Today is the feast day of Saint Alban. Ora pro nobis.
St Alban was an Englishman, and a pagan by birth. During the persecution of Diocletian, he fortunately received into his house a holy ecclesiastic, who was flying from the persecutors. Alban was greatly edified by the saintly life of his guest, who was almost continually employed in prayer. Knowing him to be a Christian, our saint begged to be instructed in the religion. The clergyman so forcibly showed him the extravagances of idolatry, and the truth of the doctrines of Jesus Christ, that Alban embraced the Christian faith.
It was discovered after some time that the ecclesiastic, after whom search was being made, lay concealed in Alban’s house. The governor sent a party of soldiers to seize him. But Alban, upon their approach, put on the habit of the clergyman, and enabled him to effect his escape. Alban was accordingly arrested and brought before the governor. Seeing Alban, with whom he had been acquainted, in that strange dress, and judging that he had become a Christian, he threatened that if the saint would not abandon the faith, he would cause him to suffer all the torments.
The magistrate asked, “of what family and race are you?”
“How can it concern thee to know of what stock I am?” answered Alban. If thou desirest to know what religion, I will tell thee-I am a Christian and am bound by Christian obligations.”
“I ask thy name, tell me immediately.”
“I am called Albanus by my parents,” he replied, “and I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.”
Then the governor said, If thou wilt enjoy eternal life, delay not to sacrifice to the great gods.”
Alban rejoined, “These sacrifices which are offered to devils are to no avail. hell is the reward of those who offer them.
The governor then caused him to be cruelly scourged. Alban suffered this torture, and many others that followed it, with such joy, that the governor, despairing of being able to change his resolve, condemned him to be beheaded.
Saint Alban proceeded to the place of execution, as though it were to a banquet. Having arrived at the bank of the river, which should be crossed in order to reach the destined place, such a multitude had assembled, that it was considered impossible to pass the bridge before evening. Hereupon the saint, anxious to give his life for Jesus Christ, prayed to the Lord, and the waters, dividing themselves on either side, left a dry passage to the opposite bank. At the sight of this miracle the executioner was converted, and happily obtained the crown of martyrdom together with St Alban.
The whole legend as known to Bede was probably in existence in the first half of the sixth century (W. Meyer, “Legende des h. Albanus“, p. 21), and was used by Gildas before 547. The commonly received account of the martyrdom of St. Alban meets us as early as the pages of Bede “Ecclesiastical History” (Bk. I, chs. vii and xviii). His feast is still kept as of old, on 22 June, and it is celebrated throughout England as a greater double.
In art, St Alban is represented, sometimes in civil and sometimes in military dress, bearing the palm of martyrdom and a sword, or a cross and a sword.
Image: Heraclius takes down St. Alban’s head from a 13th Century manuscript of The Life of St. Alban (5)