ragyndrudis Codex is closely associated with Boniface, he must have been concerned with Arianism. In a brief description of the Ragyndrudis Codex in a catalog of historical objects from Hessen, Herbert Köllner points out that the Codex Sessorianus, which shares many similarities with the Ragyndrudis Codex, was used in the north of Italy among the Langobards, and states that the Ragyndrudis Codex was used to combat Trinitarian heresy on the other side of the Alps:

Zum gleichen Zweck dürfte Bonifatius unsere Handschrift in seinem Missionsgebiet benutzt haben: Nicht um Heidenmission ging es in Hessen und Thüringen, sondern um Bekämpfung und Bekehrung haeretischer Priester und ihrer Anhänger, wobei, wie der Briefwechsel des Heiligen und die Vita Willibalds belegen, die Trinitätslehre noch eine bedeutende Rolle spielte. (Köllner 1984, 336)

Bonifatius might have used our manuscript [the Ragyndrudis Codex] for the same goal [the struggle against Arianism] in his area: in Hessen and Thuringia the conversion of heathens was not the goal, but the struggle against and conversion of heretic priests and their followers, in which, as the saint's correspondence and the Vita Willibaldi prove, the doctrine of the Trinity still played a significant part.35

That the correspondence and Willibald's vita actually prove this proposition is, at best, overstating the case. They tell of heretical priests and Boniface's efforts to have them removed, but their crimes all boil down to Germanic superstition and abuse of power.36 The priest Clemens probably comes closest to heresy related to doctrine, because he "canones ecclesiarum Christi abnegat et refutat, tractatus et intellectus sanctorum patrum . . . recussat" (Tangl 1916, no. 59), "denies and contradicts the canons of the churches of Christ, and rejects the writings and teaching of the holy fathers" (Emerton 1976, 101), but the specifics of his heresy are unrelated to issues even remotely associated with Arianism or the Trinity.37 Köllner's argument, therefore, seems to derive from a desire to associate the Ragyndrudis Codex with Boniface more than a basis in historical facts. We cannot but conclude with Schieffer that, despite Köllner, Arianism was certainly not a concern for Boniface in Friesland, most probably it was not in Hessen, and it probably was not in Bavaria, and that neither vita nor correspondence give us any reason to believe otherwise. In the context of the mission, the more northerly we get, the less applicable the Ragyndrudis Codex is to Boniface's work. This is not to say, of course, that the Codex may not have been valuable to the saint for other than purely practical reasons: he may have found De bono mortis worthwhile reading, and some of the anti-Arian tracts might have aided in the clarification of theological matters "regardless of the concrete historical circumstances that gave rise to the texts," in the careful words of Marc-Aeilko Aris, but these considerations have little bearing on the praxis of the mission.38

IV. Boniface's afterlife

§16.  It appears we have arrived at the total rejection of the Ragyndrudis Codex, inside and out, as a truthful symbol of Boniface's life and death. The contents of the Codex correspond only with difficulty to Boniface's dual mission of converting the heathen and reforming the transalpine Church, thus establishing Roman orthodoxy and Frankish power. The outside of the Codex narrates a story not confirmed by the earliest vita, and its connection to the later vitae comes about through association rather than through firm historical identification. But to refute the Utrecht vita's report of an eye witness and Otloh's affirmation of the basic elements of that story, and to discard the relevance of the Codex to Boniface's practical business of conversion and church reform, may also lead to a disregard of the book's function as a relic in the imagination of the believer then and now, and perhaps to a disregard of the importance of Boniface's martyrdom. Although the Codex is not credited with any miracles, visitors' comments at the Hessische Landesbibliothek in Fulda, where a facsimile is on display, testify to the book's enduring power to move the minds of believers; likewise, the suggestion that Boniface's death was the result of a plot hatched by a Pepin who, like his clergy, regarded growing Roman power with suspicion (Kern 1989),39 changes little about the popular support and homage paid to Boniface to the present day. In this sense, rejecting the Codex as an account of Boniface's life and death also constitutes a rejection not of his "historical" life and death, but of his enduring influence on the German church, and of the specific role of Christianity in northwestern continental Europe: Boniface, an Anglo-Saxon, that is, a descendant of a Germanic tribe now infused by more than a century of Roman Christianity, converting the Germans and establishing Roman orthodoxy, functions as a bridge to those peoples he helped bring into the Church. His death, reportedly at the hands of Frisian pagans, opens up a new life for those same tribes, a life in which, through Boniface's violent death, they can come to terms with a new future. At least for those not directly charged with his death, it is a watershed; by firmly allying themselves with his Roman Church and church organization, and by condemning, through the display of the violence symbolized by the Ragyndrudis Codex, those who are like them in blood but unlike them in faith, they are able to separate their Germanic past from their Christian present and future.

