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Statue of St. Willibrord at Echternach.
Born c. 658, Northumbria
Died November 7, 739
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion
Major shrine Echternach
Feast November 7
Attributes Dipping staff into cask
Patronage convulsions; epilepsy; epileptics; Luxembourg; Netherlands; archdiocese of Utrecht, Netherlands

Saint Willibrord (c. 658 – November 7, 739) was a Northumbrian missionary, known as the "Apostle to the Frisians" in the modern Netherlands. He became the first Bishop of Utrecht and died at Echternach, Luxembourg.

His father, Wilgils or St Hilgis, an Angle or, as Alcuin styles him, a Saxon, of Northumbria, withdrew from the world and constructed for himself a little oratory dedicated to St Andrew. The king and nobles of the district endowed him with estates until he was at last able to build a church, over which Alcuin afterwards ruled.

A disciple of St Wilfrid, he was sent to the Abbey of Ripon almost as soon as he was weaned. Later he joined the Benedictines. He spent the years between the ages of 20 and 32 in the Abbey of Rathmelsigi[1] which was a center of European learning in the 7th century. During this time he studied under Saint Egbert, who sent him and twelve companions to Christianize the pagan North Germanic tribes of Frisia, at the request of Pepin, Christian king of the Franks and nominal suzerain over that region. At the request of Pepin he traveled twice to Rome, finally being consecrated Bishop of the Frisians in the Church of St. Cecilia. It was November 21, 695 and he was given the name of Clement. He was also given the pallium by the pope. He returned to Frisia to preach and to build numerous churches, among them a monastery at Utrecht, where he established his cathedral and is counted the first Bishop of Utrecht. In 698 he established an abbey at a Roman villa of Echternach, in Luxemburg near Trier, which was presented to him by Irmina, daughter of Dagobert II, king of the Franks.

Willibrord tried to convert Radbod, but not succeeding he returned to Fontenelle. It is said that Radbod was nearly baptised, but refused when he was told that he would not be able to find any of his ancestors in Heaven after his death, since he preferred spending eternity in Hell with his pagan ancestors than in Heaven with strangers.

Willibrord tried this while on a Carolingian-sponsored mission into Frisia with the express purpose of trying to convert the pagan Frisians living there in the hope that, once they had converted to Christianity, the Franks could gain control of the important trade port Dorestad, which they had up to that point been unable to do.

In 716 the pagan Radbod, king of the Frisians, retook possession of Frisia, burning churches and killing many missionaries.

Grave of Willibrord

After the death of Radbod in 719, Willibrord returned to resume his work, aided by St Boniface, and under the protection of Charles Martel. His frequent visits to the Abbey of Echternach resulted in his being interred there after his passing, and he was quickly judged to be a saint. In the Roman Catholic Church his feast is celebrated on 7 November outside England, but on 29 November in England, by order of Pope Leo XIII. In the Church of England, he is celebrated on 7 November.

Numerous miracles and relics have been attributed to him, and in one particularly memorable moment, the transport of his relics was celebrated thus "the Five bishops in full pontificals assisted; engaged in the dance were 2 Swiss guards, 16 standard-bearers, 3045 singers, 136 priests, 426 musicians, 15,085 dancers, and 2032 players" (Studien u. Mittheilungen, 1906, p. 551).

A Life was written by Alcuin and dedicated to the Abbot of Echternach. Alcuin probably made use of an older one written by a British monk, which is now lost. Bede also makes mention of Willibrord. Nothing written by Willibrord can be found save a marginal note in the Calendar of Echternach giving some chronological data.[2] A copy of the Gospels (Bibliothèque National, Paris, 9389) under the name of Willibrord is an Irish codex no doubt brought by Willibrord from Ireland.

In 752/753 Boniface wrote a letter to Pope Stephen II, in which is said Willibrord destroyed the Frisian pagan santuaries and temples.[3] In the Life written by Alcuin are two texts about Willibrord and pagan places of worship. In one he arrived with his companions in Walcheren in the Netherlands where he smashed an idol of the ancient superstition.[4] In the second text passage Willibord arrived on an island called Fositesland (possibly Heligoland) where a pagan god named Fosite was worshipped. Here he deflowered this god, the sacred well and the cattle.[5]

See also

Willbrord Memorial at Trier.

External links


  1. ^ Rath Melsigi, traditionally identified as Mellifont in County Louth) Ireland, has not been securely located, in spite of its seventh-century prominence. (D. O. Croinin, "Rath Melsigi, Willibrord, and the earliest Echternach manuscripts," Peritia 3 (1984:17-42).
  2. ^ Croinin 1984.
  3. ^ (Latin)(Dutch) C.J.C. Broer en M.W.J. de Bruijn, Bonifatius en de Utrechtse kerk, in: C. Dekker and E.S.C. Erkelens-Buttinger (1997), De kerk en de Nederlanden, pp.63, Verloren, ISBN 906550558X
  4. ^ Alcuin, Vita Sancti Willibrordi, circa 795, chapter 14
  5. ^ Alcuin, chapter 10


This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.

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