*Attention span warning*– long post requiring 5 minutes reading ability. 😀
Back in May, regular readers may remember, Phil and I went down memory lane to ST. Albans in Hertfordshire. Neither of us had ever visited the Cathedral before when we lived and worked there, so we made up for that, new memories :).
The History Bit. Maybe.
Ok, this is how it goes, give or take the odd legend. Alban lived in what was known as Verulamium back in the 3rd or 4th century. ( see the post on that HERE). Around that time, Christians were being persecuted by those nice Roman chaps who came to stay in England, and Alban met a Christian priest called Amphibalus who was being persecuted by said Romans. Alban took him into his house to hide him, and became so impressed with the priest’s faith and teaching that he began to emulate him in worship, and eventually became a Christian himself. Of course, the Romans found out where Amphibalus was hiding and came to arrest him. Alban took the priests cloak, pretended to be him, and was arrested in Amphibalus place. When the judge found out his deception, he was really naffed off that Alban would impersonate a blasphemer and told him if he didn’t stop being a Christian and start re-worshiping the pagan gods, then he would have to endure all the punishments that Amphibalus would have got.
So Alban refused, as you do when aiming for sainthood, and the judge ordered him to be whipped good and proper, which he was, but apparently endured it joyfully. (There’s a name for that I think 😀 ). So off he went to be executed, but on the way to the spot where the deed was to be done, they came across an uncrossable river, the River Ver, whos only bridge was packed with rubber~neckers, come to see him off as it were. The execution party couldn’t get through the herd of people, so Alban, who wanted to be a saint quick smart, raised his eyes to heaven, whereupon the river dried up allowing his party to cross over.
His executioner was a bit upset about it all really, and decided to lay down his sword and stand with Alban to suffer with him or instead of him, which was a nice gesture really I think. The other executioners were a bit purturbed by then too, and wouldn’t pick up the sword. Anyway, they were in this beautiful field of wildflowers and went up a little hillock where Alban said he was thirsty so said a prayer to God for water. Would you believe it!? A spring of water burst out of the ground and everyone got a good gargle of it. At that point, they struck off Albans head and that of the chap who’d laid down his sword. In my mind maybe it would have been more sensible for the first executioner to keep the bloody sword and chop off the heads of the other guys as they were drinking, thereby saving both their lives, but that’s possibly why I’m not a saint. The guy who chopped off their heads didn’t fare so well himself, as after the fatal swipe, his eyes popped out of his head.
The ending of the tale changes a little later on when it’s said that after Alban’s head was chopped off, it rolled down the hill, and a well sprang up where it landed. The Cathedral stands near where Alban’s martyrdom happened. Amphibalus was later caught by the Romans and also martyred, so it was all a bit of a waste as far as Alban is concerned, daft bugger.
Of course, there are more holes in this story than in a colander, for a start, Amphibalus wasn’t actually named by the earlier historians, i.e Bede & Gildas, nor was his martyrdom mentioned. But then Geoffrey of Monmouth read the accounts, and did his own version in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) and added the name Amphibalus, which is actually Latin for ‘cloak’! to Alban’s story, so for all we know his name could have been Bob. (The History of the Kings of Britain is now usually acknowledged as a literary work of myth, containing little reliable history as it includes all the stories about King Arthur, Merlin et al. Sadly those stories are made up of legends and fabrications from the mind of our Geoff, but they make for great novels and movies 🙂 )
There has been some sort of memorial at the martyrdom point since the mid 4th century, with both Bede and Gildas mentioning a church or shrine to Alban, although a later historian, Matthew Paris claimed it was destroyed in 586 by the Saxons. A Benedictine Monastery was then built there by Offa 2nd of Mercia in 793 and sacked by the Danes around 890. There were intentions to rebuild the Abbey in 1005 but was thwarted by further Viking raids in 1016.
The Normans came and built the first building on site that has bits which are still part of the building that stands today. The tower is the only 11th century great crossing tower still standing in England. But it has been through a lot of upheaval and rebuilding. Earthquake damage, (1250), stonework collapsing, (1323),the Dissolution of the Monasteries,(1539), the Great Storm, (1703). In the 1700’s a scheme to demolish the Abbey and build a smaller church was put forward when it was thought the expense of the repairs was just too much to bear.
But in the 1800’s bit by bit repairs got done, unfortunately by Lord Grimthorpe, (see post re him HERE) who at best was an amateur architect, but as he footed a large part of the bill, got to make decisions on how the Abbey would look. He demolished parts that didn’t need demolishing, mixed different architectural styles, especially in the windows, and used heavy cement that cracked, and still does. The repairs to the Cathedral are ongoing.
That’s a really short potted history, and in fact the Cathedrals long and involved story is quite fascinating, I strongly suggest a visit to the excellent website they have, www.stalbanscathedral.org but I’m not here to write a novel, I’m here to show you some pictures of it. 🙂
The Watching Loft, where monks and townsmen kept guard over Alban’s Shrine.
Love the little teddy bear sitting in it.
The nave is 85m long, and so the longest in England
The nave statues are of seven martyrs, sculpted by Rory Young and installed in the niches of the medieval nave screen in 2015. Alban and Bob are in there 🙂
The cathedral has one of the oldest and most extensive series of medieval wall paintings surviving today, ranging from the late 12th century to the 16th century. Which was quite amazing when you know how much damage has been done to the place over the hundreds of years,
This marvellous work is known as the Wallingford Screen
Completed in 1484, by Abbot William of Wallingford, though the statues are replacements of 1884-9 for ones destroyed during the reformation & dissolution. St.Alban and St.Amphibalus statues stand either side of the altar.
It has an amazing ceiling above it too. It’s timber vaulted and was painted between 1420 and 1440.
The rose window by Alan Younger was added to Grimthorpe’s north transept rose window and unveiled in 1989 by Diana, Princess of Wales.
Those are the highlights and there’s more pictures of it HERE
The pictures as always are embiggenable,
oh go on then, just a couple more 🙂
Stay tooned for more down memory lane. 🙂