Secondary: Current Assemblies
FIRST SAINT OF BRITAIN
By Ronni Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To look at the life of St Alban and recognize why he is important in our history.
Preparation and materials
- Alban was a soldier in the Roman army, around the year 300. He lived and worked in the town that the Romans called Verulamium; the river Ver runs through it. We don’t know anything about his background, but we do know that he met an early Christian priest called Amphibalus, and took Amphibalus into his house, to save him from persecution and probably death. This was during the time when it was not permitted to be a Christian, and Amphibalus was not only a Christian, but he was a priest, and actively preaching about Jesus. At this time, there were very few Christians in England.
Alban and Amphibalus were together for long enough for Alban to decide to become a Christian. He was baptized, presumably by night, in the river Ver. Amphibalus taught Alban the Christian faith and they stayed together until the Romans caught wind of where Amphibalus was.
- When soldiers eventually arrived to arrest Amphibalus, Alban suggested that he and Amphibalus exchange cloaks. So Amphibalus escaped and Alban was arrested. Alban was taken to the Roman governor, who was sacrificing an animal to the local god at the time that Alban was brought in.
When Alban threw back his cloak, the governor realized that this was not Amphibalus. He asked Alban who he was. He is said to have replied: ‘I am Alban and I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.’ This was not guaranteeing Alban an easy time.
The governor was so angry that he condemned Alban to death, and here the story has probably been embroidered down through the years…
- Alban was led up the hill out of the town towards the execution area, and he had to cross the river. As Alban went into the water, the river dried up. As he walked up the hill, so roses bloomed. When they reached the top, the executioner dropped dead as he tried to decapitate Alban. A second, successful executioner’s eye fell out as Alban’s head dropped. And on the spot where the head landed, a stream burst up through the ground.
- Alban’s story became well known, and over time people began to come to worship and remember Alban on the spot where he died. Eventually a shrine was established, and this was gradually enlarged down through the years. If you go today to the town that bears the name of St Alban, the cathedral marks this spot, at the top of Holywell Hill.
Time for reflection
Alban was the first English Christian to die for his faith – the first English martyr, or protomartyr. And while his story is largely unknown, he is remembered through St Albans, a pretty town in Hertfordshire. The cathedral has a shrine, which is said to contain some of his bones.
If you or I were in the same position as Alban – knowing that a friend would die if you didn’t act in a very brave and selfless manner, I wonder if we would be able to do what Alban did? For those of us with faith, I wonder if we hold that faith as dear as Alban did?
Lord God of Alban and Amphibalus,
May we who share their faith
also share their courage to hold fast to what we believe to be true.
‘Who would true valour see?’ (Hymns Ancient and Modern revised, 212)
‘Nimrod’ from Enigma Variations by Elgar
‘Jesus remember me’, Taize chant (Hymns Old and New, 768)