§17.  Whether Otloh means to refer to the Ragyndrudis Codex with his "sancti evangelii liber" or not,40 his vita definitively elevates the Ragyndrudis Codex to the status of relic, and, following on and in combination with the Utrecht vita, produces an image of an elderly missionary meekly defending himself with the Word of God, an image as striking as Saint Patrick expelling the snakes from Ireland or Saint Sebastian pierced by arrows—and equally imaginary. Such is the power of the Codex and the narrative attached to it, that one of the three facsimiles made in 1980, the one currently on display in the Dommuseum in Fulda, has the original incisions recut—the tortured text copied and tortured anew—as if in a re-enactment of the saint's martyrdom.

§18.  This final re-enactment must have functioned like an intense rereading of a vita: in inflicting again the violence on the facsimile, a transference may occur, an act of sympathy and identification, whereby the inflictor becomes like the Codex and can feel the incision like the martyr felt the heathen sword. Such re-enactment is quite common in hagiography, and is signaled already in a letter in the Boniface correspondence in which Bishop Milret of Worcester asks Lullus for a written account of Boniface's death, a letter whose personal tone suggests that the purpose of reading such an account is not liturgical but personal (Tangl 1916, no. 112).41 From this primary re-enactment comes, for the spectator, a secondary identification with the martyr—much like the reader, shocked by heathen torture and conditioned by the standard rhetorical patterns and formulaic phrases of all vitae, can imagine such an identification. Vitae achieve their effects by following set patterns, images, and phrases, their legendary character achieved by a smoothing out of individual historical detail and idiosyncrasy.42 Likewise, the Ragyndrudis Codex continues to impress believers who are conditioned, by all the Bonifacian imagery they have been brought up with, to expect a tortured book, and pay little or no attention to its contents.43

§19.  As for Boniface's life and death, questions great and small remain, about historical events as well as their significance and motivation. Scholars seemed to have reached agreement on his death: neither the result of Frankish conspiracy (pace Kern 1989) nor a concerted effort to remove Christianity from pagan Friesland (pace Luft 1992, 55-57), it was a simple armed robbery by a gang of Frisian bandits—but note that these are usually designated as "heathen Frisians," their paganism adding to or perhaps causing their atrocity.44 This explanation is not as easy as it seems, however. On the one hand, if Boniface indeed had an armed guard, as Willibald asserts, and they did not put down their arms like the saint asked them to (Willibald, Vita Bonifatii 8), some violence must have been necessary to overcome them, but this does not mean that everybody had to be killed for the robbery to succeed. Such an orgy of blood, if we are to believe Willibald's claim that Boniface had no fewer than fifty companions with him, seems out of proportion if this were a simple robbery. On the other hand, it is generally agreed that Friesland was conquered only under Charlemagne and mainly "at the point of sword," to quote John Godfrey (1962, 228), who was certainly not opposed to Boniface's mission or method, and that it converted to Christianity "forcefully and superficially" (Bremmer 1992, 7). If Godfrey is correct, there is no need to dismiss offhand the suggestion that some measure of political action was involved in the slaughter of such a large group of missionaries under the protection of the Franks—especially since the Frankish retaliation furthered the political and religious goals of Boniface's mission.45 This is not to suggest that there was an organized military resistance active in Friesland against Boniface and Pepin, but the desire to maintain a hard-fought independence, in combination with aversion to the displacement of the old gods, might explain how a relatively simple robbery—overwhelm the armed guard, make off with the treasure—turned into the mass slaughter of unarmed churchmen.

