Monday, 20 June 2011

Can Anything Good Come Out of Hertfordshire?

The Shrine of St Alban, Martyr

Today is the Feast of St Alban, Martyr

Having been raised in Letchworth Garden City, I used to take regular day trips to St Albans with my parents when I was growing up.  There we would wander around the very beautiful St Alban's Cathedral in the city. It is a small city, but in those days, cities were only cities if they had a Cathedral.

The shrine to St Alban, pictured left is still there and St Alban still receives pilgrims every year, even though the Cathedral itself is now Anglican.

The Cathedral website tells the story of the man from Verulamium, as it was then known. St Alban is Britain's first Christian martyr.

'A man called Alban, believed to have been a Romano-British citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium around the end of the 3rd century, gave shelter to an itinerant Christian priest, later called Amphibalus.
Impressed by what he heard Alban was converted to Christianity by him. When a period of persecution, ordered by the Emperor, brought soldiers in search of the priest, Alban exchanged clothes with him allowing him to escape and it was Alban who was arrested in his place.
Standing trial and asked to prove his loyalty by making offerings to the Roman gods, Alban bravely declared his faith in "the true and living God who created all things". This statement condemned Alban to death. He was led out of the city, across the river and up a hillside where he was beheaded.
As with all good stories the legend grew with time. Bede, writing in the 8th century elaborates the story, adding that the river miraculously divided to let him pass and a spring of water appeared to provide a drink for the saint. He also adds that the executioner's eyes dropped out as he beheaded the saint, a detail that has often been depicted with relish since. At the time of Bede there was a church and shrine near the spot, pilgrims travelled to visit, and it became an established place of healing. He describes the hill as "adorned with wild flowers of every kind" and as a spot "whose natural beauty had long fitted it as a place to be hallowed by the blood of a blessed martyr".
There is an even earlier record of St.Germanus visiting the shrine around 429. Alban was probably buried in the Roman cemetery to the south of the present Abbey Church. Recent finds suggest an early basilica over the spot and later a Saxon Benedictine monastery was founded, probably by King Offa around 793. This was replaced in 1077 by the large Norman church and monastery, the remains of which are still partly visible in the tower and central part of the present cathedral.
Pilgrims still come and St Alban's martyrdom is particularly remembered on and around 22nd June each year with a major festival pilgrimage and Passio; an exploration of the martyrdom through carnival.'

St Alban, ora pro nobis.

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