Our Patron Saint
St. Alban the Proto-Martyr of Britain
Saint Alban, the protomartyr of Britain, was a Roman citizen who lived at Verulamium (modern St Albans), a few miles northwest of London, during a time of persecution.
The chief magistrate of the city had orders to arrest all Christian clergy. One Christian priest fled to Alban’s home in order to hide from the soldiers who were trying to kill him. Alban was impressed by the priest’s constant prayer and vigil, and so he questioned him about his beliefs. As a result, Alban came to believe in Christ and asked to be baptized.
Eventually, the priest was forced to move on, and Alban changed clothes with him so that he could get away. The soldiers heard there was a priest hiding in Alban’s house, so they came to search it. Seeing Alban dressed in the priest’s clothes, they arrested him and brought him before the judge.
The magistrate was offering sacrifice to idols when Alban appeared before him. After questioning him, he discovered how Alban and the priest had switched clothes. Furious because Alban had allowed a fugitive to escape, the magistrate threatened him with death unless he returned to paganism and revealed where the priest had gone. Alban replied, “I am also a Christian, and I worship the true God.”
After having the saint beaten and tortured, the magistrate threatened him with execution. St. Alban rejoiced and glorified God. The magistrate ordered the soldiers to take him to the Holmhurst Hill to be beheaded. When they came to the river Ver, they saw that the bridge was crowded with people who had come to witness Alban’s martyrdom. Since they could not proceed because of the multitude of people, St. Alban prayed and made the Sign of the Cross over the river. At once, the waters parted so that they were able to cross over to the other side.
The executioner was so astonished by the miracle that he threw down his sword and refused to behead the Saint. He was arrested, and another man was found to behead them both. There is a tradition that Alban became thirsty while climbing the hill and asked for water. A small spring gushed forth near the top of the hill, and he was able to drink from it. Pilgrims used to come and drink from St. Alban’s well, but it is now dry.
The eighteenth century Turin manuscript (which may be based on a fifth century source) suggests that St. Alban may have been executed as early as 209, when the emperor Septimus Severus and his two sons were in Britain. The name of the executioner who was converted has not been preserved. The fleeing priest was ultimately caught and put to death at a place called Redbourn, four miles from Verulamium.
In later years a cathedral was built on the site of the martyrdom, and the relics of St. Alban, the priest, and perhaps even the executioner were enshrined within. St. Bede (May 27) tells us that miracles frequently took place at St. Alban’s tomb.