Saturday, 11 July 2009

Willibald: Character in Bernard Cornwell'sSaxon Series

Eichstatt in Germany

Saint Willibald (born in Wessex c.700 A.D. and died c.787 A.D. in Eichstätt) was an 8th century bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria.
Information about his life is largely drawn from the Hodoeporicon of Saint Willibald, a text written in the 8th century by Huneberc, an Anglo-Saxon nun from Heidenheim am Hahnenkamm who knew Willibald and his brother personally. The text of the Hodoeporicon was dictated to Huneberc by Willibald shortly before he died.
His brother was Saint Winibald and his sister was Saint Walburga. He was also related through his mother to Saint Boniface, and he was ordained to the priesthood and episcopacy by Boniface.
Today Willibald is regarded as one of the most traveled Anglo-Saxons of his time, and some argue that he was the first known Englishman to visit the Holy Land.His shrine is at the Eichstätt Cathedral in Germany, where his body and relics from his journeys are preserved.
His feast day is 7 July, but it is not celebrated in the official Roman Catholic calendar of saints.

Willibald was born in Wessex on October 21 around 700 A.D. At the age of three Willibald suffered from a debilitating weakness that made it difficult for him to breathe. The illness nearly took his life, until his parents prayed to God, vowing to commit Willibald to a monastic life if he was to be spared from death. Miraculously, Willibald survived and at the age of five was received into a Benedictine monastery called Waldheim in Hampshire, England. Willibald spent his early childhood in prayer and contemplation, practicing the monasticism created by his relative, Saint Boniface. In the year 722 A.D.

St. Boniface

Willibald decided to partake on a pilgrimage with his father and brother, Saint Winibald. The journey would take several years and Huneberc provides detailed descriptions of the locations and people visited. Despite visiting a diverse group of peoples, Willibald's priority was not evangelization but exploration, and there is little evidence of successful or attempted conversions in the Hodoeporicon while traveling through Palestine.

Travels: Europe

Rouen, France

After departing by ship the group arrived in Rouen, France visiting shrines and spending much of their time in prayer. Eventually they arrived in Lucca, a city in northern Italy.

Lucca, Italy

It was here that Willibald’s father became gravely ill and died. After burying their father Willibald and Winibald continued on their journey, traveling through Italy until they reached Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Saint Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, Rome

They spent some time in Italy, strengthening in devotion and discipline, but soon the two brothers became ill with the Black Plague. Hunebrec recounts the disease and miraculous recovery:
Then with the passing of the days and the increasing heat of the summer, which is usually a sign of future fever, they were struck down with sickness. They found it difficult to breathe, fever set in, and at one moment they were shivering with cold, the next burning with heat. They had caught the black plague. So great a hold had it got on them that, scarcely able to move, worn out with fever and almost at the point of death, the breath of life had practically left their bodies. But God in His never failing providence and fatherly love deigned to listen to their prayers and come to their aid, so that each of them rested in turn for one week whilst they attended to each other's needs.
Willibald and Winibald would recover from the illness and shortly thereafter continued on to Asia, approximately three years since Willibald left his monastery.


Egypt in Red

Map travel to Ephesus

Accompanied by two unnamed companions and brother, Willibald departed from Naples, Italy and eventually arrived in the city of Ephesus in Asia, visiting Sicily and Egypt along the way.
In Ephesus they visited the tomb of Saint John
the Evangelist.

Tomb of Saint John the Evangelist


They then continued on to Patara, where they waited out the winter, and then traveled to Mount Chelidonium, almost dying of hunger and thirst as they attempted to cross.
They departed by boat and arrived on the island of Cyprus.

Cyprus /Tartus

Following a stay in Cyprus they reached Antadoros (now called Tartus) where they had an audience with a Greek bishop and visited the church of Saint John the Baptist. It was here that his decapitated head was housed as a relic for pilgrims.

Saint John the Baptist's Head, a Holy Relic

Saracens Ordeal

Saracen Lands Marked in Red

From here Willibald continued his journey through Asia, accompanied by seven other unnamed companions, including his brother. During his travels he was detained by the pagan Saracens and held prisoner. Because he had no papers or credentials and was an Anglo-Saxon, a group of people still relatively foreign to the area, he was assumed to be a spy and was held captive in their prisons. They were provided with food and water by a man and his son, both desiring to save their souls.
Eventually a man traveling from Spain learned of their story and was able to ask his brother, a chamberlain in the king's court, to petition the king for their release. After learning of their innocence the king allowed them to leave, so they continued their trip to Jerusalem via Damascus, Syria.

Old Damascus

Holy Land

Map of the Holy Land

Map showing Tiberias

Following their release from captivity they traveled to Damascus and continued by foot to the region of Galilee. From there they traveled to the town of Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle by changing water into wine.

Mount Tabor

The next day he traveled to Mount Tabor, where Jesus' Transfiguration occurred before his disciples.
The journey continued into Tiberias, Capernicum, and Bethsaida. He spent time at the monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Caesarea. This monastery was very close to the Jordan River, and Willibald was able to visit the location of the baptism of Jesus. Huneberc provides one of the first descriptions of the region below:
At this spot there is now a church built high up on columns of stone; beneath the church, however, the ground is dry.