§20.  Boniface's life is not all that transparent either. We know more about him than about many other churchmen, especially because of the Boniface correspondence. That we seem to know so much is an invitation to imagine his life, as some scholars have done;46 in fact, there are few characters in the period between the early Christian martyrs and perhaps Saint Francis who entice scholars as much as Boniface does, and it may well be that this is one reason for his enduring importance. Of course disagreements remain, as they do with any historical character—whether Boniface consecrated Pepin or not is one of the most important disputes—but aside from historical questions there are basic disputes about meaning that continue to divide some groups. The role of Boniface in Friesland, for instance, whether he brought Christianity's blessing or effectively ended Frisian independence, remains contentious in that part of the world, and it would not be so contentious if both sides did not have a claim to truth.47 Difference of opinion of a different nature lies between lay and religious devotion to Boniface in Germany: while the Catholic hierarchy (and this included the papal nuncio in the 1930s) stresses Boniface's reformation of a disorganized church and his dedication to Rome, the laity appears more smitten by the more popular image of Boniface cutting down the Donar oak tree and being martyred in his final conversion effort. Both sides continue to live quite happily with their own Boniface. I am not promoting a return to the "two-tiered" model of belief, of a chasm between an educated upper class and a vulgar uninformed populus, which was effectively debunked by Peter Brown and others,48 but Boniface veneration suggests that Ultramontanism has typically been more popular among the clergy than among the laity, who are perhaps inclined to value more their belonging to a country than to a theological system.49

§21.  Both sides have a Boniface in the vitae and in the relics (including the Ragyndrudis Codex) to cling to, and of course both sides are not incompatible—but how different they are becomes apparent in the recent reimagining of Boniface by Hubertus Lutterbach. Based on the Boniface correspondence, with the 'missing' letters supplied by the author, Lutterbach's Mit Axt und Evangelium unsuccessfully attempts to merge the two into a single human Boniface. The difficulty in portraying the saint's dual mission (as reflected in the title) based on the letters is that the correspondence gives us very little insight into his private life or even the supposed religious joy spread by his conversion efforts, especially if one selects, as does Lutterbach, only letters pertaining to questions of doctrine and church organization. He thus condemns himself to having Boniface to write the pope about rather quotidian matters and various events of his childhood, combining in the same letter very personal but fictional outbursts ("Oh, how gladly I wanted to stay in Nursling, simply one among many monks!") with the formulaic language of the preserved letters ("In the happiness of soon starting the pilgrimage from Nursling to Rome for the will of Christ, the useless monk and priest Winfrid begs for your prayer, venerable pope, to brave the dangers of the journey with heavenly guidance").50 Lutterbach's new vita, truly an impressive if, in my opinion, failed effort, attempts valiantly to breathe life into a character of imposing physical, spiritual, and historical stature, and in the process shows how difficult it is to make someone who is so much a man of the church also a man of the people, to make a vita come alive.

§22.  The vita's function is not primarily to provide a historical account. While it serves to memorialize the saint, it must also safeguard the saint's active presence long after his or her passing. The Ragyndrudis Codex has certainly succeeded in that aspect, having become one of the most important relics in the cult of Boniface. To the hagiographer, the possibility of continued intercession is at least as important as truthfulness in the modern sense of the word, and while modern readers and scholars often attempt to prove or disprove the truth of a given text with reference to historical fact, that is not the concern of those who wrote the biographies of holy men and women (and never doubted their facts the way we might) whose lives and deaths were evidence of a different plane of existence that intersected with ours, of a different epistemology. The Ragyndrudis Codex may not be the book the saint held up at his martyrdom—indeed, he may not have shielded himself at all. Neither content nor external markings are consistent with the narrative attached to the Codex, pointing to the fictional qualities of hagiography in general, but this fictionality only reinforces Thomas Head's remark that "sanctity is a changing social construct" (Head 1998, 10) and may actually renew our appreciation of the very real impact of Christianity on the Western world, of how a set of stories can change history.


