Shrines of Britain: St. Amphibalus at St. Albans Abbey


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The Holy Shrines of St. Albans in Hertfordshire
By David Nash Ford

SHRINES OF
ST.ALBANS

St. Amphibalus In and Out of Favour

St. Amphibalus' relics, or certain relics which were held to be his, were discovered at Redbourne, near St. Albans, in the days of Abbot Simon (1166-1183) and were brought in solemn procession to the church of the monastery. The feretory of St. Alban was carried to meet these relics, as far as the place where the church of St. Mary des Prez was afterwards built. It is said to have become "so light that it could be carried without difficulty by two brethren, yea, even by one. Whereas, at other times, it could hardly be transported by four from its own place to one not far distant".

In the original Norman Abbey of St. Albans, which largely still stands today, the shrine of St. Amphibalus stood before the Great Rood Screen, near the high altar, on the north side of the shrine of St. Alban. In 1323, however, two piers of the southern nave arcade collapsed and brought the abbey roof crashing down on Amphibalus. A timber beam broke the marble shafts supporting his shrine canopy and the feretory, which miraculously survived, was removed to the north aisle of the presbytery.

Eventually, around 1350, he was given a more suitable position in the centre of the retrochoir, just east of St. Alban's own shrine in the 'Saint's Chapel'. "By the industry of Ralph Whitchurch, sacrist, the feretrum of St. Amphibalus was more honourably set up upon a most beautiful tomb of stone.'' It was enclosed within an iron grating where, to the west, "had been fixed a descent altar with a painting and other suitable ornaments" and was reconsecrated by the Irish Bishop of Ardfert. Abbot De La Mare then adorned the shrine with silver-gilt plate and images at a cost of 8. 8s 10d.

This is the shrine-base which can now be seen, rather ignominiously, sitting at the eastern end of the northern presbytery aisle. It is in a far more fragmentary and imperfect condition than the base of St. Alban's Shrine and, like that, had been deliberately broken into pieces, upon the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and used to block the eastern arches of the 'Saint's Chapel'. They were discovered during Gilbert Scott's 19th century restoration and rudimentarily pieced together. On a plinth, 6 inches high, is a base 23 inches in height, sculptured all round with fret-work. On the western face, are the letters "Amphib...s" and a fleur-de-lys. The eastern face has not been recovered. The north and south faces have fleurs-de-lys, within raised lines forming quatrefoils, and the letters RW, the initials of Ralph Whitchurch the sacrist. The work is entirely in clunch stone and is far less rich than that of the base of the greater shrine.




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