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St. Willibrord

St. WilliBrord The following is an account of the life of St. Willibrord, Patron Saint of Luxembourg, who spent 12 years in the monastery of Rathmelsigni in Clonmelsh during the 7th century.

Willibrord, St (c. 658-739), English missionary, called the Apostle of the Frisians, born in the kingdom of Northumbria. He was educated at the monastery of Ripon under St Wilfrid and became a Benedictine monk. In 678 at the age of 20, Willibrord went to Ireland and spent 12 years in the Abbey of Rathmelsigni (Clonmelsh), a monastery, under the tutelage of St Egbert of Iona, who ordained him in 688. Willibrord was irresistibly drawn towards Ireland, the "Isle of Saints", where he submitted to strict asceticism at the monastery of Rathmelsigi. In about 690 Egbert sent him to Friesland (now part of the Netherlands) as a missionary. Willibrord won the protection of the Frankish ruler Pepin of Herstal, who had recently conquered the country. In 692 Willibrord went to Rome and returned to his mission with the sanction of Pope Sergius I; during a second visit to Rome, he was consecrated Bishop of the Frisians by Sergius III (21 Nov., 695) in the Church of St. Cecilia, and given the name of Clement .

On his return he laboured among the people assigned to him; to raise recruits for future apostolic work he founded a monastery at Utrecht, where also he built a church in honour of the Holy Redeemer and made it his cathedral. In 698 he established an abbey at the Villa Echternach on the Sure; this villa had been presented to him by St. Irmina, daughter of St. Dagobert II, the donation being legally confirmed in 706.

Establishing his see at Trajectum (now Utrecht, Netherlands), which became a centre of Christian culture, he spent more than 40 years in missionary work and converted the Frisians to Christianity. He was interrupted by the brief ascendancy of Rathbod, king of Friesland, who from 716 to 719 ruled the country and attempted to restore pagan worship. When Radbod gained possession of all Frisia (716) Willibrord was obliged to leave, and Radbod destroyed most of the churches, replaced them by temples and shrines to the idols, and killed many of the missionaries. Willibrord and his companions made trips between the Maas and the Waal, to the North of Brabant, in Thuringia and Geldria, but met with no success in Denmark and Helgoland. After the death of Radbod he returned (719) and repaired the damages done there, being ably assisted in this work by St. Boniface. Numberless conversions were the result of their labour. Willibrord frequently retired to the Abbey of Echternach to provide more particularly for his own soul. He died at this monastery which he had founded in retreat aged 81 on November 7th 739. He was canonized shortly afterwards. The English missionary and primate St Boniface continued his work. The English chroniclers St Bede and Alcuin wrote accounts of Willibrord's life. Very soon after his death he was venerated as a saint, so that more and more pilgrims came to his grave, and about 800 AD the modest Merovingian church had to make room for a larger, three-aisle church, which was over 60 metres long. The two biographies, first by Alcuin, written at about the same time, and then by Abbot Thiofrid (which was produced 300 years later), tell of legends and innumerable miracles, so that the renown and the veneration of the saint grew considerably in European monasteries and churches on this side of the Alps. Willibrord wells and springs, which skirted his missionary routes and prove a great baptizing activity, where visited by the people, to solicit the healing of various nervous diseases, especially of children. A great number of parish churches in Belgium, the Netherlands, and along the Lower Rhine, which were often linked with the monastery of Echternach, have been dedicated to St Willibrord to this day. Faithfulness to their patron saint is proved by pilgrimages to Echternach and their participation in the Dancing Procession. This procession is a religious event whose origins date very far back, and which could survive up to our days thanks to its uniqueness. It takes place every year on Whit Tuesday, and attracts thousands of participants and an equal number of spectators, thus to honour the memory of a saint of really European dimension, who is often called the apostle of the Benelux countries. His tomb is locatedin the Church of Saint Peter and Paul in Echternach, Luxembourg .

Today the site where he studied in Clonmelsh is known as Killogan Graveyard. In the centre of the graveyard, there is a small ringed or wheeled granite cross, which was found buried in the summer of 1892. The graveyard is highlighted in the Tinryland Heritage Trail Finder erected in the village in June 2001.

>> For further information at www.willibrord.lu
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