The Old St. Boniface Church, Bonchurch
Legend has it that monks from the Abbey of Lyra, in Normandy, crossed over to the Island, and landed at Monks’ Bay. They built a small curious edifice on the woody plateau where the Old Church now stands and dedicated it to St. Boniface.
It is said that they chose for their site the ruins of a Saxon Church, and this is supported by the fact that they dedicated their Church to a Saxon Saint, though they themselves were Normans. The Church is only 48ft in length by 12ft wide, and it is the type of a private chapel.
The Chancel and the south door are examples of the earliest Norman architecture, the door made of planks placed horizontally within, perpendicularly without, and studded with nails. All the windows are from later (12th and 15th Century).
The porch is comparatively modern, crosses have been cut in its sides, and the bell cot was erected in 1794.
“I may be pardoned a brief retrospect over the war years, so far as the ‘Old Church’ is concerned… I can say that, from her outlook overlooking the Channel, she kept prayerful watch, literally in the front line of this Country’s coastal defence, following the evacuation of Dunkirk… She saw the Battle of Britain first joined overhead, and four mornings after she felt the shocks of the first concentrated bombing by enemy aircraft within and about her parish boundaries.”
H. de Vere Stacpoole
The grave of a man called Charlie Wilcox can be found at the Old Church. Wilcox was the godson of Lewis Carroll and suffered from tuberculosis. Whilst Carroll nursed him at Guildford, it is believed that he wrote the famous poem ‘The Hunting of the Snark’. Wilcox moved to the Island for convalescence but unfortunately died in 1874, aged just 22, and was buried at the Old Church.
Lewis Carroll was a friend of Tennyson, who lived on the Island for some time, as did other such famous literary figures as Dickens, H De Vere Stacpoole, John Keats, A C Swinburne, and Elizabeth Sewell.
Getting Into The History Of Boniface
St Boniface Down is chalk situated on the Isle of Wight. The area has many chalk hills, or downs, as they got their names from the Celtics who inhabited the region. This particular down is named in honor of St. Boniface, a fiery missionary who was adamantly bent on spreading the Good News as far and wide as he could.
There is an interesting story that deserves the attention of everyone who has any interest whatsoever in the region.
St Boniface was named Winfrith at birth. He hailed from a privileged family that lived in Wessex, England. When he was about five years of age, some missionaries visited his home to convert more people to the Christian faith. That incident stayed with Boniface for a long time, and from there he decided that he would be a missionary when he grew up.
This was not an easy decision. His wealthy parents had dreams for him. However, his love for the Gospel superseded their hopes ad ambitions, and Winfrith went on to lead a religious life. He gave up all the worldly wealth that he was bound to inherit and pursued his calling to be a missionary.
Winfrith was not content to be an ordinary monk. In fact, he turned down an offer to lead the prosperous life of Benedictine monks and insisted that he wanted to be sent on missions. His first mission was to evangelize to the Frisians who at the time inhabited an area that forms part of Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark today.
The Frisians were at war at the time, and needless to say, Winfrith’s mission was unsuccessful. He returned home to England dejected, having won no converts from the mission. However, it was only a matter of time before Winfrith went out on another mission.
This time, he set out to evangelize to the Germans. Before he went to Germany, he went to seek the pope’s blessing. It was here that the pope gave him the name Boniface, after a Roman Christian Martyr. Encouraged by the pope’s belief in him, Boniface set out to do what was required of him in Germany.
At the time, the faith of the Germans was not particularly strong, and there were traces of paganism among the natives. Boniface did a lot to strengthen the Christian faith among the Germans, as well as quash heresies and paganism. He was a strict monk who was intolerant of heresies. He built many churches and monasteries and destroyed some pagan altars.
He has the credit of having replaced the pagan oak of Thor which was an altar for the heathens with the pine, which is today regarded as the Christmas tree. He, later on, became an archbishop for all of Germany. Boniface was martyred alongside 52 other believers when he was in his eighties.
St Boniface Down
In addition to its rich and fascinating history, St Boniface Down is home to the largest cricket in the British Isles. Also, the area has a wishing well that was built in honor of its patron saint.
Every year, on the fifth of June, a custom of garlanding will continue to be carried out by the locals. Clearly, St Boniface’s history holds a special place in their hearts.