‘When peace came again to the Christians, a church was built on the site of Alban’s martyrdom, and when St Bede wrote, four hundred years later, he speaks of it as a place of wonderful workmanship where sick persons were even then going for healing and where there was frequent working of wonders. This church was destroyed by the pagan Saxons, but rebuilt and refounded with a monastery of some sort by Offa, King of the Mercians, in 793. This was the seed of that glorious abbey church which blesses the city today: the only one of our cathedrals to have Roman tiles in its walls. The monastery, reformed and revived about 970, came to take first place among the numerous great Benedictine abbeys of England. This pre-eminence was due to many causes: to the succession of great abbots who directed it, to many distinguished recruits, to the good name of its school, to its charitable works (such as a leper-hospital), to the particular sanctity of some holy men and women who, in the twelfth century, centred their devotion on the abbey, to the fact that one of its members became Pope: the only Englishman ever to be so, and he a Herefordshire man – one Nicholas Brakespeare. For the splendour of its learning and art, for the wisdom of its government, for the perfection of its liturgical observance, the abbey deserved both its wide influence in the Middle Ages and to be the progenitor of the vigorous, devoted church life which today pulses round the tomb of Britain’s first martyr: St Alban is the initial cause of it all. His worth and glory were soon recognised: two notable bishops came from France in 429 to confirm the Britons in the true Christian faith and also, in the end, to help them in the warfare with marauding Picts and Saxons, and they went to Verulamium to venerate the martyr’s tomb. One of them – Germanus – though it good to take back with him some dust from the place of the beheading, and to ask the saint’s intercession for their safe journeying. A century later Alban’s praise was lauded by a famous Italian poet, Venantius Fortunatus (whose hymns are still in our books). And pilgrims rejoice today to walk that same way, from Verulamium to new St Alban’s on the hill, trodden by the martyr on that lovely June afternoon in the dim bygones of our history: for round his shrine in the cathedral time is touch by eternity’.
Sibyl Harton, 1898-1993
O eternal Father, who, when the Gospel of Christ first came to England, didst gloriously confirm the faith of Alban by making him the first to win the martyr’s crown: grant that, assisted by his prayers and following his example in the fellowship of the Saints, we may worship thee, the living God, and faithfully witness to Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of th eHoly Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Fr Lee Kenyon