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St. Alban, martyr

June 22, 2012

St Alban.

St. Alban is the earliest Christian in Britain who is known by name and, according to tradition, the first British martyr. He was a soldier in the Roman army stationed at Verulamium, a city about twenty miles northeast of London, now called St. Albans. He gave shelter to a Christian priest who was fleeing from persecution, and was converted by him. When officers came to Alban’s house, he dressed himself in the garments of the priest and gave himself up. Alban was tortured and martyred in place of the priest, on the hilltop where the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban now stands. The traditional date of his martyrdom is 303 or 304, but recent studies suggest that the year was actually 209, during the persecution under the Emperor Septimius Severus.

Shrine of St Alban.

The site of Alban’s martyrdom soon became a shrine. King Offa of Mercia established a monastery there about the year 793, and in the high Middle Ages St. Albans ranked as the premier abbey in England. The great Norman abbey church, begun in 1077, now serves as the cathedral of the diocese of St. Albans, established in 1877. It is the second longest church in England (Winchester Cathedral is the longest, by six feet), and it is built on higher ground than any other English cathedral. In a chapel east of the choir and high Altar, there are remains of the fourteenth century marble shrine of St. Alban.

The Venerable Bede (AD 673-735) gives this account of Alban’s trial in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People:

“It happened that the judge, at the time when Alban was carried before him, was standing at the altar, and offering sacrifice to devils. When he saw Alban… he commanded him to be dragged to the images of the devils, before which he stood…. But St. Alban, who had voluntarily declared himself a Christian to the persecutors of the faith, was not at all daunted by the prince’s threats, but putting on the armour of spiritual warfare, publicly declared that he would not obey his command. Then said the judge, “Of what family or race are you?”—”What does it concern you,” answered Alban,” of what stock I am? If you desire to hear the truth of my religion, be it known to you, that I am now a Chrsitian, and free to fulfil Christian duties…. I worship ever and adore the true and living God, Who created all things.”1

St. Alban’s feast day is observed today, June 22.

Let us pray.

ALMIGHTY God, by whose grace and power thy holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering, and despised death: Grant, we beseech thee, that enduring hardness, and waxing valiant in fight, we may with the noble army of martyrs receive the crown of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.2

1. The Venerable Bede, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, trans. A.M. Sellar (London: George Bell and Sons, 1907), 15-16.
2. Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 1963.

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