saint Willibrord Apostle of Friesland (Holland) and First Bishop of Utrecht- Unknown origin
Many people might not know, that Holland used to be an Orthodox Christian Country back in the day. The current state of the country is highly divided spiritually in terms of faith roughly it can be said half of Holland is Roman Catholic and Half is Protestant. Just like mixture of population and cultural mixture the country did mixed up its Christian believes too. The reasons for this are complex, but what is important is nowdays true Christians who live in the Netherlands, can be joyful to find out Holland in its primordial state of existence (i.e. Dutch land was not clearly separated from German and English), the country was evangelized by true Orthodox Christians. Just like we in Bulgaria have our highest venerated patron saints protectors and prayer intercessor of all Bulgaria Saint John of Rila and Saint (Saint Apostle equal) righteous Tzar (King) Boris, it was rather amazing for me and probably will be for many to find out that Holland has their patron saints too!
Saint (Heilige) Willibrord icon (from Husstege's icons)
Saint WilliBrord though probably well known saint among native Dutch inhabitants and devoted Roman Catholic Christians, however little (almost none) of the foreigners who came to live, study or for tourists who keep tight to their Orthodox Faith, have heard of him. Saint Willibrord's memory is still however commemorated in many Roman Catholic Churches on 7th November, as this great saint played key role for the baptism of the Frisian lands (primary nowadays constituting ofHolland lands), therefore it is obvious St. Willibrord was a man of great courage a devoted missionary a vigilant Christian saint who lived and worked for building Christ's Kingdom on earth (The Church). St. Willibrord is among the few persons through Church history so far who played important role for rooting the Christian faith in nowadays Holland. St. Willibrord importance for Holland Christian faith could be probably only compared to the importance of Saint Cyril (Kiril / Kirilos) and Methodius (Metodii) in Great Moravia for rooting the seed of faith and future existence of Christian faith in nowadays Balkans countries (Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Kosovo, Romania, Moldova) as well as few centuries later for Christianization of whole Russia. As many who live a true Orthodox live know, the Western Church (Roman Catholic Chuch), which split from Eastern Church during Great Schism – consequentially through the next centuries changed things concerning faith made it even further astray from true Christ Church – The Eastern Church (Orthodox Eastern Church). After the XI-th century Roman Catholics loose the status of Apostolic Church, as it was claimed by Roman Catholics Pope's Primacy over other Patriarchs from the East; because of this reason and the ex-communication of Roman Catholic from our Eastern Orthodox Church and fact that st. Willibrord operated his mission under the authority of the Pope Sergius I, this great saint memory become less remembered in Eastern Orthodox Church and probably with time in many Eastern Churches his importance for Western Christian evangelization was distanced from the ongoing life of the Eastern Orthodox Church apart from Roman Catholics dilusion.
Nomatter that as nowadays true Christ's faith the Orthodoxy is re-discovered by many who either born in today's Roman Catholics in Western Europe Lands (Holland, Germany, England, Ireland) or converted to true Christian faith Orthodoxy coming from a protestant background; with this the veneration of the saint memory by Orthodox Christians in the West also become restored.
All who has at least a basic idea about Christianity today in the Western lands, know the complexity of western Christian life and the general demise of Christian faith here. Even though this, still the Orthodox Church is slowly marching and returning its prior state in the West as many people are found, touched and led by our Saviour and Saviour of the World Jesus Christ to the One Holy Apostolic Chruch – Eastern Orthodox Church.
With all above said, as I'm currently in Holland the Netherlands and am an Orthodox Christian. Finding out information about Saint Willibrord was a true blessing for me.
Saint Willibrord Italian parish orthodox icon
Also it is rather God's providence that my interest in the saint progressed over the last 1.5 month. And I started reading more diligent just since 2 days time. I was really amazed to find out while reading St. Willibrord saintship is commemorated by Dutch Eastern Orthodox Christian (Community of St. Willibrord) community on exactly 6th of November the date on which I complete my article. in Roman Catholic Church – st. Willibrord memory is also marked a day after on 7th of November. I've used the internet AllMercifulSaviour Orthodox website for the sake of this article to obtain icons of the saint which I include in this article, all copyrights of icons if any belong to the respective Icon painters.
