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(Died AD 304)
Died: 20th June AD 304
Saint Alban was a pagan soldier in the Roman Army stationed in Britain. His
exact background is unknown, but popular tradition declares him a native Briton.
Bede says he lived during the religious persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian (c.AD
304), though modern historians have argued for similar circumstances which arose
some years earlier, during the reigns of Decius (c.254) or Septimus Severus
During these dangerous times, Alban received into his house and sheltered a
Christian priest, supposedly named Amphibalus,
and was so struck by the devotion to God and blameless life of this man whom he protected, that he placed himself under his instruction and
became a Christian. A rumour having reached the governor of Verulamium (now St.
Albans), that the priest was hiding in the house of Alban, he sent soldiers to
search it. Alban, seeing them arrive, hastily threw the long cloak of the priest
over his own head and shoulders and presented himself to the soldiers as the man
whom they sought. He was immediately bound and brought before the governor who,
at that moment, was standing at one of the civic altars, offering up a
sacrifice. When the cloak, which had concealed Alban's face, was removed, it was
immediately revealed that he was not the priest whose arrest the governor had
ordered. The latter's anger flamed hot and he ordered Alban, immediately, to
sacrifice to the gods or to suffer death.
St. Alban steadfastly refused to offer to idols. Then the magistrate asked,
"Of what family and race are you?"
Then the governor said,
"How can it concern thee to know of what stock I am?" answered Alban.
"If thou desirest to know what is my religion, I will tell thee - I am a
Christian and am bound by Christian obligations."
"I ask thy name, tell it me immediately."
"I am called Albanus by my parents," he replied, "and I worship
and adore the true and living God who created all things."
"If thou wilt enjoy eternal life, delay not to sacrifice to the great
"These sacrifices which are offered to devils are to no avail. Hell is the
reward of those who offer them." The governor ordered St. Alban to be
scourged, hoping to shake his constancy by pain. But the martyr bore the stripes
patiently and even joyously, for our Lord's sake.
When the judge saw that he could not prevail, he ordered Alban to be put to
death. On his way to execution, the martyr had to cross a river.
"There," says Bede, "he saw a multitude of both sexes, and of
every age and rank, assembled to attend the blessed confessor and martyr; and
these so crowded the bridge, that he could not pass over that evening. Then St.
Alban, urged by an ardent desire to accomplish his martyrdom, drew near to the
stream, and the channel was dried up, making a way for him to pass over."'
Then the martyr and his escort, followed by an innumerable company of
spectators, ascended the hill above Verulamium, now occupied by the abbey church
bearing his name. It was then a green hill covered with flowers, sloping gently
down into the pleasant plain. However, the executioner refused to perform his
office and, throwing down his sword, confessed himself a Christian also. Another
man was detailed to deal the blow and both Alban and the executioner, who had
refused to strike, were decapitated together.
St. Alban's body was buried in the adjoining cemetery and, when Christianity
was legalized by the Emperor Constantine the Great, not long afterwards, he was
well remembered by the local community who erected a martyrium above his grave.
This almost certainly became a place of pilgrimage, even in Roman times. It was
famously visited by St. Germanus of Auxere, in AD 429, and, as a small church,
survived the pagan Saxon expansion, until the present abbey church was founded
on the site, by King Offa of Mercia, in AD 793. Alban's relics were reverred by
the devout for centuries, before they eventually disappeared during the
Dissolution of the Monasteries. Tradition has it that they were smuggled away to
join previously exchanged relics at St. Pantaleon's Church in Cologne. St. Alban
should not, however, be confused with St. Albinus from St. Maurice's Church,
also in Cologne.
In art, St. Alban is represented, sometimes in civil and sometimes in
military dress, bearing the palm of martyrdom and a sword, or a cross and a
Edited from Baring-Gould's "Lives of the