Saturday, November 7, 2020

The year was 739. We remember St. Wilibrord. The reading is from e.e. Cummings, "I am a little church."

It is the 7th of November 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 739.

In the early 700s, the geographical balance of the Western church was shifting. Arabs and Muslims successfully established themselves in Northern Africa, once a center of the Christian Church. In the 700s, we see the center shift north from Africa with one critical new player on the scene: the British Isles.

While missionaries had already been evangelizing in England, the church on the isles was about to explode. The beginning of the century saw the creation of stone churches instead of wooden ones. This tells us something about the people building these and what they thought of their church's future. English historians such as the Venerable Bede will begin to chronicle the church's history, and soon missionaries would be leaving from Britain to the rest of the world.

If you are familiar with old illuminated texts, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, they date from this time period. The Psalms were translated into Anglo Saxon for the first time during this period, and the output of monastic transcribing and translating was near its peak. If you remember the popular book from the 1990's "How the Irish Saved Civilization," you might remember that it was this monastic output that Thomas Cahill credited with the "saving" of Western Civilization. Of course, what he meant was the bridging of the old Roman world with the Medieval world. And this was done by monks, especially in Britain, and today we will highlight one of those. It is held to be on this the 7th of November in 739 that St. Wilibrorddied. Wilibrord might not be a household name, but the 8th-century English church and the church for centuries after it is indebted to him.

Wilibrord was born in Northumbria in the middle of the 7th century. We know very little about his upbringing except that he was under the influence of the famous Saint Wilfrid, Bishop of York. Wilibrord joined the Benedictines and spent years in county Carlow Ireland at the Rath Melsigi monastery, one of the more remarkable Anglo-Saxon monasteries in Ireland.

Back in England, we know that Wilibrord worked under St. Boniface's influence and was recruited to become a missionary to the Frisians. On the coast of Germany and the Netherlands, the Frisians had long been ruled by Pagan kings. But when Peppin of Herstal, a Christian, became ruler, he requested help in building the church in his once pagan lands. Wilibrord would become known as the "apostle" to the Frisians for his tireless work amongst them.

There was a short time when Wilibrord was kicked out of the Frisian territory by a new pagan king. It's important because this new pagan king destroyed many of the physical buildings Wilibrord helped build, and this pagan king's name was Radbod.

When the Great grandfather of Charlemagne overthrew Radbod, Wilibrord was invited back in and established both the church and monasteries in what would become the Holy Roman Empire. A member of the British monastic movement held responsible for saving much of our ancient Roman library, a missionary and the apostle to the Frisians, St. Wilibrord, has died on this, the 7th of November in 739.

The reading for today comes from e.e. Cummings, "I am a little church."

i am a little church (no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
–i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april
my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying) children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness
around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains
i am a little church (far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature
–i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing
winter by spring, i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 7th of November 2020 brought to you by 1517 at The show is produced by Christopher "Dadbod, nay, Radbod!" Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true… Everything is going to be ok.

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe to the Christian History Almanac

Subscribe (it’s free!) in your favorite podcast app.