1.   For their invaluable assistance in the conception and revision of this article, I would like to thank Dr. John P. Hermann, Dr. Elizabeth Meese, and Dr. Celia Chazelle.  [Back]

2.   The overwhelming importance of books to the life of a man such as Boniface is argued best in Schüling 1962, esp. 336-46. For a more recent appraisal, see Aris 2004a. Aris begins, appropriately, with a reflection by Elias Canetti on how he uses books as a shield against death (2004a, 96).  [Back]

3.   Aloys Ruppel describes and appraises Boniface's poems (1960, esp. 35-37 and 39). Ruppel's article also contains a typed rendering of Boniface's figure-poem which acrostically, telestically, and mesostically forms a diamond and a central cross. A reproduction from the manuscript of this tour de force is found in von Padberg 1989, 57.  [Back]

4.   The codex, Codex Bonifatianus 2, is kept in the Dommuseum in Fulda, Germany; replicas are displayed in the Dommuseum and the Hessische Landesbibliothek, also in Fulda. A full edition of the Codex does not yet exist, but an overview of the contents can be found in Stork 1994, 87-88.  [Back]

5.   Herbert Köllner (1984, 336) seems to favor a sword, with a very sharp blade and handled with great speed.  [Back]

6.   Especially in Germany the attention paid to Boniface may come at the expense of the role played by other missionaries, particularly Willibrord (in northern Thuringia, for instance), but also of other missionary efforts, some of which predate the Hiberno-Scottish mission of Kilian, according to Dieter Trautwein's analysis of a seventh-century grave found in the Frankfurt Dom (1993, 243-45).  [Back]

7.   Catalog descriptions in Hausmann 1992, 7-10; and in Jakobi-Mirwald, 1993, 18-21. Luxeuil as a provenance is stated with certainty in Ritterpusch 1982, 50.  [Back]

8.   See, for instance, Stork (1994, 85-87), who denies the earlier identification of Ragyndrudis with Regentrud, sister of Adela of Pfalzel (Schüling 1962, 302-3).  [Back]

9.   For another of the Bonifacian codices, Codex Bonifatianus 1 (the so-called "Victor Codex"), scholars believe we do have such evidence: Malcolm Parkes concludes that a set of glosses to the Epistle of James, displaying an independent and apostolic interpretation of a bishop's ministry, is by Boniface himself (1976, esp. 172-79).  [Back]

10.   "The facts of the case are these: by 883 Conques was recognized to be in possession of the remains of Saints Foy and Vincent [according to a charter of Conques], and so recognized by those who counted most—donors and patrons of the monastery. Just how this possession came about may well not have been decided for two centuries" (Geary 1990, 141).  [Back]

11.   Marc-Aeilko Aris (2004b), provides a more detailed (and copiously illustrated) overview of the various vitae than I can give here (he also treats the three shorter vitae I do not discuss); his literary analysis of the differences between the vitae accords with mine.  [Back]

12.   Vita Bonifatii auctore Willibaldi (Levison 1905, 1-58).  [Back]

13.   According to Levison (1905, 62-78). See also Kehl (1993, 140-41) for valuable discussion of the difficult dating of the original, which may have come from the pen of bishop Friedrich (820-834), and of its revision, which on stylistic grounds is ascribed to Radbod by for instance Levison (1905, liii). That Boniface's defending himself with a book is part of Radbod's revision rather than based on an original eyewitness account cannot be excluded, though that theory's weaknesses are similar to those discussed below for Otloh's vita, especially that the Codex is not a gospel. Still, that Radbod in Utrecht was aware of at least a tradition in Fulda of a gospel associated with Boniface's martyrdom is not impossible, and so it may be that the 'devious' argument proposed by Gereon Becht-Jördens and discussed below extends to the Utrecht revision—but there are many uncertainties in this long chain of hypothetical events.  [Back]

