Updated: Jun 1, 2022
Curious about a pagan-converting saint? Ever wonder why we use evergreens at Christmas? Bored out of your mind and got 3 min to kill?
Then look no further and venture into the story about St. Boniface and Thor's Oak Tree.
Regarded as one of the greatest missionaries since St. Paul, St. Boniface was known for his extensive travels and evangelization endeavors throughout modern-day Germany. Born around 675 in Wessex, England, Wynfrid grew to be very pious young man. Despite objection from his parents, he entered a Benedictine monastery and became a monk. Growing in holiness, Wynfrid yearned to bring the light of Christ to the pagan people of Germany. So in 716, Wynfrid traveled to Rome to do just that, and Pope Gregory II in recognition of Wynfrid’s special missionary spirit, changed his name to Boniface.
Boniface spent the rest of his life traveling and evangelizing Germany and parts of the Netherlands. During this time, Boniface established multiple Benedictine monasteries, helped reform the Frankish kingdom, and possibly his most well-known feat, overthrew the Thor god of Geismar.
Hearing of the inhabitants in a village called Geismar, Boniface learned that during the winter the people would sacrifice a human, usually a small child, to the Thor god, which was represented by a large oak tree. Boniface desired to convert the village by destroying the Thunder Oak tree, which the pagans had boasted the God of Boniface could not destroy. Gathering a few companions, Boniface and his men journeyed to Geismar to prove them wrong.
Although the trip was rough, and most of his men wanted to stop once nearing the village (fearing the inhabitants would kill them), Boniface was able to encourage his companions and they eventually reached the small town. The story goes that Boniface and his men arrived at the tree in the midst of the pagan offering and saved a young boy who was about to be sacrificed. Interrupting the gathering, Boniface said, “Here is the Thunder Oak; and here the cross of Christ shall break the hammer of the false god Thor.” Grabbing an axe, Boniface chopped into the mighty tree, and with a strong rushing wind that picked up through the forest, the tree collapsed.
The Germans were astounded and immediately converted and baptized. The holy bishop preached the gospel and used a small fir tree behind the felled oak as a tool for evangelization. Pointing to it, he said, “This little tree, a young child of the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight. It is the wood of peace… It is the sign of an endless life, for its leaves are ever green. See how it points upward to heaven. Let this be called the tree of the Christ-child; gather about it, not in the wild wood, but in your own homes; there it will shelter no deeds of blood, but loving gifts and rites of kindness.” It is believed to be from this event that we use evergreen trees during Christmas to celebrate Christ’s birth. St. Boniface is a great model for courage and trust in God to live radical lives for Christ. Although not all of us may be called to chop down a pagan tree for our faith, we are still called to evangelize and proclaim Jesus’ message. After all, if St. Boniface can venture into a pagan, human-sacrificing village and chop down the inhabitants’ most prized possession, why can’t we simply talk about Christ in our everyday lives?
St. Boniface, Pray for us!