Saint Willibrord, Bishop

November 7

Today is the feast day of Saint Willibrord.  Ora pro nobis.

Saint Willibrord was born in Northumberland (northeastern England) in 657. His father (Saint Hilgis) left the world to enter a monastery, and is honored as a Saint in the monastery of Echternach in the diocese of Treves, and named in the English calendar.  Willibrord made his early studies at the Abbey of Ripon near York, as a disciple of St. Wilfrid, and then entered the Benedictine Order.

When Willibrord was twenty years old he was already wearing the religious habit. Being accustomed to bearing the yoke of the Lord, and finding it light and sweet, he went to Ireland to seek greater perfection and study under Saint Egbert.

From Saint Egbert, Willibrord and eleven companions received the mission to Frisia, at the request of Pepin. They came to Utrecht but did not remain there, repairing to the court of Pepin. In 692 Willibrord went to Rome, received Apostolic authorization, and returned to his missionary labors. At the wish of Pepin he went for a second time to Rome, was consecrated Bishop of the Frisians by Sergius III (21 Nov., 695) in the Church of St. Cecilia, and given the name of Clement. He also received the pallium from the pope.

On his return he labored among the people assigned to him; to raise recruits for future apostolic work he founded a monastery at Utrecht, where also he built a church in honour of the Holy Redeemer and made it his cathedral. In 698 he established an abbey at the Villa Echternach on the Sure; this villa had been presented to him by St. Irmina, daughter of St. Dagobert II, the donation being legally confirmed in 706.

He repaired the Church of Saint Martin, which later became the Cathedral of Utrecht. He built and governed until his death the abbey of Echternach in Luxembourg. He baptized the son of Charles Martel, named Pepin, who later became king of France. Charles Martel was a benefactor of the churches founded by Saint Willibrord, and conferred on him sovereignty of the city of Utrecht.

Saint Willibrord preached also in Denmark, where a cruel king reigned at that time; the Saint, seeing invincible obstacles to the propagation of the Gospel, merely bought thirty children of the land, whom he baptized and took back with him to Utrecht. He preached on the island of Walcheren, converted many and established several churches. A blow from a saber which an idolatrous priest gave him there made no wound; and the idolatrous priest became possessed by the demon.

Saint Boniface joined him in 720 and spent three years with him before going to Germany. Saint Bede, English historian, wrote of Saint Willibrord, saying he was a venerable old man who had for thirty-six years been a bishop and was awaiting the rewards of life in heaven, after the generous battles he waged in the spiritual combat. At Utrecht Saint Willibrord founded schools which became famous. He wrought many miracles, and had the gift of prophecy. He labored unceasingly as bishop for more than fifty years.

Willibrord died aged eighty-one at his monastery at Echternach. Very soon after his death he was venerated as a saint and pilgrims came to his grave. St Bede (672-735) wrote an edifying account of his penance, devotion and charity and St Boniface (672-754) mentions him in a letter, so that his reputation soon spread throughout northern Europe. Alcuin (735-804) wrote a biography some years after his death. Willibrord is seen as a patron saint of the Benelux countries.

An annual dancing procession takes place in Echternach on Whit Tuesday to honor this saint of truly European dimension. Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, professor of medieval Irish history at NUIG, argues for a connection through Willibrord between Irish and Echternach manuscripts and between the procession there and Irish dancing.

Saint Willibrord was buried in the monastery of Echternach in Luxembourg.

Patronage: Convulsions; epilepsy; epileptics; Luxembourg; Netherlands; Archdiocese of Utrecht, Netherlands

Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 13; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).

Image: Memorial for Willibrord in Trier, Germany (8)


Research by REGINA Staff


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