Saint of the Day – 8 November – Saint Willehad of Bremen (Died 789) First Bishop of Bremen, Germany, Confessor, Benedictine Monk and Priest, a friend of Blessed Alcuin of York, disciple of St Boniface, Missionary. Born in the 8th Century in Northumbria, England and died in 789 in Bremen, Germany of natural causes. Patronage – Saxony. Also known as – Willihad.
The Roman Martyrology states: “At Bremen, St Willehad, first Bishop of that City, who, in conjunction with St Boniface, whose disciple he was, spread the Gospel in Friesland and Saxony.“
Willehad was born in Northumbria and probably received his education at York under Bishop Ecgbert. He was Ordained after his education, and about the year 766, he went to Frisia, to continue the missionary work of St Boniface who had been Martyred by the Frisians in 754. At an assembly in Paderborn in 777, Saxony was divided into missionary zones. The zone between the Weser and the Elbe, called Wigmodia, was given to Willehad.
From 780 Willehad preached in the region of the lower Weser River on commission from Charlemagne. He barely escaped with his life when the Frisians wanted to kill him and he returned to the area around Utrecht. Once again, he and his fellow missionaries barely escaped with their lives, when the local pagans wanted to kill them for destroying some temples. Finally, in 780, Charlemagne sent him to evangelise the Saxons. He preached to them for two years but, in 782, the Saxons under Widukind, rebelled against Charlemagne and Willehad was forced to flee to Frisia. He took the opportunity to travel to Rome, where he reported to Pope Adrian I on his work.
Upon his return from Rome, Willehad retired for a time to the Monastery of Echternach, in present-day Luxembourg. He spent two years there reassembling his missionary team.
After Charlemagne’s conquest of the Saxons, Willehad preached in the region around the lower Elbe and the lower Weser. In 787 Willehad was Consecrated Bishop and that part of Saxony and Friesland, near the mouth of the Weser, was assigned to him for his Diocese. He chose as his seat, the City of Bremen, which is mentioned for the first time in documents of 782 and built a Cathedral there. Praised for its beauty by Ansgar, it was dedicated in 789.
Willehad died in Blexen-upon-Weser, today a part of Nordenham. He is buried in the City’s Cathedral, which he Consecrated shortly before his death on 8 November 789. Bishop St Ansgar compiled a life of Willehad and the preface which he wrote was considered a masterpiece for that age. In 860, a sick girl from Wege travelled to his grave. There, she was cured by a miracle. This was the first time the small village was mentioned in any historical documents.