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jjiD you ever hear of St. Alban? There is, you know, a city called St. Alban's. It is the place where St. Alban lived, and where also he was martyred for he was put to death for his faith in Christ. There have been many put to death for Christ's sake in England, but St . Alban was the first of them, and so he is called England's protomartyr. You would like to hear how it came to pass.
Well, somewhere about the year A.d. 297, before the Christian faith had taken much hold upon the people of Britain, most of whom were heathen, there was one Amphibalus, living in Wales, who became a believer in Jesus Christ . Among the Welsh, the Ancient Britons, the Christian religion was accepted earlier than it was elsewhere; yet even there the men in authority set themselves against it, and for a long time there, as throughout all Britain, the people who professed faith in Christ were persecuted, with a view to bring them back to the idolatry of their fathers. Well, this Amphibalus became a believer in Christ, and had to flee from his persecutors. He wandered a long way from his home, and at length reached the old town of Verulam, which is about twenty miles from London. There he fell in with Alban and told him his case, and Alban gave him shelter. While in his house Alban began to inquire of him as to the religion he had embraced, and for which he was persecuted. We may imagine Alban sitting with the Christian convert and learning from him about Jesus Christ and His coming into the world to save sinners, of His being put to death by wicked men, of His rising again from the dead, and ascending to heaven, and of His sending the Holy Spirit to move on the hearts of sinners, and bring them to repentance towards God and to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and of their receiving, through faith, pardon, and holiness, and heaven. All this Alban would hear from the Christian fugitive. And as he heard, the Holy Spirit wrought upon his heart, and he, too, became a believer in Jesus.
By this time the persecutors had tracked Amphibalus to his hiding-place. But do you think Alban would give him up? Not he. He changed garments with Amphibalus, and told him to escape, and escape he did, for the time. But Alban had to pay the penalty of harbouring him, and of becoming a Christian himself. Alban was offered pardon for concealing Amphibalus, if he would fall down and worship an idol. But he had learned that "an idol is 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 at 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 Oifa 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" up.
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