Friday, 20 June 2008

Saint Alban

Albanum egregium fæcunda Britannia profert
("Fruitful Britain holy Alban yields").

From Wikipedia:

Alban sheltered a Christian priest (Geoffrey of Monmouth's later interpolation giving his name as "Amphibalus", the name for the cloak) in his home, and was converted and baptised by him. When the "impious prince", as Bede has called him, sent Roman soldiers 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.

In June 2002 a clavicle (collar bone), 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. St Albans Abbey was dissolved in 1539.

I have a relative who lives in a small village outside modern St Alban's, and during a visit earlier this year I was privileged to visit the Cathedral. I will readily admit that I am not easily impressed by Cathedrals; the close proximity of Durham Cathedral, one of the most beautiful structures ever built by man, sort of spoils the rest. However, I can honestly say that St Alban's Cathedral took my breath away. The first thing you notice is the sheer length of the nave and chancel.

The next thing one notices, upon entering the cavernous interior of the cathedral, is the stunning array of primitive wall paintings. The medieval paintings found on the pillars of the nave (highlighted) are truly remarkable, and each was originally above a small stone altar at which Benedictine monks could say Mass individually.

I believe that this last picture, above, is situated next to the Shrine itself and may depict St Willaim of York. It reminds me of the painting of St Cuthbert in the Gallilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral, above the tomb of St Bede, which is shown on the sidebar of this very blog :-)

When thinking about the circumstances of St Alban's noble martyrdom, his selflessness, and his testimony to the fact that there is indeed "no greater love" than to "lay down one's life for one's friends", I find it hard not to draw parallels with the martyrdom of St Maximillian Kolbe. Both victims of a tyranny. Both exchanged their own lives to save another. Both brought such glory to God by doing so.

Millenia apart, God called each to a painful vocation of martyrdom, and each responded with such unlimited and self-giving love as to seek to imitate Christ's own.

St Alban!

Ora pro nobis!

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