St Alban, the First Saint of Britain
Protecting our friends
by Ronni Lamont (revised, originally published in 2007)
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To consider the life of St Alban and why he is important in our history.
Preparation and materials
- Have available some images of St Alban and the means to display them during the assembly. Examples could include:
- a stained-glass window depicting St Alban bearing the palm of martyrdom and a sword, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y7k5vbmj
- a stained-glass window depicting St Alban bearing a sword and a cross, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y7a9mk2d
- an Eastern Orthodox icon of St Alban, available at: https://tinyurl.com/ybenvshn
- an icon of St Alban, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y9oddbdx
- The dates are uncertain, but Alban lived sometime during the third or fourth century. He worked in Verulamium, a town in Roman Britain (near modern-day St Albans); the river Ver ran through it.
We don’t know much about Alban’s background, but we do know that he met an early Christian priest called Amphibalus and took him 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. Amphibalus was not only a Christian, but a priest who was 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 discovered where Amphibalus was.
- When soldiers arrived to arrest Amphibalus, Alban suggested that he and Amphibalus exchange cloaks. In this way, 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 he 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 the best way to guarantee himself an easy time!
The governor was so angry that he condemned Alban to death. The next part of the story bears the hallmarks of having being embroidered over 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, causing one of the executioners to fall at Alban’s feet, praying that he might suffer with Alban or be executed for him. As Alban continued up the hill, roses bloomed. When they reached the top, a second executioner beheaded both Alban and the first executioner, but his eyes fell out as Alban’s head dropped, so that he could not rejoice over Alban’s death. On the spot where Alban’s 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 over the years. Today, if you go to modern-day St Albans, the town that bears his name, 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; he was the first English martyr, or protomartyr. His story is largely unknown, but he is remembered through St Albans, a pretty town in Hertfordshire. Its cathedral has a shrine that is said to contain some of his bones.
I wonder what any of us would do if we were in a similar position to Alban. If we knew that a friend would die if we didn’t act in a brave, selfless manner, I wonder if we would do what Alban did.
St Alban put the needs of his friend Amphibalus before his own. He acted in a courageous and generous way.
Hopefully, none of us will ever have to face such choices. However, we all face choices that affect other people every day of our lives. These choices may not be a matter of life or death, but they do show how we care for others and what things really matter in our lives.
Let’s make good choices that consider other people.
Let’s be good friends, putting our friends’ needs selflessly before our own.
Thank you for the life of St Alban.
Thank you for the lessons we can learn from his actions and his love for his friend.
Please help us to be good friends.
Please help us to consider the needs of other people.
Please help us to love, care, be courageous and be generous.
Please give us the courage to hold fast to our belief in you.
‘Taizé - Jesus, Remember Me’, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6tVReXsioM (3.22 minutes long)