The Living of Saint Willibrord – Heavenly protector of Frisia (Holland)
( Born circa 658 – Passed to Christ 7 November 739 )
a. The Preparation of st. Willbrord for his mission (658-690).
We are fortunate in having an early life of St Willibrord, written by his own relative, Alcuin of York (735-804), in 796. This was based on an even earlier Irish life which is now lost. We also have a calendar of St Willibrord with a biographical note written in his own hand and a penitential written, it seems, by the saint or at least dictated and used by him.
Willibrord was born probably on 6 November 658 in Yorkshire, near the north coast of the River Humber, which juts out into the North Sea, not far from the present town of Hull. This is directly opposite the Frisian Islands. His father was a very pious man called Wilgils. He later became a monk, founded a small monastery dedicated to the Apostle Andrew, became a hermit and was locally venerated as a saint. Willibrord was educated as a child in Ripon, at the monastery of St Wilfrid, Bishop of York. Here, aged only 15, Willibrord became a monk – an age not so uncommon in those days.
In 678 after St Wilfrid’s departure from York, Willibrord left for voluntary exile in Ireland. Here he spent twelve years in a monastery of English monks, learning the ascetic life of the Irish, who had been inspired by the monks of Egypt. These ascetic practices included living in exile and reciting the Psalter by heart, with hands raised in the form of a cross. The Irish were great missionaries and considered exile to be a ‘green martyrdom’. In other words, self-exile
to other countries was a pilgrimage, which shows us that whatever our earthly homeland, we all have the same heavenly homeland, and that is our only destination. Separation from our earthly homeland is a form of asceticism, of separation from the world.
In this way Willibrord would learn to combine the practical organisational abilities he had obtained in England with the ascetic and spiritual practices of Ireland. We can consider that
this whole period was an apprenticeship, a preparation for what was to come. In Ireland he was ordained priest and here in 690 he decided to go to Frisia.
Why this decision to go to Frisia after twelve years in Ireland? First of all, Frisia was well known in England. The Frisians were near neighbours and there was much trade between Frisia, especially the port of Dorestad near Utrecht, and London and the other ports of eastern England, where many Frisians lived. Let us not forget that Willibrord came from eastern England, from an area that juts out into the North Sea, on the same latitude as the Frisian Islands. As we have said, the language was the same. But there were other, more personal reasons too. Willibrord’s first mentor, St Wilfrid, had briefly been in Frisia as a missionary in
678-79. In Ireland his Abbot, St Egbert, had long wanted to go there. A priest in the
monastery, Witbert had spent two years in Frisia, though without success. Abbot Egbert was to find another volunteer in Willibrord.
In any case, it is clear that Willibrord must have heard much about Frisia as a neighbouring territory, where people spoke virtually the same language as English and yet did not know Christ. What could be more natural for the English than to want to bring the good news of Christ to their neighbours, who spoke the same language and lived in the land from where, less than 200 years, eight generations, before, the English themselves had set sail for Britain?
b.St. Willibrord Frisia Mission (690-714).
In the year 690, the thirty-third year of his life, Fr Willibrord set off from Ireland for Frisia via England, together with eleven disciples. These were almost certainly English monks from the same monastery in Ireland. Although several of the twelve became bishops and others were martyred, we know the name of only one other of them. This was the future St Swithbert, who would become a missionary between the Rivers Yssel and Ems and then Bishop of Kasierswerth in western Germany, not so far from St Willibrord. Fr Willibrord and his followers crossed the North Sea, landing on the coast at Oude Rijn near Katwijk. From here, he and his companions sailed to Utrecht, the Roman Traiectum, near the trading centre of Dorestad. Here he met the Frankish ruler of the area, Pippin II, and set up camp in the old Roman fortress of Vecht, set up on the ford over the river. Utrecht itself
means uit – trecht, downriver from the ford. In Roman Utrecht there was already a small church which had been built by Frankish missionaries in the early seventh century.
