Willibald, Vita Bonifatii

Willibald’s Vita Bonifatii technically falls just outside the time frame of this website, being composed shortly after the death of St Boniface in 754/5. Nevertheless, it provides some lively stories about a missionary’s life in the last days of the Merovingian kingdoms and therefore bears comparison with Jonas’s Vita Columbani. (Indeed, I would be cautious about doubting that Willibald knew Jonas’s work given some of the parallels). The author calls himself a ‘priest’ and has therefore been considered different to the Willibald who was bishop of Eichstatt at this time, although a number of people – most recently Heinrich Wagner – have made cases for them being the same person. Whoever he was, his English learning is exposed by his highly alliterative and convoluted prose, which proved so hard to read that Otloh of Freising was compelled to write a new version in the eleventh century.


ed. by W. Levison, MGH SRG, 57 (Hanover, 1905), pp. 1-58 [link]

Select Manuscripts:

1 Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 1086 [link] – probably written in Eichstatt late in the eighth century. something hinted at by the inclusion of the Vita Willibaldi et Wynnebaldi by the nun Hygeburg whose name is revealed only in the cryptogram on f. 71v. The script shows plenty of insular influences, although that was not uncommon for the region at the time. The manuscript was later housed in the cathedral library of Freising.

2a St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 552 [link] – at pp. 102-171. Probably written in a centre in northeastern France late in the eighth century or early in the ninth, before finding its way to St Gall. The manuscript also contains classic works of hagiography, including lives of Jerome, Ambrose, Paul the Hermit and St Benedict of Nursia, which suggests that Boniface had quickly achieved great status as a hagiographical construct.

2a’ St Gall, Stiftsbibliothek, Cod. Sang. 577 [link] – a tenth-century copy of the text from 2a as part of the famous larger St Gall collection of saints’ Lives.

3 Karlsruhe, Badische Landesbibliothek, Aug. perg. 136 [link] – at 2r-20r. A copy made by Reginbert (d. 846), the librarian of the island monastery of Reichenau, according to the note on f. 1v. It accompanies a number of Merovingian hagiographies including an extract from Gregory of Tours’ Vita Patrum on the abbot Venantius.

Select Literature:

J.-H. Clay, In the Shadow of Death: Saint Boniface and the Conversion of Hessia, 721-54 (Turnhout, 2010).

P. Kehl, Kult und Nachleben des heiligen Bonifatius 754-1200 (Fulda, 1993).

J. T. Palmer, Anglo-Saxons in a Frankish World, 690-900 (Turnhout, 2009).

H. Wagner, Bonifatiusstudien (Wurzburg, 2003).

I. Wood, The Missionary Life: Saints and the Evangelisation of Europe, 400-1050 (Harlow, 2001).