Willibrord of Utrecht, St.
WILLIBRORD OF UTRECHT, ST.
Anglo-Saxon bishop and missionary, apostle of the Frisians; b. Northumbria, England, 658; d. Echternach, Luxembourg, Nov. 7, 739. Willibrord was the son of St. wilgis; alcuin was his near relative. At an early age Willibrord entered the benedictines at ripon under willrid of york. About 678 he went to Rathmelsigi in Ireland to be the disciple of the renowned egbert of iona. He was ordained in 688, and in 690 Egbert dispatched him with 11 companions, including swithbert, as a missionary to Frisia, where he established a mission at Wiltaburg and then one at Utrecht. His labors seemed fruitless, and he sought support at the court of Pepin of Heristal, who sent him on to Rome to seek the specific authorization of the pope. He returned, with papal authority and relics, to undertake the evangelization of north Brabant. During another trip to Rome in 695, he was consecrated archbishop of the Frisians in St. Cecilia's Church by Pope Sergius I, who gave him the Latin name Clement. He returned to the Netherlands with full pontifical authority and established his cathedral seat at Utrecht, where he was visited by Wilfrid. From there he made a series of extensive journeys: in 698 he established the Abbey of echternach on land given him by the Frankish Princess, irmina; and he set out to Christianize Denmark. He returned from this journey with 30 young Danes to educate as Christians, pausing at Heligoland and Walcheren, in both islands boldly attacking the local pagan shrines. In the ensuing years the early Carolingians (see carolingian dynasty) came to rely on his support, as he did on theirs, and in 714 he baptized pepin iii, later the first Carolingian king of the franks. The following year the mission in Frisia suffered its worst setback: the pagan Frisian King Radbod, taking advantage of the death of Pepin of Heristal, killed missionaries and destroyed churches, expelling Willibrord. When Radbod died (719), Willibrord, aided by charles martel, returned to Frisia. There he labored to reestablish his missions, and for some time he was aided by boniface. In his later years he retired to his favorite spot, the Abbey of Echternach, where he died and was buried.
He was the first of the great series of Anglo-Saxon missionaries to the Continent who played a large part in strengthening the bonds between the local Frankish churches and the Holy See. The name Clement granted him indicates his affiliation with the Roman community, and it is no accident that the cathedral churches of Rome, Canterbury, and Utrecht all bore the name St. Savior. His reception of the pallium was the first papal grant to an archbishop on the Continent. His first trip to Rome seems to have initiated direct relationships between the papacy and the rising Carolingian dynasty. Extant writings of Willibrord are few. [There is a group of charters and confirmations (Patrologia Latina 89:535–556); his testament is printed and examined in Analecta Bollandiana 25:163–176 by A. Poncelot; the Calendar of St. Willibrord, reprinted in facsimile by the Henry Bradshaw Society, 55 (1918), appears to have some notes in Willibrord's handwriting]. He is represented in art as a bishop plunging the shaft of his crosier into a cask.
Feast: Nov. 7; Nov. 10 (translation).
Bibliography: alcuin, Vita bk. 1 Acta Sanctorum (Paris 1863—) 3:435–451; bk. 2, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Poetae 1:207–220. c. h. talbot, ed. and tr., The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany (New York 1954) 3–22. m. tout, The Dictionary of National Biography From the Earliest Times to 1900 (London 1938) 21:484–486. w. levison, England and the Continent in the 8th Century (Oxford 1946). c. w. wampach, Sankt Willibrord (Luxembourg 1953). p. van moorsel, Willibrord en Bonifatius (Bussum 1968); Over Willibrord gesproken (Ann Arbor 1989). g. kiesel, Der heilige Willibrord im Zeugnis der bildenden Kunst; Ikonographie des Apostels der Niederlande mit Beiträgen zu seiner Kultgeschichte (Luxembourg 1969). h.-j. reischmann, tr. and ed., Willibrord, Apostel der Friesen (Sigmaringendorf 1989). l. j. m. nouwen, Willibrord: een heilige diplomaat of een diplomatieke heilige (2d ed. Tielt 1993). l. von padberg, Heilige und Familie: Studien zur Bedeutung familiengebundener Aspekte in den Viten des Verwandtenund Schülerkreises um Willibrord, Bonifatius, und Liudger (Mainz 1997).
[j. l. druse]