South of the River Rhine, Frisia was occupied by the Franks. To the north there was great nationalistic enmity between the Franks and the Frisians. In the north and east of Frisia, that is, the north and east of present-day Holland, the pagan King Radbod of the Frisians detested the Franks and all that they stood for – including, unfortunately, Christianity. However, Willibrord understood that he could do nothing without the support of the secular authorities,
that is, of Pippin.
In search of spiritual support, in 692, Willibrord paid his first visit to Rome, to the Syrian Pope St Sergius I. He knew that he needed the support of the Church authorities, just as he needed that of the secular authorities, indeed, to counterbalance them, if necessary. He received great encouragement from the Pope. We should not be surprised by this search for support. For example, if we wanted to start a mission in, say, India, we would seek the support of our Patriarch and also that of the Indian authorities. This is what missionaries have always done, from St Augustine in England, to Sts Cyril and Methodius in Moravia, to St Nicholas in Japan. We do not begin missions without the support and approval of the Church. We do not act alone, but together, because salvation comes to us together.
Fr Willibrord returned from Rome with relics of the saints and headed for Antwerp, on the southern edge of Frisian territory. Here he found the church of Sts Peter and Paul, which existed there already, thanks to the earlier labours of Sts Amand and Eloi. Here he affirmed the Faith, before returning northwards to evangelise Frankish Frisia, Utrecht and the villages around it. From this point on Radbod had a less negative attitude towards Willibrord. Indeed, his daughter actually married Pippin’s son in an alliance.
Saint Willibrord apostle of Frisians Bishop of Utrecht with his pupils
In November 695 Fr Willibrord was again in Rome at the request of Pippin. This time he was consecrated Archbishop by Pope Sergius. This took place two days before the feast of St Clement, the third Pope of Rome. Willibrord was given the new name of Clement by thePope. This indeed is his official name, although he is still generally known by his old name Willibrord. But Clement is still a fitting name because of St Clement’s apostolic fame, his writings and because of his links with the sea – something which should also link him with Holland.
Archbishop Willibrord-Clement returned to Frisia with liturgical vessels and relics, which still survive today in churches at Emmerich and Trier. The Archbishop now settled in the Roman fortress in Utrecht, gifted to him by Pippin with 10% of his revenue. The new Archbishop of Utrecht made the town into his Metropolitan see. He rebuilt the church inside the fortress, dedicating it to St Martin. Martin remains a very common name in the Netherlands to this day. He also built in Utrecht his Cathedral dedicated to the Saviour. The choice of the dedication was and is natural to a Christ-centred mission. We are reminded that in New Rome the great Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom of God, Hagia Sophia, is also dedicated to the Saviour, the Wisdom of God. In Canterbury St Augustine had dedicated his
Cathedral to Christ, Christchurch, and in the centre of Moscow today, the great symbol of the victory over Communism is the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.
In 698 the Archbishop was granted land by Pippin’s mother-in-law, abbess of a convent near Trier. This land was nearby, on the site of a Roman villa in Echternach, now in Luxembourg.
It was to become the largest and favourite monastery founded by Archbishop Willibrord and is famous for the Echternach Gospels. This was the place where he lived the monastic life of Ireland. After his repose and burial there, it became the centre of his veneration and pilgrimage and a centre for manuscript production.
It was during this period in the early eighth century that the Archbishop met the pagan Frisian King Radbod, who now showed him indifference rather than hostility. The Archbishop also travelled beyond the Elbe to southern Denmark to try and convert the people there. He returned with thirty young Danes, whom he instructed and baptised. On his return from there he was driven by a storm to the island of Heligoland, where there lived pagan Frisians.
He baptised three of these, but one of his monks was martyred there by angry pagans. King Radbod threatened Archbishop Willibrord, but he was fearless in his answers to the King, denouncing his idols as devils. The King respected him for his courage.
The Archbishop evangelised around his Metropolitan centre in Utrecht, building churches and monasteries, with money from Pippin. He ordained deacons and priests, among them many native Frisians, and consecrated bishops. He also travelled to Susteren, where he built a monastery, to Zeeland and to the island of Walcheren. There he destroyed a pagan idol, for which deed he was struck on the head and nearly killed. From Echternach he also served the nuns in Trier, where they still have a portable altar of the Archbishop. We can see an Irish element in the Archbishop’s unceasing travels.
c. Crisis and Restoration (714-739).
