Ventnor's St Boniface

St Boniface and Pulpit Rock

The steep south-facing St. Boniface Down is a significant part of our Ventnor Downs estate on the Isle of Wight. In the 8th century, the saint we now call Boniface – he was originally named Winfrith – is believed to have preached in Bonchurch at Pulpit Rock. The down which towers above Bonchurch is named in his memory and the legendary St.Boniface Well is located there.

Converting the Isle of Wight

 
The Isle of Wight was the last part of England to be converted to Christianity and this was only achieved in 686 when it was annexed by the Wessex King Caedwalla.
 
Winfrith, a Christian missionary from Wessex, was based at a Benedictine monastery in Hampshire. This makes it quite possible that he did visit Bonchurch where legend says he preached from Pulpit Rock in 710.
 

A new name, Boniface, and missionary work in Germany

 
A few years later Winfrith set out on a missionary expedition to Frisia (an area now divided between the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark), intending to convert the inhabitants. But the Frisians were at war, making his task impossible, so he returned home.
 
He then visited Rome to ask Pope Gregory II for his blessing to continue as a missionary. The Pope gave him the new name ‘Boniface’ whereupon he embarked on 35 years of missionary work in various parts of what is now Germany. He went on to found many new churches and monasteries, eventually becoming the Archbishop of all Germany. He is credited with replacing the pagan oak of Thor with the pine that has been adopted as the Christmas tree.
 

The martyrdom of St Boniface

 
When he was almost 80, Boniface set off on an evangelical mission back to Frisia. On 5 June 754, he and 52 companions were massacred by brigands near the modern town of Dokkum in the Netherlands. Boniface was struck down by a sword which pierced the bible that he had raised to shield his head. A magnificent cathedral now encloses his tomb in Fulda, central Germany.
 

St Boniface remembered today on the Isle of Wight

 
The Bonchurch Festival has developed around the saint’s day on 5 June and the ancient custom of garlanding St. Boniface Well with flowers was recently revived following its re-discovery in 2009. The lovely old Norman church of St. Boniface is located in Bonchurch and his name has been given to a road, a school and a local pub.