Wednesday, June 22, 2016

St. Alban's Day - the first British martyr


Saint Alban is venerated as the first recorded British Christian martyr. Along with his fellow saints "Amphibalus," Julius, and Aaron, Alban is one of four named martyrs recorded from Roman Britain. He is traditionally believed to have been beheaded in the Roman city of Verulamium (modern St Albans) sometime during the 3rd or 4th century, and his cult has been celebrated there since ancient times.


While little is actually known about the real St Alban (estimated to have died c. 209 – 305 A.D. depending on interpretations), as there is no contemporaneous account of his martyrdom. According to the most elaborate version of the tale found in Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Alban met a Christian priest fleeing from "persecutors," and sheltered him in his house for a number of days. The priest (who later came to be called Amphibalus, meaning "cloak" in Latin) prayed and "kept watch" day and night, and Alban was so impressed with the priest's faith and piety that he found himself emulating the priest, and soon converted to Christianity. Eventually it came to the ears of an unnamed "impious prince" that Alban was sheltering the priest, and this prince gave orders for Roman soldiers to make a strict search of Alban's house. As they came to seize the priest, Alban put on the priest's cloak and clothing, and presented himself to the soldiers in place of his guest.

In a chapel east of the crossing and high altar, there are remains of the fourteenth century marble shrine of St Alban. In June 2002 a scapula (shoulder blade), believed to be a relic of St Alban, was presented to St Albans Cathedral and placed inside the saint’s restored 13th-century shrine. The bone was given by the Church of St Pantaleon in Cologne, Germany. St Pantaleon's, like St Albans Cathedral a former Benedictine abbey church that had a shrine dedicated to St Alban, has possessed remains believed to be those of St Alban since the 10th century. It is entirely possible that further relics were acquired by the church in the 16th century at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England, when many such relics were smuggled abroad to prevent their destruction.

In the United States, the parish church of St Alban's Episcopal Church, the first Free Church in Washington, DC, was erected on Mount Saint Alban in 1854 using a bequest from a young woman, Phoebe Nourse, who earned the money sewing. St Alban's went on to found five mission churches in Washington, four of which still maintain active congregations of their own. Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC, is located next to the parish church, which preceded the laying of the Cathedral's cornerstone by 53 years. The St Albans School for Boys, which is affiliated with and was established in 1909 soon after construction of the Cathedral began, is also named for the saint.
We wish our sister parish to the east, St. Alban's, Sinking Spring, PA a happy and joyous feast day!

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