The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. (Wisdom 3: 1-3)
Today is the Feast Day of St Alban. It is the day on which we remember Alban, a soldier, based in the Roman town of Verulamium, in occupied Britain. One night, at the height of a violent storm, he discovered a man taking refuge in his stable, took him into his house and fed him. Alban discovered that this man was a priest of the new Christian religion, and, after talking with him for some time, realized that this was, indeed the truth, was converted and baptized. However, news of the priest’s whereabouts came to the ears of the authorities, who sent soldiers to Alban’s house to search it. Alban exchanged clothes with the priest in order to allow him to escape. He himself was arrested, and, after refusing to offer sacrifice to one of the Roman gods, was condemned to death. Legend has it that the executioner who was to behead Alban was himself converted by the strength of Alban’s faith, and another had to be drafted in, to perform the execution. Alban was beheaded on this day in the year 250 and so became the first British martyr.
Alban, subsequently to become a saint, was buried nearby, and later his grave became a shrine, a place of pilgrimage with pilgrims attesting to healing miracles performed there. Its popularity grew and eventually an Abbey was built on that spot. Today the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban, containing a shrine to the saint, is still a place of pilgrimage and it has given its name to the city built around it. Meanwhile the former mighty Roman city of Verulamium is now a collection of ruins with a museum of ancient remains. The might of Rome has been superseded by the execution place of a Roman soldier who was willing to die for his Christian faith.
St Albans is the diocese to which my family belonged after we moved to Luton in 1971. We attended St Mary’s Church in Luton, a beautiful mediaeval building, its black and white stone exterior having a unique chequerboard effect; both our children were confirmed and married there and it became my ‘sending parish’ when I offered for ordination. I was deaconed and priested in St Albans Abbey and served in the Diocese until my retirement. Whenever I revisit the Abbey I attend the midday Eucharist celebrated in the shrine chapel, a small, intimate place for worship, dedicated to its patron saint.
A great Cathedral Church and Abbey serving St Albans Diocese and a lovely city – all the result of a Roman soldier offering shelter to a Christian priest. From one single act of kindness has come so much!