The Holy Roots Of Christ­mas Trees

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - LETTERS -

While Alan Crosby re­flected on the Ger­manic ori­gins of the Christ­mas tree in his ar­ti­cle ‘The truth of a tra­di­tion’ in your De­cem­ber is­sue, he failed to men­tion the ear­lier le­gend of St Boniface (c675–754 AD) and the Christ­mas tree. This English monk would be­come a ma­jor player in the Chris­tian­i­sa­tion of the Ger­manic parts of the Frank­ish Em­pire, and has since be­come known as the ‘Apos­tle of the Ger­mans’.

Be­lieved to have been born in Devon to a pros­per­ous Saxon fam­ily, the young Win­frid, as he was then known, chose a re­li­gious life against his fa­ther’s wishes and later de­cided to be­come a mis­sion­ary.

Pope Gre­gory II (669–731) gave Win­frid the name ‘Boniface’, by which he is usu­ally known to­day. Ac­cord­ing to his ear­li­est bi­og­ra­phy he op­posed the pa­gan wor­ship of sa­cred trees through­out Ger­ma­nia and, in par­tic­u­lar, Donar’s Oak, which

is be­lieved to have stood in what is now the re­gion of Hesse in Ger­many. Tak­ing an axe, Boniface be­gan to fell the oak which split into four pieces and mirac­u­lously formed the shape of a cross when it landed on the ground. Boniface’s sur­viv­ing let­ters to the Pope in­di­cate that the felling took sev­eral hours, and was far less mirac­u­lous than the later le­gends sug­gest!

An­other le­gend states that Boniface, who was then threat­ened with death by the pa­gans, spot­ted a small fir tree grow­ing among the roots of the felled oak and, quot­ing the words of Isa­iah 11:1 – “And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots”, used this to con­vince the pa­gans to re­nounce their old ways and ac­cept the mes­sage of Chris­tian­ity. Ev­ery year since, the le­gend con­tin­ues, the Ger­manic peo­ple have taken fir trees into their homes to cel­e­brate the birth of Je­sus Christ.

Fi­nally, if medieval ge­neal­ogy is to be­lieved, I am the 37x great grand­son of Charles Martel, ruler of the Franks, who of­fered pro­tec­tion to Boniface. Fur­ther­more, I now live a few miles from the site

of the Hamp­shire monastery which Boniface left to be­gin his mis­sion­ary work. He may even have walked the an­cient (pedes­trian) high­way that runs ad­ja­cent to my house and which is known to have been used by re­li­gious trav­ellers, among oth­ers, from the medieval pe­riod on­wards.

Gor­don Lewis, Southamp­ton

EDI­TOR REPLIES: Thank you for shar­ing this Gor­don, I will think of St Boniface while I’m ad­mir­ing my tree!

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