Feastday: November 7
Saint Willibrord was born in Northumberland (northeastern England) in
657. His father left the earthly world to enter a monastery, and is known as a
Saintbesides, in the monastery of Echternach and in the diocese of Treves, and named
in the English calendar. When his son was twenty years old, he was
already wearing the religious habit. Being accustomed to bearing the yoke
of the Lord, and finding it light and sweet, he went to Ireland to seek
greater perfection and study under Saint Egbert.
When he was thirty years old, he greatly wanted, with Saint Swidbert and ten
other monks of England, to preach the faith in the land of Vriesland, a province of the Low Countries surrounding the mouth of
the Rhine. The Frisons were warriors and had maintained their liberty
against the Romans. The Gospel had been preached among them in 678 by
Saint Wilfrid, but those efforts had borne little fruit, and the true God
was almost entirely unknown among them when the monks arrived.
Willibrord afterwards went on to Rome to ask the papal benediction
and authorization to preach the Gospel to the idolatrous nations; he was
amply blessed with powers and relics for the churches he would construct.
His companion, Saint Swidbert, became the bishop of a group residing near
Cologne. The other eleven missionaries preached in the part of Vriesland
belonging to the French. Saint Willibrord was recommended for episcopal
consecration by Pepin, royal Palace Steward of France; Pope Sergius
changed his name to Clement and consecrated him Archbishop of the Frisons
in Saint Peter’s Church in Rome.
He then returned to Utrecht, where he established his residence and built
the Church of the Saviour. He repaired the Church of Saint Martin, which
later became the Cathedral of Utrecht. He built and governed, until his
death, the abbey of Echternach in Luxembourg. He baptized the son of
Charles Martel, named Pepin, who later became king of France. Charles
Martel was a benefactor of the churches founded by Saint Willibrord, and
conferred on him sovereignty of the city of Utrecht.
St. Willibrord Basilica, Echternach, Luxembourg
Saint Willibrord preached also in Denmark, where a cruel king reigned
at that time; the Saint, seeing invincible obstacles to the propagation
of the Gospel, merely bought thirty children of the land, whom he
baptized and took back with him to Utrecht. He preached well on the island of
Walcheren, converted many and established several churches. A blow from a
saber, which an idolatrous priest gave him there made no wound; and the
idolatrous priest became possessed by the demon.
Saint Boniface joined him in 720 and spent three years with him before
going to Germany. Saint Bede, English historian, wrote of Saint
Willibrord, saying he was a venerable old man, who had for thirty-six
years been a bishop and was “awaiting the rewards of life in heaven,
after the generous battles he waged in the spiritual combat.” At Utrecht
Saint Willibrord founded schools, which became famous. He wrought many
miracles, and had 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. This amiable Saint, noted for his gaiety in
conversation and his wisdom in counsel, was buried in the monastery of
Echternach in Luxembourg.