St Albans, England
St Albans Cathedral, in the city of St Albans, Hertfordshire, is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain and stands over the place where Alban, Britain's first saint, was buried after giving his life for his faith more than 1,700 years ago.
The place where he was buried became a place of worship and pilgrimage. Down the centuries, countless pilgrims have come to honour the saint’s sacrifice and offer their prayers at his shrine – and they still come in their thousands today.
The town of St Albans grew up around the shrine as a place of hospitality. Today's St Albans Cathedral – officially known as the Cathedral and Abbey of St Albans – was completed in 1115 under Abbot Richard d’Albini.
The Church of England
St Albans is one of nine cities and 22 different organisations and faiths that joined as founding members of the Green Pilgrimage Network in 2011. The founder members from St Albans are:
A forbidden religion
St Alban lived in the Roman town of Verulamium, around the end of the 3rd century. Alban gave shelter to a fleeing priest, Amphibalus, and was so moved by the
priest’s courage that he asked to be taught more about Christianity, which was then still
a forbidden religion in Roman Britain.
Britain's first martyr
Alban was arrested and declared that he worshipped and adored 'the true and living God, who created all things'. The magistrate ordered that Alban should receive the punishment due to the priest. He was led out of the city and brought to the site of execution where he was beheaded.
A place of pilgrimage
Alban's grave became a place of pilgrimage and around it grew a Benedictine community, replaced by a large Norman Abbey in 1077, the remains of which are still visible in the tower and parts of the cathedral. This is the oldest surviving place of Christian worship in Great Britain.
Premier Benedictine abbey
Tradition claims that a monastery was founded under the rule of St Benedict in 793. This required that all guests were received as though they were Christ himself. As home to St Alban's shrine (above), St Albans was prestigious and for centuries was England’s premier Benedictine abbey.
Pilgrims came to pray
Many pilgrims came to pray at the shrine, including kings (Henry III is believed to have made nine visits) and St Albans became a centre of learning. Perhaps the most successful son of St Albans was Nicholas Breakspear, who became the only English pope, Adrian IV, in in 1154.
June 22 – St Albans Day
Pilgrims have been coming to pray at St Alban's shrine for 1,700 years. Every year, on St Alban’s Day, 22 June, the saint's story is celebrated and re-enacted. The red rose is a special symbol of the saint, following an ancient prayer: ‘Among the roses of the martyrs, brightly shines St Alban.’
Greening pilgrimage in St Albans
In joining the Green Pilgrimage Network, St Albans has committed itself to becoming an outstanding place of welcome and hospitality as a Green Pilgrim City. Its plans include:
St Alban's Day prayer
Heavenly Father, you conferred upon your holy
martyr Alban such love for the mercy of Christ
that he freely gave his life to save a hunted Christian.
Grant that we, following his example, might be so faithful
in our confession of the Gospel that we too might feel
called to protect those who flee persecution and bear
the reproaches of those who threaten their lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.