A Chosen Missionary People? Willibrord, Boniface, and the Election of the Angli

Miriam Adan Jones

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Abstract: In the seventh and eighth centuries, missionaries from Anglo-Saxon England travelled to the continent with the aim of spreading the gospel among its Germanic peoples. This movement has been seen as a response to a sense of collective vocation tied to the belief that the English were God’s chosen people. This article combs sources associated with the circles of the missionaries Willibrord (d. 739) and Boniface (d. 754) for evidence of such a belief. It breaks down the concept of ethnic election with a missionary purpose into its separate components to be analysed in turn. In the first section, it is argued that Anglo-Saxon missionaries saw themselves as belonging to the Angli, a people united by faith, homeland, and bonds of kinship. The second section presents evidence that the missionaries viewed their own people and its church as specially favoured by God; this favour was tied to the maintenance high standards of belief and practice. The final section considers whether this sense of election acted as a motivator for Anglo-Saxon missionary efforts. It concludes that, despite subsequent claims to the contrary by their contemporaries and successors, the missionaries themselves did not specifically connect the special status of their people with the purpose of evangelism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-115
Journalmedieval worlds
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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