Tuesday, 10 October 2006

A Pilgrimage to St Albans

The great thing about my new day-off (Tuesday) is that it's shared by several of my priest friends. So, today I made a gita to St Albans, the Cathedral city that lies just a short train ride north of London. My companion was my chum from both university and seminary, and co-author of Evangelium, Fr Marcus Holden. Here he is:

And here is your humble blogger in the same spot, having had a rather fine lunch minutes before:

I tried to take an arty shot of the Cathedral with swan in foreground, but it didn't quite work:

Of course, the real point of the visit (apart from eating and visiting a few secondhand bookshops) was to pray at the shrine of St Alban, our proto-martyr. He was a citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium, which stood near the site of present-day St Albans, and was beheaded after hiding a fugitive priest and converting to the Faith. Such was the scandal of his death that the executioner's eyes are supposed to have fallen out as the saint's head hit the ground. Some scholars suggest that he suffered as early as 209 - making him one of the earliest indigenous Western Christians we know by name.

St Alban's shrine was destroyed at the Reformation, although some think his relics were saved and sent to the former abbey of St Pantaleon's in Cologne, which had had a shrine to the saint since the tenth century. The relics there include a skull with a golden band - and King Offa is recorded as presenting a golden band for the St Alban's skull back in the eighth century. The saint's 'shrine' was restored in 1993 and a few years ago the Cathedral was presented with a shoulder blade from Cologne. Here's a picture of St Alban's chapel - as Anglican shrines go it is quite impressive:

Nearby is the restored shrine of St Amphibalus, the priest hidden by St Alban:

St Amphibalus (whose name possibly derived from the Greek name given to a cloak) appeared in the twelfth century as a martyr in his own right. According to William the Monk’s largely fanciful Alia Acta SS Albani et Amphibali et Sociorum (‘Other Doings of SS Alban and Amphibalus and their Companions’) St Amphibalus fled to Wales together with a thousand converts he had made at Verulamium. Eventually they were discovered by the pagans and massacred. Two members of this multitude of early British martyrs were given the names of SS Socrates and Stephanos (Feast: 17 September). I must confess I had never heard of them until today. St Amphibalus was eventually taken back to Verulamium in chains and disembowelled, scourged, stabbed and finally stoned to death.

In 1178, shortly after the Alia Acta was written, the body of St Amphibalus was conveniently discovered (or ‘invented’) in a small mound at Redbourne, three miles outside St Albans. According to the chronicler Matthew Paris, St Amphibalus was found with a large iron spear head and nine other bodies – the monks had almost certainly stumbled across an early Anglo-Saxon burial, although it remains questionable whether any of these bones were those of a Romano-British martyr. Nevertheless the relics were placed in a shrine at first next to that of St Alban; then, around 1222, to the east end of the nave, before being finally translated to a more worthy place in the retrochoir, where the fragments of the shrine can still be seen.

All in all, a most refreshing and fascinating gita - crowned by a visit to a small shop specialising in classical CDs. They were having a clearance with very good CDs selling at just £2. I'm currently listening to one of these as I blog - an oratorio written by Francesco Provenzale (1624-1704) and based on the life of Santa Rosalia. How cool is that?!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is indeed very cool! ;)

You're blog's cool too , I must try to keep mine more personal like yours. It's very faith-enhancing to read.

11:19 pm  
Blogger Terry Nelson said...

What a lovely post. Thank you.

1:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to see priests in clerical garb even on day off - a great witness not hiding your identity as is the swan.

2:40 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At one time there was a weekly lunchtime Catholic Mass in the cathedral (I even offered it myself once) but I don't know if the new Dean allows that to continue.

8:24 am  
Blogger Fr Nicholas said...

According to the Cathedral website the 12 noon Catholic Mass continues every Friday.

9:49 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

any chance that we might see a Fr Marcus Holden blog in the near future...?

1:37 pm  

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