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nothing in the world;" so he replied, “I cannot worship that which is worthless; I am a Christian, and will bow me to no form of man's creation." So he was carried off by the soldiers in the dawn of the morning “ to the hill whence his spirit was to ascend to heaven. It was a fair and fruitful place, not rough or hard to climb, but beautifully garnished with divers herbs and flowers, over which the dew glittered in the first rays of the rising sun. The lark was already in the heavens, and the song of the thrush and the whistle of the blackbird were heard from the distant wood.” Here Alban was put to death.
You may have heard the saying, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” It means that when men have been put to death for Christ's sake, it has brought many more to think of Him for whom they suffered, and to love and serve Him too. Perhaps no martyr was ever put to death without bringing some thereby to give themselves to Jesus Christ; in some instances there have been very many—and so the church has been increased and strengthened by martyrdom. Alban himself was brought to believe in the Saviour through the persecutions of Amphibalus, and now Alban himself brings another to believe. On the way to the place of execution the executioner inquired of him concerning the faith for which he was about to die. When they reached the “place of a skull,” where, like his Saviour, Alban was to suffer, he knelt down and prayed for himself and for all around him, even for those who were about to put him to death. Then the executioner refused to perform his task, and declared himself to be a Christian. Another was called to take his place, who speedily discharged the fell office.
“ Thus was Alban tried.
So beautifully wrote the poet Wordsworth centuries afterwards.
From the time of his death the religion of Christ took a firmer hold of the people; so did the martyr's blood become as “seed,” which brought forth a crop of believers in Jesus. Great honours were paid to his memory. The old city, hard by, said to have been older than London, had been called Verulam; but now it received the name of St. Alban's. And something else, and something very strange, happened, concerning that little city. Old Verulam stood at some little distance below the hill on which Alban suffered, and that hill was then crowned with a wood. That the old city stood below is evident from two things—First, the old wall, which surrounded Roman cities, has some of its remains standing still, and a very thick and strongly built wall it is, with a plantation of trees now growing on the top of it. Well, of course, where the wall is there the city was. Beside this, the names of old cities were generally taken from the rivers on the banks of which they were built. The river Ver still flows near the old walls, and of course it never did flow on the hill, where the city now stands. Still further, the old church of St. Michael's—said to be the oldest church in England, though I suppose St. Martin's at Canterbury would also claim the distinction—an old Roman church, is both near the river and near the old walls. Now, as churches are usually built where the people live, we may conclude that the houses of Old Verulam were round about this church ; true it is some distance from the wall, but the walls of cities were not put close up to the houses, there were often fields enclosed, and the houses were scattered. It was so even with Nineveh, “that great city, wherein were more than six-score thousand souls who knew not their right hand from their left.” It would be so with the little city of Verulam, which the Romans founded, and near to which the British Queen Boadicea fought one of her renowned battles.
What happened then after St. Alban was martyred ?
Not only was the city close åt hand called by his name, but it was actually moved up from the bottom to the top of the hill, to the spot where he was put to death. So that, as the people of St. Alban's still tell you,“ the city was where the wood now is, and the wood was where the city now is.” Wonderful! Did you ever hear before of a city being moved from one site to another, and being moved on account of a man being put to death ; and being moved, not away from the spot where he was put to death, but to it, and because he was put to death there! It shows how St. Alban's memory was held in honour.