River Jordan, Church

On the very place where Christ was baptized and where they now baptize there stands a little wooden cross: a little stream of water is led off and a rope is stretched over the Jordan and tied at each end. Then on the Feast of the Epiphany the sick and infirm come there and, holding on to the rope, plunge themselves in the water. Barren women also come there. Our Bishop Willibald bathed himself there in the Jordan.

Map of Jerusalem

After some time they traveled to Jerusalem and arrived at Calvary, where Jesus was crucified.

Calvary, markings of Saint Helena's Church

A church had been constructed by Saint Helena and stood over the location.
They also visited the tomb of Jesus, where a small opening allowed pilgrims the opportunity to enter and pray. The group then journeyed to the

Garden Tomb of Jesus

Josaphat Town and Valley

It was here that they visited a church and a memorial tomb that had been constructed as a memorial to Mary, Jesus' mother. Afterwords they traveled to Mount Olive, where Jesus prayed for strength before the Passion.

Mount of Olives

While praying at the church of Saint Matthias, Saint Willibald lost his eyesight without explanation. Huneberc does not provide
additional details as to the circumstances, but says that his eyesight was miraculously restored approximately two months later while Willibald was praying at the holy Cross of Christ in Jerusalem.
Willibald would leave Jerusalem on two more occasions to continue his pilgrimage to rural areas, returning a final time to spend the winter and await his return.

Return to Italy and Monte Cassino
After waiting for some time in Jerusalem Willibald was able to find a ship and he sailed for the entirety of the winter until reaching the city of Constantinople. He decided to remain in Constantinople for two years and was provided with a small room in a local church. He spent part of this time in Nicaea, visiting a church and studying documents from The Council of Nicaea that was arranged by Emperor Constantine.

Council of Nicaea

Emperor Constantine

Afterwords he left Constantinople and sailed for Sicily arriving in Naples approximately seven years after he had left Italy and ten years since he had left his native country.
He was sent to the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, and Willibald and his remaining companion, Tidbercht, immediately joined the Benedictine community. It was here that Willibald taught the community about his journeys and religious discipline. He would spend over ten years at Monte Cassino and another local Benedictine monastery where he served roles as, "sacrist, dean, and porter."According to David Farmer, his new found monasticism was drastically shaped by his experiences in both England and Palestine, allowing him to play a major role in the reformation and future prosperity of the monastery.

Journey to Rome and Commissioning by Pope Gregory III

Pope Gregory lll, coin

At some point Willibald's abbot, Petronax, was requested to come to Rome. Willibald accompanied the abbot since he had already made the journey on several occasions. He took Petronax to Saint Peter's Basilica, and when Pope Gregory III heard of his presence he requested a private audience with Willibald so he could hear of his journeys firsthand.

Map of the Frankish Kingdoms

Willibald recounted his seven year pilgrimage to the Pontiff and afterwords the Pope asked Willibald, at the request of Saint Boniface, to travel to the country of the Franks, possibly due to Boniface's desire to missionize the Slavs.

Map showing Slavic Lands

Petronax granted Willibald permission to leave and Willibald then traveled to Germany.

World Map showing Germany

Eichstätt, Ordination, and Missionary Work
Upon arriving in the region he was sent to Eichstätt at the request of Saint Boniface, a rural area with nothing but a small church dominating the landscape. It was here that he was ordained a priest by Boniface and was asked to begin missionary work in the area.

Map with Blue Area marking the Town of Eichstatt

Willibald lived in the church and began his missionary effort, but his was summoned again by Boniface a year later, this time to Thuringia. While travelling Willibald encountered his brother, Winibald, whom he had not seen for over eight years.
It was in Thuringia that he was consecrated to the episcopate, becoming Bishop Willibald at the age of forty-one. Shortly thereafter he returned to Eichstätt to begin his work. In 742 A.D. he founded the double abbey of Heidenheim am Hahnenkamm, a male and female monastery, with his brother Winibald, who served as the monastery's first abbot. Following his death Willibald's sister, Saint Walburga, was appointed the first abess of the monastery.
Willibald's missionary style is unique when compared to traditional methods. Unlike earlier missionaries, Willibald did not seem actively go about proselytizing and baptizing. His journeys to Asia and the Holy Land were for personal reasons as he attempted to grow in his faith and spirituality. He was, nevertheless, a successful missionary. The account of his life was widely distributed and the regions he visited inspired and converted many. This enabled a larger scale conversion even though Winibald did not meet most of the individuals.
According to Bunson, Eichstätt was the site of Willibald's most successful missionary efforts, although specific details like the means of conversion and number of converts are not known. The monastery was one of the first buildings in the region and served as an important center, "not only for the diocesan apostolate, but also for the diffusion and development of monasticism." Wilibald served as the Bishop of the region in Franconia for over four decades, living in the monastery and entertaining visitors throughout Europe who would come to hear of his journey and monasticism.

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