The Romans bridged the River Test at
Nursling, giving access to the New Forest
pottery kilns from their settlements to the east. Along
this route a settlement sprang up and when Christianity came to Britain a Benedictine
monastery was founded in Nursling. Here flourished perhaps the foremost seat of
learning of its day to which came a promising youth Winfrith, born in Crediton, Devon
in 680. He enjoyed popularity and success at this monastic school at
Nursling, his fame as a teacher spread far and wide, and he compiled the first Latin
grammar known to have been written in this country.
About 710, when he was thirty, Winfrith was
ordained priest, and was sent on a
mission to Canterbury. In the spring of 716 he obtained
his abbot's permission to assist Willibrord of Northumbria in evangelising
Friesland. It proved not to be an auspicious time so he returned to Nursling. The following
year his abbot died and Winfrith was invited to succeed him. However, the call to
missionary work so fired him that in 718, having prevailed upon one of his
brethren to take his place at Nursling, he persuaded his superiors at Winchester to
allow him to set out for Rome, whence Pope Gregory II impressed by his enthusiasm, sent
him to Germany. In 722 he was made bishop and given the Latin name of Boniface,
*the doer of good'.
For thirty years Boniface laboured to bring
Christianity to Germany. It was at this time that he felled an oak tree, sacred to the pagan god,
Thor, before a horde of hostile tribesmen, and by this fearless deed broke the
power of the old gods and converted many to Christianity. This incident is depicted
on the banner of Nursling Church showing St. Boniface with an axe resting on the
stump of the felled oak.
In 744 Boniface founded the monastery of
Fulda on the upper Rhine. Two years
later he was appointed Archbishop of Mainz and first
primate of Germany. When
he finally stood down for a successor he did not retire
but moved back to Friesland. There at Dokkum on 5th June, 755, Boniface and his party
were set upon by a band of heathen warriors, and most were killed. Boniface was
buried at Fulda, where may be seen a book, with wooden covers, bearing the marks of
sword cuts, where he used it to shield his head. After his martyrdom Boniface was
canonised a saint, and 5th June is still celebrated as our patronal festival in his
memory. It is said of St. Boniface that no Englishman had a deeper influence on the
history of Europe.
from "Nursling near the Sea" by Henry W. Porter.
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