Friday, June 28, 2013

The Cathedral of St. Alban

Saint Albans Cathedral, in St. Alban – near London, is the oldest place of continuous Christian worship and pilgrimage in Britain. It stands on the place where Alban, the first martyr of Britain, was buried after giving his life for his faith, over 1700 years ago.

The building’s amazing mixture of architectural styles bears witness to the many centuries of its life, first as a monastic Abbey and now as a Cathedral. During the course of time, countless pilgrims have paid their respect, offering their prayers at the shrine of St. Alban. The saint’s life is an interesting one. The following biography of St. Alban is taken from an article entitled “Three British Orthodox Saints”, published by The Orthodox Herald, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain July-August 2012. Issue 286-287:

St. Alban is the first saint and martyr of Britain, in Verulamium. Numerous traditions relating to St. Alban are very ambiguous, and it is impossible to verify various historical details and traditions about this legendary saint. Nevertheless, during the 5th century “a Gallic saint named Alban, and a native of Britain was widely venerated both in this country and on the continent”[1]. “He was a soldier in the Roman army and, according to the venerable Bede, was brought to faith in Christ by a fugitive priest to whom he gave shelter”[2]. It is said that the priest’s name was “Amphibalus – but this is almost certainly a fictitious name given to him because it is the Greek equivalent of Caracalla – or cloak – which played an important part in one of the episodes of St. Alban’s martyrdom[3]”. Alban so convinced of the priest’s holiness and authenticity, that he conveyed his wish to become a Christian.

A local magistrate found out that Alban was sheltering a priest and a group of soldiers was sent to arrest both of them. When Alban realised what was about to happen, he exchanged clothes with the priest, allowing him to escape, thus giving him the opportunity to continue preaching the Gospel of Christ. When introduced to the magistrate he was demanded to sacrifice to the pagan Gods. After his refusal he was sentenced to be scourged, in order to make him recant, but to no avail. He was then sentenced to death. On the day of his execution all the town gathered in order to witness the event. However, the bridge by which the procession was to pass was blocked by all the people. Alban prayed to God and the waters of the river pulled back, thus creating a passageway. When observing this, the executioner was so moved that he laid his sword to the protomartyr’s feet wishing that he as well would be executed together with Alban. Upon reaching the spot of the execution, the saint desired some water, and after praying to God a living spring broke out near him.
After hearing the events that took place, the magistrate was astonished. This admiration resulted in the termination of all persecutions. When, eventually, the Church became the established religion, a magnificent church was built on the spot of St. Alban’s Martyrdom, near London, which is “the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain”[4]

Whether or not he was aware of Christianity before the circumstances which led to his conversion is unknown, nonetheless it likely that he would have had some experience of it. Despite the fact that St. Alban is termed the ‘Protomartyr of England’, it is likely that there were many other saintly figures in the British Isles, who lived and died for their faith before him, especially during the reign and persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. St. Alban is commemorated on the 17th of June. 
St. Alban is so important to English Christianity, that even an organisation which promotes Anglican-Orthodox Relations is named after him: The Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius. This testifies the importance that England has played since the early centuries of Christianity.

[1] Johnson, K.R., “St. Alban. English Promartyr. (304)”, Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, No. 4, March 1929, p. 32
[2] Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain,, 14/08/2012, 17.34
[3] Johnson, K.R., “St. Alban. English Promartyr. (304)”, Journal of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius, No. 4, March 1929, p. 33
[4] St. Alban’s Cathedral,, 16/08/2012, 17.11

No comments:

Post a Comment