According to the Venerable Bede’s ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’, Alban was a pagan living at the Roman settlement of Verulamium at a time of Roman persecution of Christians. He gave shelter to a Christian priest trying to escape his persecutors. Alban watched his devotion to his rhythm of prayer and vigils, and after a while he was so touched by the grace of God that he began to follow the priest’s example. The priest gradually instructed him concerning salvation, and eventually Alban turned away from the darkness of idolatry and sincerely accepted Christ.
After the priest had been with Alban for some time, the civil power in Verulamium came to know that he was in hiding there, and ordered his soldiers to search carefully for him. Alban dressed in the priest’s long cloak and surrendered himself, allowing the priest to escape to safety. He was led bound before the judge, who happened to be offering sacrifice to his idols. Alban made it known that he, too, had become a Christian, and the judge was furious that he had presumed to turn to Christ and had exchanged places with the priest, threatening him with severe torture. Alban was unmoved, and with great courage refused to acknowledge the false gods again. Quite an interchange followed between Alban and the judge about matters of faith, and Alban explained to the judge that if he continued to sacrifice to idols he put himself at risk of the terrors of hell. The judge became totally incensed at Alban’s words and ordered him to be flogged and tortured, hoping to make him recant. Alban accepted it all with great patience, and when the judge realised that nothing could change his mind, he ordered Alban to be executed by beheading.
Alban was led out to a hill above Verulamium, where he was put to death, becoming the first English martyr. The judge was so moved by all that had taken place that he called an end to the persecution in the city. St. Alban’s Abbey was later founded near this site and the city was renamed ‘St. Alban’s’ in the saint’s honour. The date of Alban’s execution has never been firmly established, and a range of years from 209 to 313 has been suggested.
Lord Jesus, who laid down Your life for Your friends, show us the sacrifices we must make in order to do Your will. Help us to set aside self – to deny ourselves for love of You and of our neighbours – and so bring honour to the name of our God. Amen.