But you would like to know how the city came to be removed there, as well as why. Well, it was not done immediately. Probably some hundreds of years passed away before it was done, at least before it was completed. It came in this way. In the year 793, some five hundred years after the martyrdom, the Mercian King Offa built a monastery, and dedicated it to his memory. Of course St. Alban knew nothing of monks, and King Offa knew nothing of Christianity without monks; so, as instructed by the priests, the British king built this shrine, and had placed in it the body of the martyr. No less than one hundred monks were there to guard it. That was not the present Abbey, which was erected on the same site in the time of William the Conqueror. When the monastery arose, houses began to gather on one side of it, and ere long the city spread over the hill, and down it, towards St. Michael's ; but not over the Martyr's hill, which was probably included in the grounds of the monastery, and which remains uncovered to this day. There is the “platform,” which, as Wordsworth said, looked like an altar “decked for holiest sacrifice," and upon which the martyr Alban was “offered "
The Abbey of St. Alban's, like the city, was a work of time. The middle part, built in the Norman style, is no doubt the oldest. It was designed after the model of St. Stephen's at Caen. This was done no doubt because Stephen was the first Christian martyr in the world, as Alban was the first Christian martyr in Britain:
The Abbey is said to have been built with the old tiles and stones of the ruined city at the bottom of the hill; more probably of the old Roman wall. In 1151, the building, as originally planned, was finished, and it was solemnly consecrated in presence of Henry II., his queen, and nobles. But from time to time it has been altered and added to; only, strangely enough, the parts added are not in the same style of architecture, but are Gothic. Very fine, indeed, are these Gothic portions; the nave, which is the longest, it is thought, in any church in the world, is a splendid succession of Gothic arches and windows for at least the whole of one side and part of another.
Of course it fell into decay, as all such buildings did after the Reformation, when abbeys and monasteries were put an end to. St. Alban's Abbey was, however, used as the parish church, or at least a part of it was, and the rest went to ruin. It is said that these large and splendid buildings, which had cost thousands, were bought by the city for four hundred pounds. But though in part a ruin, it was thought a great deal of by architects and other students of old art, and from time to time, it has been visited and studied by great numbers of them.
In the earlier part of this century there was an English boy who, having heard and read of St. Alban's Abbey and its wonderful architecture, thought a great deal about it, and it became, he tells us, “ the dream of his boyhood” to be permitted to go and see it. At last he went, and he said that his heart beat quickly as he drew near to it, and as he wandered over it. The enthusiasm of his boyhood for it went into his youth and manhood, and then what happened? In course of time there was a talk about restoring it, and making it a cathedral for a Bishop. Then the enthusiastic boy, who had become a renowned architect, was appointed architect to the Abbey, to superintend its restoration. That boy was Sir Gilbert Scott. He did not live to see the work
he gave his heart to completed; it is still going on, and it will be many a long year before it is completed.
It is something to go and see this grand old Abbey especially now that it is being so beautifully restored. The whitewash, that had covered the painting and decoration of the Norman part, has been largely cleaned off, and the fine rich colouring has come out fresh as though it had just been put on. Some of the figures high up on the walls are very strange and quaint, according to the taste of the times in which they were drawn. Some of them have been covered up again as being hardly fit for a church, according to the improved taste of these days. Texts of Seripture, in old English letter, seem to have been written over the walls ; some of these have been brought to light; but it is such exceedingly costly work to get off the thick coating of whitewash that the work proceeds but slowly. It costs half-a-crown the square inch. Some gentlemen of ability and care are giving themselves to the work of cleaning off the whitewash as a “labour of love." The west end of the Abbey, which is Gothic, is being proceeded with, and it is coming out splendidly, and the interior is nearly completed, at least on one side, and it is most gorgeous. The Lady Chapel, at the east end, is most broken down, having been used, till within the last few years, as a Grammar School; and the “ naughty boys” have worked away at the walls till they are in part crumbled. Through it then ran a public thoroughfare till within the last few years, and it was held to be a “ right of way,” which could not be closed. Happily, however, it has been closed, and the shrine of Amphibalus, who was caught after all, and put to death at a village near St. Alban's, has been erected in the Lady Chapel. The shrine of St. Alban's is just the other side of a screen, and nearer the altar. This fine structure, like that of Amphibalus, was found shattered to pieces among the débris below, and it is remarkable how beautifully they have both been built up out of their ruins.
The chapel in which stands the shrine of St. Alban has