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loose canons
There's a thin line between saintliness and madness. Here are inspiring tales of holy folly that laugh in the face of human wisdom... and also breathtaking examples of religious stupidity that fly in the face of common sense.

As told by Stephen Tomkins

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24: Boniface: interfaith dialogue wasn't his thing
capital SAINT BONIFACE WAS A BRITISH missionary to Germany in the early Middle Ages. This was about the same time as Patrick, another Brit, was converting Ireland, and Columba (Irish) was converting Britain. So the idea that you have to go abroad to tell people about Jesus is nothing new.

Anyway, back to Boniface. He had already led a mission to what is now Holland, but it achieved little, so he visited the pope, changed his name (understandably, since his original name was Wynfrith), and took on Germany.

In Rome, by the way, he was said to have become lifelong friends with a nun by the name of Bugga, a factoid that actually gains in the translation.

In Germany, Boniface came across a tribe called the Catti, who worshipped an enormous tree in the forest of Geismar, Thor's Oak. He tried to tell them about the cross of Jesus being a much better tree, but they just kept going on about how good their tree was. So he hacked it down.

He stripped to the waist and without a word set about the six-foot wide tree with his evangelistic axe. When he had finally brought it to the ground, he leapt up on the fallen tree with the immortal words, "My God's stronger than your God."

Sure enough, the Germans were so amazed that Boniface didn't get hacked down himself in reprisal from a hacked off Thor, they signed up for Christianity.

Traditionally, Boniface is credited with thus inventing the Christmas tree – though it is hard to see how destroying an oaken idol is supposed to inspire people to bring fir trees in at Christmas.

However, one account tells us that a lovely fir tree immediately popped up out of Thor's defeated trunk, whereupon Boniface told them it was "the tree of the Christ child" and "to surround it with gifts". But if you believe that, you'll believe in the pope who was turned into a donkey.

Of which more later.

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