Having assassinated his son-in-law, that is, Pippin’s son, in April 714, the pagan Frisian King Radbod welcomed the death of Pippin in December 714. At once, in 715, Radbod turned against the Franks, destroying churches and monasteries, killing priests and driving out Archbishop Willibrord and his monks. They took refuge in Echternach and patiently waited for the tide to turn. Four years later, in 719 the Archbishop was able to return to Frisia. The new Frankish King, Charles Martel, had put down the Frisian revolt. Radbod had died and the Archbishop baptised King Charles’ son, who was to become Pippin III, called ‘the Short’.
Back in Utrecht Archbishop Willibrord set about rebuilding, with Charles’ help. His success grew in preaching and then baptising. Now came the period of restoration and also expansion. Notably, he travelled to the east of Frisia outside Frankish Frisia, where he had never been before. St Willibrord truly became the Archbishop of the Frisians, leaving only limited pockets of paganism in the far north, what is now Friesland. He was also helped for three years by another English missionary, Boniface, who later achieved fame as a saint and as the
Enlightener of many peoples who live on the territory of modern Germany.
Although the Archbishop was now in his sixties, in many ways this was his most fruitful period. But as he grew older, his strength began to fail him and he delegated more and more to others.
All Frisia west of the Zuyder Zee had been converted to Christ. There were only pockets of paganism left towards Dokkum. St Willibrord started to withdraw to his favourite monastery at Echternach and it was here on 7 November 739, aged 81, that he reposed in peace. Miracles had been recorded in his lifetime and these continued after his repose. He was
soon venerated as a saint.
The writer of St Willibrord’s life, his relative Alcuin, gave this physical description of him in his prime: ‘He was of medium height, with a dignified appearance, handsome face, he was cheerful in spirit, wise in counsel, pleasing in speech, serious in character and energetic in everything he undertook’. Alcuin also calls him ‘the holiest of fathers and the wisest of teachers’.
There is no doubt that St Willibrord depended on the support of the Frankish Kings to evangelise the Frisians. Neither is there any doubt that he made use of the spiritual support offered to him by the Pope. As Patriarch of the West, it was only natural that Willibrord should have that blessing and support.
But it is also clear that without the efforts of St Willibrord himself, the story of the
evangelisation of Frisia, modern Holland, would have been very different. The fact that he was not one of the Frisian national enemies, a Frank, but that he was an outsider, an Englishman, undoubtedly helped him greatly. Without St Willibrord surely the evangelisation of Holland would have been much more difficult and would have come much later.
Lessons we modern day Orthodox Christians can learn from st. Willibrord
Apart from the above, I think that there are four more lessons that we can learn from the three parts of St Willibrord’s life and mission:
Firstly, we can see that for over thirty years Willibrord had been preparing, mainly
unconsciously, for his mission. Here we have a sense of destiny. In his mission to the Frisians, St Willibrord fulfilled the mission that God had put in his soul. In this we achieve nothing if we are not thoroughly prepared. This is our first lesson. And we can see its practical application, inasmuch as before baptising the Frisians, Willibrord always preached to them, instructing them. He prepared the ground, sowing before harvesting.
Secondly, we can see in St Willibrord the Incarnational principle of the practical and the spiritual. And in fact these are the two sides of the same coin. In him we can see the English and the Irish, the Roman organiser and the Egyptian monk. For example, he established an operational headquarters in Roman Utrecht. But he also operated out of a spiritual base, in his beloved monastery of Echternach. St Willibrord shows us that although we are very much in the world, we are still not of it. And all those who deny this principle of balance, taking only one side and not the other, as the Franks later did, come to grief and misfortune.
Thirdly, we can see through the life of the saint that God protects his workers. Time and again St Willibrord was under threat in dangerous circumstances. He worked under Frankish patronage among the Franks’ national enemies. He worked to destroy the old pagan religion and replace it with the new Christian Faith. Each time that threats came, he did not suffer, but his enemies did. He was fearless because he had faith. And what do we have to fear? The worst thing that can happen to us is death and that, for Christians, means paradise.