14.   Much is made of Boniface's supposed eagerness to earn martyrdom in Willibald. A modern reinterpreter of his correspondence, Hubertus Lutterbach, suggests Boniface was looking for a bloodless martyrdom (2004, 29-30).  [Back]

15.   Two other codices are traditionally associated with Boniface. The Victor Codex (Cod. Bon. 1) and the Cadmug Gospel (Cod. Bon. 3) are both described in Hausmann (1992). Hans-Walter Stork describes and discusses both at some length in his article on the Ragyndrudis Codex (1994, 80-82). Gereon Becht-Jördens (1996, 5) questions whether the Cadmug Gospel could have been produced during Boniface's lifetime.  [Back]

16.   "Inter eosdem vero libros repertus est sancti evangelii liber, per medium incisus fuerit" (Otloh Vita Bonifatii 2.27).  [Back]

17.   See the letter from Pope Zachary which Tangl (1916) numbers as 89. The paragraph that claims Fulda's property rights may never be infringed upon is a later addition, an issue Tangl had settled already in 1899 in an article on the Fulda exemptions. For a brief summary of the issue, see Tangl's note in his German translation of a selection of the letters (1912, 203). The literature on this and other Fulda-related forgeries is by now extensive; a recent and comprehensive study is Mogens Rathsack's Die Fuldaer Fälschungen (1989). For doubts as to the precise extent of the Fulda exemption, see Angenendt (1990, 274); Stengel (1948, 7-8).  [Back]

18.   Becht-Jördens stops short of suggesting forgery in the case of the Ragyndrudis Codex. Lutz von Padberg, who will not accept anything in the way of a late forgery (1994, 29-30), footnotes one German scholar, Eckhard Freise, who did suggest forgery in a conference paper; the as yet unpublished manuscript by Freise he said he consulted I have not been able to locate (von Padberg 1994, 41 n. 84). Köllner's comments in his catalog description of the Codex, that the cuts "nur durch eine sehr scharfe Klinge und sehr schnell geführte Hiebe und Stich zu erklären sind," "can only be explained by a very sharp blade and a rapidly executed blow and stab" (1984, 336), seem to speak against forgery if we assume that one would have wanted to minimize the risk of actually damaging the text. On the whole, there appears to be a sometimes silent consensus that the cuts in the Codex were not forged.  [Back]

19.   For a biblical reading of the gesture and the observation that bishops had a gospel held over their heads during their ordination, to symbolize the gift of the Holy Spirit, see Aris 2004b, 122-23.  [Back]

20.   It is interesting to note that Schüling, in his "Die Handbibliothek des Bonifatius," is very sure of his identification of Ragyndrudis and quite sure of how and when Boniface acquired the Codex (1962, 300-3), but cannot with any certainty claim that the Codex was actually in the missionary's library, listing it only as "probably" part of Boniface's collection (1962, 330).  [Back]

21.   I found few exceptions to the prevalent image of Boniface's death. An important one is the 2004 commemorative stamp issued by the Deutsche Bundespost based on a painting (ca. 1778) by baroque artist Johannes Andreas Herrlein, in which Boniface, following Willibald, refrains his fellows from retaliation. The painting is reproduced in a nicely illustrated and very useful catalog of a Boniface-exhibition in Fulda in 2004 (Stasch 2004, 50).  [Back]

22.   Now Cod. theol. 231, Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Göttingen.  [Back]

23.   This appropriation, whereby an instrument (or sign) of torture becomes an emblem of identity, is well-known from other saints also (Grig 2002, 322; Winstead 1998, 3). Still, the examples of Catherine and her wheel or Agatha and her breast are different from Boniface holding the sword—neither wheel nor breast can be used against a worldly enemy in active combat the way a sword can be used.  [Back]

