Culture: God and mammon go to battle over the soul of a saint

An unholy row has broken out in the rural town of Crediton in Devon where a local businessman is trying to patent the name of its most famous celebrity, St Boniface. But the residents believe that no individual has the right to monopolise the name of a saint. Amanda Kelly reports.
Click to follow
The presence of St Boniface can be felt all over the small rural town of Crediton, with statues, festivals and plaques set up in his honour and many of the town's souvenirs bearing his name. Every year hundreds of tourists flock to the town to pay their respects to the Saxon monk who is believed to have lived there in the late 7th century. But now the churchman, who is also the patron saint of Germany and the Netherlands, has become embroiled in a battle between God and mammon.

The storm erupted over a trademark application by Andrew Haigh, a businessman, to control the name of St Boniface. If successful, it means that any manufacturer or tourist body will have to seek his permission before they can use the saint's name. The move has sparked fury among local residents and the town council.

Town councillor Sally Beament said: "St Boniface is the most famous figure to come out of Crediton and he is very important to the town. We are extremely concerned that if Mr Hague gets the application approved, it would mean St Boniface's name could not be used in any tourist publication without his permission and, presumably, without paying. So at a council meeting this week we have decided to put in our own trademark application to protect St Boniface, and, if we are successful, we will not be after any financial gain at all."

Saints have been trademarked in the past, the case of St Michael and Marks & Spencer being the most famous example. But St Boniface, who is reputed to have thought up the Christmas tree, could become especially lucrative if plans to make him the patron saint of Europe are successful.

Professor Henry Mayr-Harting, Regius Professor of ecclesiastical history at Oxford University and a particular fan of St Boniface, said: "The idea that Boniface should be patented for financial gain is dreadful ... I do, however, agree that it is quite fitting to make him the patron saint of Europe ... In my opinion, he had more influence in the life and politics of Europe than any other Englishman ever and it's pretty below the belt for one man to try and corner him for himself."

But Mr Haigh insists that he is not after personal gain. "I moved to Crediton three years ago," he said, "and it was a dead and dying town that needed to be uplifted. The only thing it has to market itself with is St Boniface and I explained this to the town council in 1995 but it didn't want to know, so I have done it myself. The Pope is being requested that St Boniface become the patron saint of the whole of Europe so ... the export potential is huge ... We are also trying to benefit a lot of other people along the way. We are setting up a scheme that will help small Devonshire manufacturers to sell their goods, as well as helping to market the town itself.

"Some of the licensing funds will also go to an education fund to help under- privileged children. But I personally will not make a single penny out of all this."