Thursday 13 August 2015

Saint Wigbert, Missionary in Frisia, August 13

August 13 is the day on which one of the famous Anglo-Saxons who studied in Ireland is commemorated - Saint Wigbert, who laboured among the Frisians. As Canon O'Hanlon is at pains to point out, he is not to be confused with the more famous saint of the same name who was a disciple of Saint Boniface, a task not made any easier by their sharing of the same feastday. Our saint was part of a missionary endeavour to the Netherlands which did not meet with success thanks to the opposition of the local ruler, Radbod, who was firmly wedded to paganism, and he returned to Ireland. Thus, although he is not an actual Irish saint, Wigbert received his education in Ireland, was prepared for his mission here by Saint Egbert, and may have ended his life in this country too.

St. Wigbertus or Wickburtus, Missionary in Frisia. [Eighth Century]

The earliest notices of this holy man are to be found in the writings of Venerable Bede. The Petits Bollandistes have inserted some accounts of this missionary and confessor when treating about St. Wigbert or Wictberecht, Abbot of Fritzlar, in the Electorate of Hesse, at the 13th of August. They mention, that Mabillon speaks of several saints bearing this name; and, in the first place, about the present one, who is the most ancient, and who went from Ireland to Frisia. Molanus devotes a paragraph to this St. Wigbert, at the 13th of August and he is represented as a Martyr in Fostelandia. Also, Miraeus, Wilson, Ferrarius, Menard, and Ghinius have a similar record regarding him. Colgan intended publishing the Acts of St. Wigbertus, Martyr, at the 12th or 13th of August. Nevertheless, some erroneous tradition must have been put into circulation; for, although this holy missionary laboured among a pagan people for some time, his blood was not shed for Christ on the field of his gospelling. The Bollandists have notices of this holy man, at the 13th of August, while they are careful to distinguish him from another St. Wicbert, Wichbert, Wippert, Wigberch or Vigeberecht—as he is variedly called—and whose feast occurs, especially in Germany, on this same day. More complete details regarding the latter have been recorded, and he was likewise an Anglo-Saxon. This coincidence of names and of festivals, on the same day, has caused much confusion of statement by writers who have referred to them. The last named, Wigbert, was Abbot over two monasteries, which he built in Germany: first, over Fritzlar, three miles from Cassel, and afterwards over Ortdorf, in the same province of Hesse.

The saint connected with Ireland by residence seems to have been an Anglo-Saxon, by birth and race; and, most probably, he was born towards the close of the seventh century. This holy servant of Christ, at an early age, evinced a great contempt for the world's enjoyments; and, in after years, he was distinguished for his great learning. When St. Egbert went to Ireland, where he lived the life of a recluse, St. Wicbert was one of his companions there; but, whether or not both left England at the same time is not so clear. However, St. Wigbert lived in Ireland for many years, which he spent in humble retirement, and serving God as a hermit. About the year 690, St. Willibrord, St. Suitbert, and several other missionaries, set out from Ireland to preach among the old Continental Saxons; and, with great zeal, they spread truths of Christianity, chiefly among the people of the Low Countries. Desirous, no doubt, of emulating their fervour and labours, notwithstanding his love for holy solitude, still the saint resolved to engage in a great work of active charity; and, his soul yearned to spread Christianity among those gentiles of northern Europe. With such an object in view, he went to Frisia, where he preached the Gospel among the pagans for two whole years. At that time, Radbod was their ruler, and he was hostile to such efforts. Wherefore, meeting with little encouragement or success in the work of conversion, Wigbert returned to that place whence he proceeded, when trying to fill the office of missioner. There once more he gave himself to the Almighty, in the true spirit of recollection and prayer. That he became an Abbot has been stated, but on no good authority can such a conjecture be founded. Nevertheless, his example and virtues led many to imitate him, and he laboured with great fruit among those people, who knew him so well, and who could thus appreciate his merits. Nor is there any warrant for styling him a Martyr, as some writers have done; since it is most probable, he passed the remainder of his days peaceably in Ireland.

His death has been assigned to A.D. 747; however, this date refers rather to Wigbert, whose Acts have been written by Servatus Lupus, a priest who lived under Rabanus Maurus, at Mentz, and who afterwards was Abbot at Ferrieres. In the Calendar of National Missionary Saints compiled by Convaeus, St. Wicbertus is set down as a Martyr, in Fostilandia. But, no date has been mentioned for his festival. In the anonymous Calendar of Irish Saints, published by O'Sullevan Beare, at the 13th of August, the name of Wickbertus occurs. He is also commemorated, at this date, in the "Circle of the Seasons."

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