Alban, First Martyr of Britain
Alban is the earliest Christian in Britain who is known by name and, according to tradition, the first British martyr. He was a solidier in the Roman army stationed at Verulamium, a city about 20 miles northeast of London, now called St. Alban's. He gave shelter to a Christian priest who was fleeing from persecution and was converted by him. He dressed himself in the garments of the priest and gave himself up. Alban was tortured and martyred in place of the priest, on the hilltop where the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban now stands. The traditional date of his martyrdom is 303 or 304, but recent studies suggest that the year was actually 209, during the persecution under the Emperor Septimius Severus.
The site of Alban's martyrdom soon became a shrine. King Offa of Mercia established a monastery there about the year 793, and in the high Middle Ages St. Alban's ranked as the premier abbey in England. The great Norman abbey church, begun in 1077, now serves as the cathedral of the diocese of St. Alban's, established in 1877. It is the second longest church in England (Winchester Cathedral is the longest, by six feet), and it is built on higher ground than any other English cathedral. In a chapel east of the choir and high altar there are remains of the fourteenth century marble shrine of St. Alban.
The Venerable Bede (AD 673-735) gives this account of Alban's trial in his Ecclesiastical History of the English people:When Alban was brought in, the judge happened to be standing before an altar, offering sacrifice to devils . . . "What is your family and race?" demanded the judge. "How does my family concern you?" replied Alban; "If you wish to know the truth about my religion, know that I am a Christian and am ready to do a Christian's duty." "I demand to know your name," insisted the judge. "Tell me at once." "My parents named me Alban," he answered, "and I worship and adore the living and true God, who created all things."
Alban's feast day is observed on June 22.
-Adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts 1997