St. Willibrord of Northumbria, Apostle to Friesland, Bishop
Born in Northumbria, Britain, 658; died in Echternach, Luxembourg, 739. His name indicates that he is of Saxon lineage (‘Willi’ is a great god of Norse mythology; ‘brord’ indicates ‘under the protection of’).
Willibrord, first Archbishop of Utrecht, is one of the missionaries sent out by the Anglo-Saxon Christians about a century after they had themselves been Christianized by missionaries in the south and east of England from Rome and the Continent, and in the north and west from the Celtic peoples of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
Our information about Willibrord comes to us from the Venerable Bede (History of the English Church and People, v. 10-11) and from a biography by his younger kinsman Alcuin, Minister of Education under the Emperor Charlemagne. Willibrord was born in Northumbria in England about 658, and studied in France and Ireland.
Although their family name was clearly pagan, his parents were Christians. Willibrord’s father was such a devout Christian that, at his own expense, he founded a little monastery near the sea and went to live there.
Like many children of the period, seven-year-old Willibrord was sent to another monastery at Ripon to be educated under Saint Wilfrid. (The Rule of St. Benedict speaks of oblates offered to the monastery by their parents. Willibrord’s mother probably either died or took the veil.)