WILLIBRORD (or WILBRORD), ST (d. 738), English missionary, " the apostle of the Frisians," was born about 657. His father, Wilgils, an Angle or, as Alcuin styles him, a Saxon, of Northumbria, withdrew from the world and constructed for himself a little oratory dedicated to St Andrew. The king and nobles of the district endowed him with estates till he was at last able to build a church, over which Alcuin afterwards ruled. Willibrord, almost as soon as he was weaned, was sent to be brought up at Ripon, where he must doubtless have come under the influence of Wilfrid. About the age of twenty the desire of increasing his stock of knowledge (c. 679) drew him to Ireland, which had so long been the headquarters of learning in western Europe. Here he stayed for twelve years, enjoying the society of Ecgberht and Wihtberht, from the former of whom he received his commission to missionary work among the North-German tribes. In his thirty-third year (c. 690) he started with twelve companions for the mouth of the Rhine. These districts were then occupied by the Frisians under their king, Rathbod, who gave allegiance to Pippin of Herstal. Pippin befriended him and sent him to Rome, where he was consecrated archbishop (with the name Clemens) by Pope Sergius on St Cecilia's Day 696.' Bede says that when he returned to Frisia his see was fixed in Ultrajectum (Utrecht). He spent several years in founding churches and evangelizing, till his success tempted him to pass into other districts. From Denmark he carried away thirty boys to be brought up among the Franks. On his return he was wrecked on the holy island of Fosite (Heligoland), where his disregard of the pagan superstition nearly cost him his life. When Pippin died, Willibrord found a supporter in his son Charles Martel. He was assisted for three years in his missionary work by St Boniface (719-722), who, however, was not willing to become his successor.
He was still living when Bede wrote in 731. A passage in one of Boniface's letters to Stephen III. speaks of his preaching to the Frisians for fifty years, apparently reckoning from the time of his consecration. This would fix the date of his death in 738; and, as Alcuin tells us he was eighty-one years old when he died, it may be inferred that he was born in 657 a theory on which all the dates given above are based, though it must be added that they are substantially confirmed by the incidental notices of Bede. The day of his death was the 6th of November, and his body was buried in the monastery of Echternach, near Trier, which he had himself founded. Even in Alcuin's time miracles were reported to be still wrought at his tomb.
The chief authorities for Willibrord's life are Alcuin's Vita Willibrordi, both in prose and in verse, and Bede's Hist. Eccl. v. cc. 9-11. See also Eddius's Vita Wilfridii, and J. Mabillon, Annales ordinis sancti Benedicti, lib. xviii.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)