Today, 9 Mar 2012, is the memorial of St Bruno of Querfurt, (sometimes known as Boniface), missionary bishop, Benedictine monk and martyr. With courage and zeal he continued the work of evangelising the Slavic peoples begun by St Adalbert. He is considered to be the second apostle of the Prussians.
St Bruno of Querfurt was born in the early part of the 970s into a noble family of Querfurt in Saxony. Since he was a younger son, his family destined him to serve God in ecclesiastical life and consequently sent him to be educated in Magdeburg. As a teenager Bruno joined the court of Otto III, and went with Otto III to Rome for Otto’s coronation as Holy Roman Emperor.
While in Rome, Bruno met St Adalbert of Prague who was preparing to return to evangelise the Prussions. St Adalbert must have made a very deep impression upon Bruno, and Bruno must have sat and listened for hours to his stories of spreading the Gospel on the outskirts of Christendom. Around 12 months after St Adalbert left Rome he suffered martyrdom among the people he had been sent to evangelise. This deeply affected Bruno. Making a decision to write a Life of St Adalbert, Bruno journeyed to the monastery where St Adalbert had lived prior to being sent to bring the good News of Jesus to those who had yet to hear it. Here he learned the details neccesary to write about his friend St Adalbert. With the desire to follow in St Adalbert’s footsteps growing within him, Bruno took the opportunity to join the newly founded Benedictine monastery at Ravenna, and began in earnest to grow spiritually so as to be worthy of such a calling.
At Ravenna, Bruno met up with St Romauld, the founder of the Camaldolese branch of the Benedictine Order. He, too, inspired Bruno to greater holiness. Because of the complicated political situation in and around Prussia, it took a while for Bruno to receive the necessary permissions to begin his missionary endeavors. To smooth the way when he eventually got to Prussia, two Benedictine monks were sent ahead to learn the language. These two, together with three others, were murdered in 1005 before Bruno arrived. Going to evangelise in and near Prussia was now a most risky enterprise, yet Bruno showed great courage and persevered. Prior to setting out, Bruno received ordination as a missionary archbishop. By the time Bruno left Italy he had changed his name to Boniface, in honour of the great apostle of the Germanic peoples. This either happened when he entered the Bemedictines, or when he was espiscopal ordination set him apart for this new mission, ‘new name – new mission’, just like St Paul.
Yet when he arrived, jurisdictional squabbles between Constantinople and Rome prevented him from making a start at the desired location, and Bruno went first to Kiev and then to Poland, making converts along the way. He consecrated the first Bishop of Sweden and a bishop for the region of Pechenegs. Finally in the outskirts of Prussia Bruno and his team began to found the mission. Due to some success in winning souls for Jesus, the missionaries lost their welcome. While Bruno was travelling with 18 companions that hostility crossed over into murder. With an axe some or all of Bruno’s extremities were hacked off, and he was left to bleed to death. He was 35. The rest of his companions also met their final end that same day at the end of an axe on 9 March 1009.
Even though Bruno did not achieve all he set out to achieve, he still furthered the reach of the Gospel and smoothed the way for those who would come after him. May his holy life inspire people today to take the next step in what God is asking them to do for Him.
St Bruno of Querfurt, pray for us.