Friday, 28 June 2013

St Alban: Protomartyr of Britain

Today I visit St Alban's for the first time, taking Y8. The Abbey there is home to St Alban and it reminded me of something I wrote for a website on 'English Heros':

Saint Alban was the first British Christian martyr.

To understand his importance for England, it is important to remember that many have called for him to replace St George as the patron saint of England, or even as Britain as a whole.

Alban was a pagan living at Verulamium (now St Albans), who converted to Christianity, and was executed by decapitation on a hill above the Roman settlement of Verulamium. St Albans Abbey was later founded near this site.

The date of Alban's execution has never been firmly established, although The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles lists the year 283.

His crime?

Alban sheltered a Christian priest in his home, and was converted and baptised by him. When the Roman soldiers were sent to Alban's house to look for the priest, Alban exchanged cloaks with the priest and was arrested in his stead at Chantry Island. Alban was taken before the magistrate, who was furious at the deception and ordered that Alban be given the punishment due to the priest if he had indeed become a Christian. Alban declared, "I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things." These words are still used in prayer at St Albans Abbey.

St Alban was eventually sacrificed to the Roman gods and was condemned to death. He was taken out of the town across the River Ver to the top of the hill opposite. The reputed place of his beheading is where St Albans Cathedral now stands.

St Bede tells several legends associated with the story of Alban's execution. On his way to the execution, Alban had to cross a river, and finding the bridge full of people, he made the waters part and crossed over on dry land. And the executioner was so impressed with Alban's faith that he also converted to Christianity on the spot, and refused to kill him. Another executioner was quickly found (whose eyes dropped out of his head when he did the deed), and the first was killed after Alban, thereby becoming the second British Christian martyr.

His shrine in St Alban's Cathedral

St Alban's Cathedral website reads: "Ever since those early times, people have journeyed to this place to remember Alban and all that he stands for. They have come to pray for peace and healing and to seek God. They came in such numbers in the early middle ages that St Albans became the premier Abbey in all England. They come here still."

England has a history of matyrdom, it is something that littered our history books. There have been protestants killed by catholics, catholics killed by protestants, and all other nature of early Christians willing to die for their faith. Perhaps it is something to do with our English-ness that we are ready to die for what we believe in? St Alban was just the first of literally thousands who have died over the last 1800 years in England for their Christian faith. I do think the calls for him to be our true patron saint are very well founded indeed.

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