Fourthly, and finally, we see the patience of the saint. He thought in the long term, in terms of generations. Following the pagan reaction in 714-715, it seemed as though 25 years of work had been in vain. All was lost. However, the saint returned and began again. God was to give him another 25 years and more helpers to continue. Ultimately, we can say that he who loses is he who does not persevere but gives up. St Willibrord did not give up and therefore he won the battle. This is the great lesson to us.
To this day, in the streets of Echternach, every year on the Tuesday of Pentecost, the third day of the Feast, clergy and crowds of pilgrims perform the dance of St Willibrord. ‘Heiliger Willibrord, bete fuer uns’, they cry. Until the Second World War, they performed the original form of the dance, three steps forward and two steps back. Nobody knows the origin of this
dance. But I could suggest a spiritual interpretation for it. It means that though we go
forwards in life, we also, through our human weakness and sin, go back, but never as far back as we go forwards. This dance is then a sort of rule for our spiritual life. Let us not be discouraged when we go backwards, because we have actually already advanced even more.
As long as we do not give up, the victory is still ours. Two steps back, but three steps forward.
Archpriest Andrew Phillips
22 April 2010
Wijk aan Zee
There is plenty more to be said about St. Willimbrord. According to some Roman Catholic sources for st. Willibrord's living the saint had been blessed with the gift of sagacity Here is a text I found on catholic-saints.info's website:
The Story and History of Saint Willibrord
The story and history of Saint Willibrord. Willibrord was born in Northumberland in 657, and when twenty years old went to Ireland, to study under St. Egbert; twelve years later, he felt drawn to convert the great pagan tribes who were hanging as a cloud over the north of Europe. He went to Rome for the blessing of the Pope, and with eleven companions reached Utrecht. The pagans would not accept the religion of their enemies, the Franks; and St. Willibrord could only labor in the track of Pepin Heristal, converting the tribes whom Pepin subjugated. At Pepin's urgent request, he again went to Rome, and was consecrated Archbishop of Utrecht. He was stately and comely in person, frank and joyous, wise in counsel, pleasant in speech, in every work of God strenuous and unwearied. Multitudes were converted, and the Saint built churches and appointed priests all over the land. He wrought many miracles, and bad the gift of prophecy. He labored unceasingly as bishop for more than fifty years, beloved alike of God and of man, and died full of days and good works.
Feast Day of Saint Willibrord
The Feast Day of Saint Willibrord is November 7. The origin of Feast Days: most saints have specially designated feast days and are associated with a specific day of the year and these are referred to as the saint's feast day. The feast days first arose from the very early Christian custom of the annual commemoration of martyrs on the dates of their deaths at the same time celebrating their birth into heaven.
Saint Willibrord Dutch saint (Huesstege orthodox icon
Saint Willibrord icon located (somewhere in the Netherlands)
St. Willibrord Apostle of Frisians
Movie about the celtic/anglosaxon monk Willibrordus who took the peregrinatio to Europe…
He was one of the first celtic monks who took the roman Form of Liturgie…but in his view of Life and Nature he was in the celtic Tradition… And this is also why he had troubles with Bonifatius the Reformer. Bonifatius wanted a unique church focused on rome and the pope. Willibrord, as many other celtic wandering monks, stayed for an individual Christianism as the celtic church did, focused on the Monasteries…
Saint (Heilige) Willebrord sitting on his Bishop throne
Echternach – St Willibrord Pilgrimage 2009 (Saint Willibrord traditional dance)
It is very interesting to see, that St. Willibrord dance looks very similar to Bulgarian folkore dancing – the so called Horo (Horo Dance)
For those Orthodox Christians who live in territory of Netherlands, but cannot be bodily on Moleben to St. Willebroard, here is Moleben from 7th November 2011
Supplicatory Canon to St. Willibrord (Utrecht), The Netherlands
As Enlightener of the Frisians, just like our Enlighteners of Bulgarian lands and Slavonic world St. St. Kiril and Methodi, saint Willibrord is also titled Apostle-Equal.
Saint Willibrord Pray the Lord Jesus Christ, our Souls be saved !