A man called Alban, believed to have been a Romano-British citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium around the end of the 3rd century, gave shelter to an itinerant Christian priest, later called Amphibalus. Impressed by what he heard Alban was converted to Christianity by him. When a period of persecution, ordered by the Emperor, brought soldiers in search of the priest, Alban exchanged clothes with him allowing him to escape and it was Alban who was arrested in his place.
Standing trial and asked to prove his loyalty by making offerings to the Roman gods, Alban bravely declared his faith in “the true and living God who created all things”. This statement condemned Alban to death. He was led out of the city, across the river and up a hillside where he was beheaded.
As with all good stories the legend grew with time. Bede, writing in the 8th century elaborates the story, adding that the river miraculously divided to let him pass and a spring of water appeared to provide a drink for the saint. He also adds that the executioner’s eyes dropped out as he beheaded the saint, a detail that has often been depicted with relish since. At the time of Bede there was a church and shrine near the spot, pilgrims travelled to visit, and it became an established place of healing. He describes the hill as “adorned with wild flowers of every kind” and as a spot “whose natural beauty had long fitted it as a place to be hallowed by the blood of a blessed martyr”. There is an even earlier record of St.Germanus visiting the shrine around 429.
In 1968, English historian John Morris suggested that St Alban’s martyrdom took place during the persecutions under Emperor Septimius Severus in 209. Morris bases his claims on earlier manuscript sources, unknown to Bede, especially an 8th-century copy of a 3rd-century manuscript found in Turin which states, “Alban received a fugitive cleric and put on his garment and his cloak (habitu et caracalla) that he was wearing and delivered himself up to be killed instead of the priest… and was delivered immediately to the evil Caesar Severus.” St Gildas knew this source, but mistranslated the name “Severus” as an adjective, and wrongly identified the emperor as Diocletian. Bede accepted this identification as fact, and dated St Alban’s martyrdom to this later period. As Morris points out, Diocletian reigned only in the East, and would not have been involved in British affairs in 304; Severus, however, was in Britain from 208 to 211. Morris thus dates Alban’s death to 209. Subsequent scholars (W. H. C. Frend and Charles Thomas for example) have argued that such a single, localised British martyrdom in 209 would have been unusual, and have suggested the period of 251–59 (under the persecutors Decius or Valerian) as more likely.
Alban was probably buried in the Roman cemetery to the south of the present Abbey Church. Recent finds suggest an early basilica over the spot and later a Saxon Benedictine monastery was founded, probably by King Offa around 793. This was replaced in 1077 by the large Norman church and monastery, the remains of which are still partly visible in the tower and central part of the present cathedral of St Albans.
St Alban’s martyrdom is particularly remembered on and around 22nd June each year with a major festival pilgrimage and Passio; an exploration of the martyrdom through carnival.
INTROIT Psalm 20:2-3
In Thy strength, O Lord, the just man shall joy: and in Thy salvation he shall rejoice exceedingly: Thou hast given him his heart’s desire. (Ps. 20: 4) For Thou hast prevented him with blessings of sweetness; Thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones. v. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Repeat In Thy strength…
God, who hast hallowed this day by the martyrdom of blessed Alban, we pray thee grant that we who take pleasure in his yearly festival may be protected by his constant help. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
LESSON Wisdom 10: 10-14
Lesson from the Book of Wisdom. The Lord conducted the just through the right ways, and showed him the kingdom of God, and gave him the knowledge of the holy things; made him honorable in his labors, and accomplished his labors. In the deceit of them that overreached him, He stood by him, and made him honorable. He kept him safe from his enemies, and defended him from seducers, and gave him a strong conflict, that he might overcome, and know that wisdom is mightier than all. She forsook not the just when he was sold, but delivered him from sinners: she went down with him into the pit, and in bands she left him not, till she brought him the sceptre of the kingdom, and power against those that oppressed him; and showed them to be liars that had accused him: and the Lord our God gave him everlasting glory.
GRADUAL Ps 111:1-2
Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord; he delighteth exceedingly in His commandments. V. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. Alleluia, alleluia. V. (Ps. 20: 4) O Lord, Thou hast set on his head a crown of precious stones. Alleluia.
GOSPEL Matt 10:34-42
In that time: Jesus said to his disciples: Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And as a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it. He that receiveth you, receiveth me: and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet, shall receive the reward of a prophet: and he that receiveth a just man in the name of a just man, shall receive the reward of a just man. And whosoever shall give to drink to one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.
OFFERTORY ANTIPHON Psalm 8:6-7
Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: and hast set him over the works of thy hands.
Lord, we pray that the blessed martyr Alban may lovingly plead at thy mercy-seat for us who, in revering him, proclaim thy wonders. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.
PREFACE of the Common
It is truly meet and just, and profitable unto salvation, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks to thee, O Holy Lord, Father Almighty, eternal God, through Christ, our Lord. Though whom the angels praise thy majesty, the dominions adore it, the powers are in awe. Which the heavens and the hosts of heaven together with the blessed seraphim joyfully do magnify. And do thou command that it be permitted to us join with them in confessing thee, while we say with lowly praise:
COMMUNION ANTIPHON Matthew 16:24
He who wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
We pray, Lord, that the blessed martyr Alban may ever entreat thy holy majesty in our behalf, so that thy sacrament may cleanse our guilt away and keep is fervent in our love of thee. Through Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. R. Amen.