24.   The sculptor of the Boniface statue in Dokkum (unveiled in 1962 by the then Princess Beatrix) made a different choice: his Boniface holds a book over his head, but in the absence of the sword it is difficult to determine if the saint is holding up the book as protection or if he is actually weighed down by it, spiritually or physically. This ambiguity, it seems to me, accords with the somewhat ambivalent attitudes of the Dutch—who were both killers and converts—towards the saint. Boniface both killed (or at least Christian troops did, after his death, according to Willibald) and converted them. This ambivalence is most easily found in Auke Jelsma's recent revised biography (2003, esp. 178-80), and is signaled by another Dutch historian (Mostert 1999, 82-3). Yet another solution is offered on a nineteenth-century prayer card issued by the German Bonifatiusverein, which depicts Boniface holding up a book to his chest; the sword that pierces the book also pierces the saint.  [Back]

25.   The image is reproduced in von Padberg 1994, 66. The curved sword suggests it may be based on the well-known panel by Nikolaus Serarius, a copperplate engraving made in 1604; the central image, however, of Serarius's panel features Boniface holding the book-piercing sword (von Padberg 1994, 64).  [Back]

26.   Bloemaert's oil painting is reproduced in Stasch (2004, 47). His son, Cornelius Bloemaert, made a copper engraving (and added a fountain springing up where the saint's crozier touches the ground) which was found on German prayer cards until the late 1800s.  [Back]

27.   A possible exception is the 18th-century statue in the Saint George church in Großenluder (in the Fulda province), of a Boniface who holds up the sword and seems to aim it up high, but his body is so at ease and the sword aimed up so high that the weapon cannot be directed against any attacker. The only image I have been able to find of this statue is reproduced in von Padberg 1994, 71.  [Back]

28.   First published in 1937 (München: Ludendorff) and banned by the authorities in the Soviet zone after the Second World War (see the list available at, Luft's book was republished in black and white facsimile by the Arbeitskreis zur Erforschung und Verhütung von Verbrechen des Massen- und Völkermordes—the original cover, though, had a rather dramatic red background with flames. That the Allies censured literature after the war is a myth propagated on the internet by right-wing, neo-Nazi, and revisionist websites.  [Back]

29.   In nineteenth-century Fulda, one meaning of Boniface's book was fixed: the Boniface monument in downtown Fulda (recently restored for the anniversary of his martyrdom) has Boniface hold up an opened book whose pages state Verbum Domini manet in aeternum ("The Word of God remains forever," from 1 Peter 1:25). This book, despite Willibald and despite the Ragyndrudis Codex, can lay claim to being a harbinger of good news, a gospel.  [Back]

30.   The facsimile of the Codex is in the first room of the Dommuseum; when one enters, it is on the other side of a partition. After visiting the room that houses the magnificent eighteenth-century silver altar on which the skull is displayed, one returns to the first room through a doorway that leads directly to the facsimile. Whether one has seen it upon entering or not, the Codex is always seen after the relics, and after having seen various images showing the traditional martyrdom.  [Back]

31.   This chapter, which is concerned with Boniface's conversion efforts in Hessen and Thuringia, has similar, less detailed references to pagan ritual, most importantly in the story of the Geismar oak dedicated to Donar. See also letter no. 56 of the Boniface correspondence (Tangl 1916), which publishes the findings of the synods of 742 and 743, and specifically condemns many pagan practices.  [Back]

32.   See letter no. 50 (Tangl 1916), a letter to pope Zachary, and no. 56, the findings of the second Austrasian synod. Lutterbach, in his creative completion of the Boniface correspondence, adds a few more sexual deviations to the catalog, most notably homosexuality and bestiality (2004, 140 and 155).  [Back]

33.   Schieffer, in 1954, still dated the Concilium to 743; more recently, scholars such as Michael Glatthaar (2004, 117-200) and Lutz E. von Padberg (2003, 121 and 124) have decided on 742, though Gunther Wolf proposed 743 (1999, 1-5). Glatthaar proposes Köln as the most likely location—quite ironic, since Köln was the archbishopric Boniface wanted and never received (2004, 201-16).  [Back]

