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Saint Willibrord (c.657 - c.738) was an English missionary, known as the Apostle to the Frisians.

His father, Wilgils, an Angle or, as Alcuin styles him, a Saxon, of Northumbria, withdrew from the world and constructed for himself a little oratory dedicated to St Andrew. The king and nobles of the district endowed him with estates till he was at last able to build a church, over which Alcuin afterwards ruled. Willibrord was sent to be brought up at Ripon at an early age, where he must doubtless have come under the influence of Wilfrid. About the age of twenty his desire for learning drew him to Ireland (c. 679), which had been a center of learning in northwestern Europe. Here he stayed for twelve years, enjoying the society of Ecgberht and Wihtberht, from the former of whom he received his commission to missionary work among the North-German tribes. In his thirty-third year (c. 690) he started with twelve companions for the mouth of the Rhine. These districts were then occupied by the Frisians under their king, Rathbod, who gave allegiance to Pippin of Herstal. Pippin befriended him and sent him to Rome, where he was consecrated archbishop (with the name Clemens) by Pope Sergius I on St Cecilia's Day, 696. Bede says that when he returned to Frisia his see was fixed in Utrecht (Ultrajectum). He spent several years in founding churches and missionizing, till his success tempted him to pass into other districts. From Denmark he carried away thirty boys to be brought up among the Franks. On his return he was wrecked on the holy island of Fosite (currently named Heligoland), where his disregard of the pagan superstition nearly cost him his life. When Pippin died, Willibrord found a supporter in his son Charles Martel. He was assisted for three years in his missionary work by Saint Boniface, who, however, was not willing to become his successor.

He was still living when Bede wrote in 731. A passage in one of Boniface's letters to Pope Stephen III speaks of his preaching to the Frisians for fifty years, apparently reckoning from the time of his consecration. This would fix the date of Willibrord's death in 738; and, as Alcuin tells us he was eighty-one years old when he died, it may be further inferred that Willibrord was born in 657--a theory on which all the dates given above are based, though it must be added that they are substantially confirmed by the incidental notices of Bede. The day of his death was November 6, and his body was buried in the monastery of Echternach, near Trier, which he had himself founded. In Alcuin's time (around 800) miracles were reported to be still wrought at his tomb.

The chief authorities for Willibrord's life are Alcuin's Vita Willibrordi, both in prose and in verse, and Bede's Historia Ecclesiatica v. cc. 9-17. See also Eddius's Vita Wilfridi, and J. Mabillon, Annales ordinis sancti Benedicti, lib. xviii.

This article uses text from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica.