Saturday, July 15, 2023

Child of the Forest

Widukind (seen here as a memorial in Hereford, Germany) was a Saxon leader who organized the chief opposition to Charlemagne's conquest of Saxony and his introduction (enforcement) of Christianity. To Frankish forces he was a murderer, a heathen, a destroyer of churches. To the Saxons he was a freedom fighter, a great leader, and protector of their way of life.

We know little about him personally except what the Franks record. He is first mentioned in the Royal Frankish Annals as the only significant Saxon leader who did not attend the Diet at Paderborn, when Charlemagne first set down the laws he expected Saxony to follow. Widukind was staying in Denmark with King Sigurd.

In 782 he was back in Saxony and convincing his countrymen to go to war again with the Franks. One success of his led to Charlemagne retaliating with the Massacre at Verden. Widukind agreed to surrender in 785 if the Franks guaranteed no bodily harm would come to him. He was baptized in the Elbe with Charlemagne as his godfather. He is now considered a saint, with churches named for him and a feast day on 6 January.

What made him surrender? Why did he acquiesce to baptism as a Christian after resisting for so long? Of course there is a legend that explains this.

According to the legend, Widukind decided to learn more about Christianity. He disguised himself as a beggar and infiltrated the Frankish military camp. It was Easter, and he saw a priest performing Mass. At the moment of the elevation of the Host, Widukind saw the priest holding up a beautiful child. He offered this beautiful child to each member of the congregation. Widukind was amazed at this vision. Continuing to act as a beggar afterward, he was captured when one of the soldiers recognized him.

He described the scene at mass, and Charlemagne declared that God had given him this vision of the divine child Jesus. Widukind realized the significance of this and renounced paganism, embracing Christianity.

Over time he was hailed as a national hero. A tomb made for him in 1100 in Herford was discovered in the Modern Era to contain the body of a woman. Three graves in front of the altar contain the bodies of three men, two of them about 60 years old, all of them related. It is assumed that one is Widukind.

The name Widukind literally means "child of the forest." For some real "children of the forest," I should tell you about the Green Children next, and that's just what I'll do.

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