The Site of England’s First Saint – St Albans Cathedral

About 19 miles north-northeast of London is a city called St Albans. This city is steeped in history and not far from the city lies the ruins of the Roman City of Verulamium. From the ruins, now a park, you can see a magnificent Cathedral rising up atop of the city. The Cathedral of course is St Albans Cathedral and within its walls lies the first British Saint of Alban.

St Albans Church from Verulamium

Alban was a man who lived around the 3rd or 4th century AD in the city of Verulamium. He was not a Christian, like most of his neighbours but this was a time when Christianity was beginning to be embraced more and more. One day a Christian priest was fleeing the Roman soldiers when he passed Albans home. Alban took him in a sheltered him from his persecutors and during their time he converted to Christianity. he embraced it so much that when the Roman soldiers searched his home he put himself forward as the man they were looking for. the Roman soldiers took him away and attempted to get him to recant his faith. Alban refused and was executed, such was the fate of Christians in those times. He was eventually martyred and a church, the first on the site was built over his grave.

As a result of the church being built it makes the site of St Albans cathedral the oldest continuous site of Christian worship in Britain. The current building that can be seen has parts which date from the Norman style from 1077. It was built fro  bricks and tiles from the ruined Roman city nearby. It would finally be complete in 1115 under Abbott Robert d’Albini. during its height it would be home to approximately 100 benediction monks. Its decline, was with many monasteries of old would come with the dissolution in 1550. The great gatehouse and the Abbey church itself can still be seen today.

The nave of the cathedral is the longest in the UK at 276 feet and has a mix of architectural styles. The cathedral also has a number of beautiful decorations and wall panting’s . These were a result of when the abbey was built they used the Roman bricks from the Roman city which were not able to be carved, therefore they were plastered over and painted. Some of the paintings depict various saints such as Thomas Beckett and Alban. They were covered in lime wash at the dissolution but were thankfully uncovered in 1862.

During the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553) the townsfolk of St Albans brought the abbey from the king but were unable to keep up with the care of the buildings and it grew into a depilated state for many many years. Fast forward to 1877 when it became the cathedral for the diocese of St Albans and was gradually restored to its current state. Edmund Beckett Dension offered to pay for the cathedrals complete restoration himself on the condition that it was to his own design, including the West front which can be seen today. It was the restorers of the 19th century which made sure that the medieval church was able to survive and is still with us today.

The cathedral is open to the public with a recommendation of a voluntary donation towards the upkeep of the cathedral. There is also the Abbotts kitchen for food refreshments and a gift shop.

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