34.   The reference to Eremwulf is found in both the Willibald and Otloh vitae (Willibald Vita Bonifatii 6, Otloh Vita Bonifatii 1.28), but without much detail. Willibald, for instance, has "quidem scismaticum heretica pravitate deceptum nomine Eremvulfum," certainly not enough to charge him with Arianism or any other specific heresy.  [Back]

35.   Hans-Walter Stork cites this same passage in his article on the Ragyndrudis Codex; it constitutes the only evidence he provides of the possible use for Boniface of the anti-Arian tracts (1994, 89).  [Back]

36.   The Trinity's importance is a given, as becomes clear in papal letters that instruct Boniface not to rebaptize converts even if they were initially baptized by heretic or criminal priests, since they were baptized in the name of the Trinity, not in the name of the priest who performed the ceremony (see Tangl 1916, nos. 26 and 45). The "false priests and hypocrites" about whom Boniface complains in a letter to bishop Daniel of Winchester are law breakers, not heretics in Trinitarian matters (Tangl 1916, no. 63); the English pilgrims to Rome he complains about in a letter to archbishop Cuthbert of Canterbury are not guilty of anything but licentious behavior (the men are drunks, the nuns end up as harlots; Tangl 1916, no. 78).  [Back]

37.   Clemens claims he can be a Christian bishop even though he has two children, that a Christian can marry his brother's widow, and "dicens, quod Christus filius Dei descendens ad inferos omnes, quos inferni carcer detinuit, inde liberasset, credulos et incredulos, laudatores Dei simul et cultores idulorum. Et multa alia horribilia de predistinatione Dei contraria fidei catholicae adfirmat" (Tangl 1916, no. 59), "contends that Christ, descending to the lower world, set free all who were imprisoned there, believers and unbelievers, those who praised God and the worshipers of idols. And many other horrible things concerning God's predestination he sets forth contrary to the catholic faith" (Emerton 1976, 102).  [Back]

38.   "Unabhängig von den konkreten geschichtlichen Bedingungen, in denen die Texte entstanden waren, bieten sie auch späteren Benutzern Glaubensregeln und -erklärungen, die zur Präzisierung vor allem der theologischen Lehre von der heiligen Dreifaltigkeit beitragen können" (Aris 2004a, 106-7). Aris is more at ease discussing a more personal use of the Codex for Bonifatius, and much of his discussion focuses on the other two texts in the Codex, the Synonyma and especially De bono mortis.  [Back]

39.   As far as I know, no scholar has yet agreed with Kern's findings.  [Back]

40.   As Kehl explains, Otloh's vita was written to strengthen the argument for the continuation of Fulda's exempt status, in the debate between Abbot Egbert of Fulda and Bishop Adalbero of Würzburg, who claimed authority over Fulda, which lay in his diocese (Kehl 1993, 112). Pope Zachary had granted Fulda exemption in 751; it was accountable only to Rome, not to the bishop (see Pope Zachary's letter, no. 89, in Tangl 1916). For doubts as to the precise extent of that exemption, see Angenendt 1990, 274; and Stengel 1948, 7-8. Strengthening Boniface's connection with Fulda would strengthen Fulda's case, and the addition of a contact relic might help it even more: accepting Becht-Jördens's account of Otloh's vita does not necessarily alter the political agenda described by Kehl.  [Back]

41.   One wishes that Ludwig Ritterpusch, who restored the Codex and made the photographs for the facsimiles, had described in more detail the actual manufacture of the copies in his article on the Codex (1982). The deep incisions in the facsimile in the Dommuseum are even more striking when compared with the facsimile in the Landesbibliothek, in which the cuts are only visible since they were photographed—the pages themselves are in perfect shape.  [Back]

42.   Becht-Jördens, as discussed above, would consider Boniface's death, which seems so uniquely his own, as following a literary trope—the other legendary Bonifacian act, of cutting down the oak at Geismar and building a church of the wood, might likewise fit tropological patterning.  [Back]

