June 22nd - St. Alban, First Martyr of Britain
- From: "Traudel" <richarra@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 22 Jun 2009 12:04:33 -0500
June 22nd - St. Alban, First Martyr of Britain
3rd or 4th century. There were probably already Christians in the British
Isles in the first century. In fact, by the end of the second century a
great many of the inhabitants of southern England were Christians. However,
Alban is the first recorded Christian martyr of the island. The traditional
date of his death is 304, during the persecution under the Emperor
Diocletian; but many scholars now date it as early as 209, during the
persecution under the Emperor Septimus Severus. This date was derived from a
study of the Turin manuscript of a "Passio Albani."
The first known reference to him, outside the Turin manuscript, is in the
5th century life of Saint Germanus of Auxerre. Gildas, writing c.540, gives
the core of the tradition. Saint Bede gives an amplified account, which
includes a lively description of the beheading and more details of signs
Alban was a pagan, a Roman soldier, who, during the persecution of
Diocletian, took pity on a fleeing Christian priest and sheltered him in his
own home. When he saw that the priest spent day and night in prayer, he was
moved by the grace of God. They spent several days talking together and
Alban was so impressed by the priest's sanctity and devotion that he became
a Christian and wanted to imitate the piety and faith of his guest.
Encouraged and instructed by the priest, Alban renounced his idol worship
and embraced Christ with his whole heart.
He was a leading citizen in the old Roman city of Verulamium (Verulam),
Hertfordshire, England, now called Saint Albans. The town was originally a
collection of huts of wattle and daub that stretched along Watling Street,
and later destroyed by the army of Boadicea, the warrior queen.
The history continues that the Roman governor of the city, hearing a rumour
that a priest was hiding in the house of Alban, sent a search party of
soldiers to find him. Seeing them approach, Alban took the priest's cloak
and put it over his own head and shoulders, and helped him to escape. Thus
disguised, Alban opened the door to the soldiers and was arrested in mistake
for the priest. He was bound in fetters and brought before the governor, who
was attending a sacrifice to the pagan gods. When the cloak was removed and
his true identity was discovered, the governor was furious. He then declared
himself to be a Christian, whereupon the governor angrily ordered him to be
taken before the altar. He was threatened with all the tortures that had
been prepared for the priest if he did not recant.
Alban faced his anger calmly and, ignoring his threats, declared that he
could not sacrifice to the gods. Upon Alban's refusal to deny his faith, the
governor enquired of what family and race he was. "How can it concern you to
know of what stock I am?" answered Alban. "If you want to know my religion,
I will tell you-I am a Christian, and am bound by Christian obligations."
When asked his name, he replied: "I am called Alban by my parents, and I
worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things." He was
then commanded to sacrifice to the Roman gods, but he refused and was
cruelly scourged. Alban bore the punishment with resignation, even joy. When
it was seen that he could not be prevailed upon to retract, he was sentenced
On the way to his execution on Holmhurst Hill, the crowds that gathered to
honour his heroism were so great that his passage was delayed because they
could not reach the bridge over the river. Alban, who seemed to fear that
any delay might deprive him of the martyr's crown, decided to cross at
another point, and going down to the water's edge he prayed to God and
stepped into the river which he then forded without difficulty. Both Gildas
and Bede have accepted the tradition that this was a miracle and that the
waters dried up completely in answer to the saint's prayer.
They add that a thousand other people crossed over with him, while the
waters piled up on either side, and that this miracle converted the
appointed executioner. Still accompanied by a huge throng of people, Alban
climbed the hill to the place of execution. But, on his arrival there, the
executioner threw down his sword and refused to perform his office. He said
that if he were not allowed to take Alban's place then he would share his
martyrdom. Confessing himself to be a Christian, the soldier was replaced by
another. Then he took his stand beside Alban, and they faced death together.
Alban was beheaded first, then the soldier, Saint Heraclius, was baptized in
his own blood to share the glory of martyrdom. The third martyr was the
priest, who when he learned that Alban had been arrested in his place,
hurried to the court in the hope of saving Alban by turning himself in.
According to Bede, the governor was so impressed by the miracles that
followed Alban's martyrdom that he immediately ended the persecutions, and
Bede states that these miracles were still occurring in his lifetime at the
intercession of England's protomartyr.
On the hill where these martyrdoms took place a church was later erected,
and, 400 years later, Offa, the king of Mercia, founded on the same site the
Benedictine Abbey of Saint Albans. According to Constantius of Lyons, Saint
Germanus of Auxerre, at the end of a mission to England to combat the
Pelagian heresy, chose the Church of Saint Alban as the place in which to
thank God for the success of his mission. He brought back from England a
handful of earth from the place where Alban, the soldier, and the priest
were martyred (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Gill,
The Proto-Martyr of England is portrayed in art as a warrior with a cross
and shield. He may be depicted (1) crowned with laurel; (2) with a peer's
coronet, holding a crossing; (3) with his head cut off; (4) with his head in
a holly bush; (5) spreading his cloak under the sun; or (6) as his
executioner's eye drops out (Roeder). Alban is especially venerated in Saint
Albans and Angers (Roeder).
The Story of Saint Alban as recounted in the Ecclesiastical History of the
English People by the Venerable Bede [672 - 735]
Troparion to St Alban - Tone Four
Thou didst defend the persecuted priest, and thyself didst
receive the message of salvation. Fearless before the judge
thou didst proclaim: "My name is Alban and I serve the true
and living God." Thou didst become the first-fruit of our land;
O holy martyr Alban pray unceasingly to
God for the salvation of the world.
Homily for the Feast of St. Alban from Aelfic's Lives of the Saints:
Service of Commemoration of the Holy Alban of Verulamium, Protomartyr of
Icons of St. Alban:
http://www.cybercom.net/~htm/images/a-247.jpg ( Homesite:.
Shrine of Saint Alban: http://www.cushnieent.force9.co.uk/alban.html
Never believe you have attained such purity as you should, whilst your will
is not freely and gladly submissive to the holy will of God, as to all, and
in all, even in things most repugnant.
-St. Francis de Sales
Whoever wishes to be the greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matt.
A Prayer for Virtue
A tone of pride or petulance repressed,
A selfish inclination firmly fought,
A shadow of annoyance set at naught,
A murmur of disquietude suppressed.
A peace in pressure possessed,
A reconcilement generously sought,
A purpose put aside-a banished thought,
A word of self-explaining unexpressed.
Trifles they seem, these petty soul restraints,
Yet they who prove them such must need possess,
A constancy and courage grand and bold.
They are the trifles that have made the Saints;
Give me to practice them in humbleness,
And nobler power than mine doth no one hold.
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