The Saint of Last Week: St. Alban the Martyr

Last week’s saint was to be St. Alban the Martyr.  So you get him today instead.  I am a big fan of St. Alban.

St. Alban holds the distinction of being the first British martyr.  According to the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, he was martyred under Diocletian, c. 305.   The following is pretty much from memory; correct me if I’m wrong.

Alban was converted when he gave refuge to a priest during the persecution.  While the priest was staying with him, he observed this Christian at prayer and was converted to the Faith and then baptised by him.  When the soldiers came to arrest the priest, Alban dressed in the priest’s clothes, so they took him instead.  Having gone before the magistrate — who, if I remember aright, was sacrificing to demons at the time — the ruse was found out.  Nevertheless, he refused to make the necessary sacrifice and was condemned to death.  I imagine the sacrifice was burning incense to the Emperor.

As the soldiers were marching him to the place of execution, for some reason they couldn’t use the bridge.  Alban was so prepared to stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ that, like Moses, Joshua, or Elijah, he parted the waters of the river and continued on to the place of his earthly death.  His first executioner was converted by the miracle and refused to behead this holy man.  He was condemned to death also.  The second executioner’s eyes proceeded to fall out of his head when he did the wicked deed — much to the delight of mediaeval illuminators.  And where Alban’s head fell, there did a spring bubble up.

Alban has been a part of my life for many years.  My father was rector of St. Alban’s Anglican Church in Brooks, Alberta, when I was born.  I was thus baptised at St. Alban’s.  St. Alban’s martyrdom was accordingly listed in the events on my dad’s timeline of church history during confirmation class (although by then we were at a different parish).  In university, I was blessed to attend St. Alban the Martyr Anglican Church in Ottawa.  Then I was married at St. Alban’s in 2007.  All that remains is to find a St. Alban’s for me to attend at the hour of my death so that I may have my funeral at St. Alban’s.

Oh yes—and whilst in university, the martyr would occasionally grow restless.  My friends and I would oblige him by taking his statue from the church around the city and getting some photos with him.  He visited the pubs with us, went to class, saw the Parliament Buildings, attended my wedding.

Finally, let us reflect on St. Alban and see what we can learn from his tale.  Certainly we learn that Christ can use even the observation of a believer at prayer to enact His work of saving grace in people’s lives.   We should not be awkward about praying or uncomfortable mentioning our prayer lives to those around us.  Second, we see that we should carry ourselves with bravery.  This saint went bravely and eagerly to his martyrdom.  Perhaps you doubt tales of miraculous river crossings, eyes popping out of heads, springs rising up where bits of saints land.  Nevertheless, we should not be ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone!  Let us be emboldened by St. Alban the Martyr — not to the point of insensitive spiritual bullying, but to the point of clear, unabashed statements of what we believe as followers of the Most High God.

St. Alban’s feast day is June 22 by the BCP calendar.  He is much remembered and revered by Anglicans because he is England’s first martyr.  Thus, there were 9 parishes dedicated to him in England in “ancient times”.

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