43.   Including this author. Indicating just how formulaic education can be, Marco Mostert's 754: Bonifatius bij Dokkum Vermoord takes its title—754: Boniface murdered at Dokkum—from the standard entry in Dutch history books used in primary and secondary education. It is a phrase that every student in my school was supposed to be able to recite by rote, though few of us actually knew what it meant.  [Back]

44.   Lutz von Padberg (2003, 10) is quite emphatic in his denial of a political or religious motivation, as is Timothy Reuter (1980, 79). Theodor Schieffer is less explicit; still, "beutegierigen Heiden," "heathens intent on loot," is clear enough (1954, 272), and even von Padberg, usually careful not to stress the religious affiliation of Boniface's killers, calls them "beutegierigen Heiden" at least once (1996, 20). "Pagan Frisians" or "pagans" appears, not only in the Willibald and Otloh vitae and the Fulda martyrology, but almost everywhere—in Germany, for instance, in a set of popular history cards published by the Berliner Morgenpost around 1928, in 1930s prayer cards, in a 1955 catechism-book, and in a 1983 biography published by the Fulda diocese. Interestingly, some Dutch sources do not use such phrasing: both Auke Jelsma's Bonifatius and the brief biography on the Boniface/Dokkum website refer to his killers simply as "killers" or "robbers" and do not call them heathen. In a recent article, Dutch historian Hans Mol blames the saint himself, since he adopted a missionary strategy inappropriate to the time and the circumstances (Mol 2004). [Back]

45.   Such cooperation in that part of Europe was essential long before Boniface: Willibrord's mission in Friesland only became a success after he joined with Pepin, who wished to "establish Frankish supremacy as far as the coast of the North Sea," according to Bremmer (1992, 5).  [Back]

46.   The last few years have seen a true outpouring of Boniface books, too long to list in a note, but see an overview of publications and reviews of Lutterbach, Bonifatius—Mit Axt und Evangelium; von Padberg, Bonifatius: Missionar und Reformer; and Jelsma, Bonifatius: Zijn Leven, Zijn Invloed, in Aaij 2005.  [Back]

47.   An opera produced for the 2004 celebrations in Friesland, performed in Leeuwarden, received some mixed reactions, mostly because the libretto suggested that Frisian "paganism" was a religion in its own right and equal to Christianity, and that a pagan priestess even caused Boniface to fully realize the power of a mixed pagan-Christian divinity, a God more appropriate to 2004 than to 754. Despite this minor controversy—and religious controversy between Dutch Christians over Christian matters always seems minor—or perhaps thanks to the libretto's religious liberalism, all performances sold out and most reviews in the Dutch papers were positive. Frisian independence, ended by Boniface and his successors, is celebrated once again linguistically in Frisian-language journals such as Farsk, which recently published a Frisian translation of Willibald's vita by Frisian author and translator Klaas Bruinsma (now also published separately, as Willibald's Vita Bonifatii: It Libben fan Bonifatius (2004).  [Back]

48.   See, for instance, Brown 1981, 25-32.  [Back]

49.   Such differences are seen even between different groups of clergy members. In 1954, at the commemorations in Fulda for the 1200th anniversary of Boniface's martyrdom, the papal nuncio as well as Pope Pius XII stressed his connection and deference to Rome, whereas all other officials cited in the commemorative Gaude Fulda: Ein Erinnerungsbuch (edited by Ludwig Pralle, 1954) mentioned Boniface's importance in founding their respective churches and dioceses, but never his dedication to the Holy See. These references, or lack thereof, do more than betray local or personal interest; they indicate differences of perception and interpretation—not irreconcilable differences, but real differences nonetheless.  [Back]

50.   Both citations from the first (fictional) letter, which includes the preserved letter of introduction (Tangl 1916, no. 11) by bishop Daniel of Winchester (Lutterbach 2004, 18; 23).  [Back]

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