Two of Southampton's churches and one of its roads came to be named after an ambitious and learned Saint of great importance.

In about 675 a man named Winfrith – or Winfred -  was born in Crediton, Devon.

Willibald, writing in the 8th century, records that Winfrid received his early education in a Benedictine monastery in Exeter.

Another of the earliest Benedictine monasteries was founded in 686 in Nursling. It became established as a major seat of learning, and Winfrid went there to study under Abbot Winberht.

He was an extremely intelligent scholar and was soon making his name within the Benedictine Order.

His capacity to learn and formulate was formidable. Amongst other things, he produced the first Latin grammar to be written in England and other Latin guides.

Other of his writings which have been preserved are: “Collection of Letters”, “Poems and Riddles” and “Poenitentiale”.

10. The Church of St. Boniface in Nursling.

The Church of St Boniface in Nursling.

By the age of thirty Winfrid had been ordained as a priest. He took charge of the monastic school at Nursling, but it was evident his calling and ambition far exceeded that of a teacher.

He was becoming noticed throughout Saxon England for his vision and learning and, in about 710 AD, he left Nursling and went to Canterbury.

Around 716, when Abbot Wynberth of Nursling died, Winfrid was invited to take over from him – however, he declined.

Filled with visionary zeal, he left England and travelled to Utrecht, where Willibrord, “The Apostle to the Frisians", had been working since the 690s.

He spent a year there with Willibrord preaching in the countryside. But their efforts were frustrated by a war between Charles Martel and Radbod, King of the Frisians.

Willibrord fled to the abbey in Echternach in modern-day Luxembourg, while Boniface returned to Nursling.

11. Church of St Boniface, Shirley.

Church of St Boniface, Shirley.

Boniface returned to the continent the next year, and went straight to Rome, where Pope Gregory II named him "Boniface" after the fourth-century martyr, Boniface of Tarsus. He appointed him “Missionary Bishop for Germania”. Boniface would never return to England, though he remained in correspondence with his countrymen and kinfolk throughout his life.

He was very successful in this role.

He founded a monastery at Fulda on the Rhine, where there is a statue to him.

There is a famous story of him chopping down an oak tree sacred to the “pagan” Germans.

Some say that a fir tree grew in its place, symbolising the everlasting love of the maker.

The next year the pagans had been converted to Christianity and hung decorations from the tree to celebrate what they now called Christmas rather than Winter Solstice. The tree was the first Christmas Tree.

Boniface leaves England.

Boniface leaves England.

Winfrid is thought never to have forgotten his time at Nursling and in his later years, with his eyesight becoming weaker, he asked the Bishop of Winchester to send him “a manuscript of the Prophets, written by the Abbot of Nursling in a clean fine hand”.

In about 754 AD, Boniface decided to embark once again on converting the Frisians to Christianity. He was met with some success but was murdered at Dokkum in the Netherlands by a group opposed to his work.

He was struck down by a sword that pierced the Bible he had raised to shield his head.

Boniface had an enormous impact on English and European history.

His guidance of the early church in Germany was massively important and the educational and literary influence from his monasteries and churches in his lifetime, and over the next centuries, was very significant.

He is described as the Apostle of Germany and is greatly revered in Holland.



His name survives in several places in the Southampton area.

The Church of St Boniface at Nursling is of Saxon origin and the Church of St Boniface in Shirley Road was built in 1927.

There is also a Boniface Crescent in Redbridge.

He is believed to have preached in the Isle of Wight at Pulpit Rock. The Down above Bonchurch is named in his memory, and there are two St Boniface churches there, the old one surviving despite a new one being built to replace it.

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Jack Wilson is a tour guide with .