Willehad, St

Willehad, St.

apostle to the Frisians and Saxons, was born about A.D. 730 in the kingdom of Northumberland of an ancient family. His early training was largely conducted by Alcuin (q.v.) of York, He reached Friesland in or about the year 770, and began his labors in the place (Dockum) where Boniface had been murdered, with successful results. His zeal drove him, however, to seek a region where Christianity had not been introduced, and he went, in consequence, to Eastern Frisia. Here the idolatrous people were extremely fanatical, and he escaped murder at their hands only through the narrow chance of a favorable lot being thrown when the gods were invoked. At another place, Drenthe, he was more successful, until the fanatical zeal of his own companions excited the anger of the people and compelled his removal. In the meantime his labors had been mentioned to Charlemagne, and in 781 that monarch entrusted to him the work of converting the Saxons in the vale of Wigmodi, on the Lower Weser, and also, the neighboring Frisians. In this work he displayed great tact and zeal, and succeeded in a little while to a degree which had not been possible to Charlemagne with all his armies. Many families were converted and several churches founded during the two years which elapsed before the last rising of the Saxons under their duke, Widukind, against the new authorities. This rising occurred in 782, and was especially violent against the Christians who had- been gathered by Willehad. The missionary saved himself by flight to Frisia, but a number of his assistants and friends were killed. The interval until the re-conquest of the country was employed by Willehad in a visit to the pope, where he met with a fellow-laborer and sufferer among the heathen named Liutger, and in a sojourn employed with devotional and literary duties, especially the copying of Paul's epistles in one of Willebrord's convents at Echternach, near Treves. In 785 Widukind was baptized, and Willehad returned to his work in the region of the Lower Weser and resumed his labors. He established a central Church at Bremen and a smaller Church at Blexen. In 787, July 13, he as consecrated bishop at Worms, having previously been a simple presbyter. On his return, he found the Saxons unwilling to recognize a bishop placed over them by the conqueror and endowed with the right of exacting tithes; but he labored with persistent zeal to effect a firm establishment of the Church among, them, and succeeded in dedicating the first Church in his diocese Nov. 1, 789. His administration, however, was but brief. He undertook a tour of visitation, the fatigues of which threw him into a violent fever, from which he died Nov. 8, 789. He had earned the reputation of a devout, eminently trustful, and very zealous Christian laborer, as well as of a modest, courageous, and abstemious man. He wholly abstained from the use of flesh food and intoxicating drink. His body was interred at Bremen and was credited with the performance of many miracles. Ansgar enumerates thirty- four such wonders, which involve not only many noteworthy historical and topographical traditions of that time, but also several psychological features which deserve examination. He was formally canonized, and two days, July 13 and Nov. 18, were set apart in his honor.

Literature. — Anskarius, Vita S. Willehadi, Episc. Brem. (earliest edition), the principal source; Csesaris [Philippians] Triapostol. Septentrion., sive Vitae et Gestae SS. Willehadi, Ansgarii, et Rimberti (Colon. 1642); Mabillon, Acta SS. Bened. 3, 2, 404 sq., best edition in Pertz, Monum. 2, 378-390; Adamir Gesta Hammaburg. Eccl. Pontif. usque ad An. 1072, in Pertz. 7, 267 sq.; Rettberg, Kirchengesch. Deutschlands, 2, 450-455, 537; Klippel, Lebensbeschreibung d. Erzbischofs Ansgar (Bremen, 1845); Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.

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