Wednesday, 11 June 2014

How St Albans got its Name

            Do you wonder about the history of local towns? I've lived near St. Albans for 18 years, but it was only recently I looked into the origins of this roman settlement. It started life in  AD 43 when the Romans built an encampment beside the River Ver and "Verulamium" was born (later renamed St Albans) – and for a while this was the largest Roman town in England. However, at that time most of the buildings were made of wood and destroyed during Queen Boudicca's rebellion of AD 60 -61.
The view along George St, St Albans
(which also happens to be where one of my all time favourite shops is located)

            Undeterred the Romans rebuilt in stone and then a couple of centuries later erected a wall around the town. It was around this time AD 250 -275 (exact date uncertain) that the man who went onto give his name to St Albans - was martyred.
St Alban's cathedral

            Alban is acknowledged as the first British Christian martyr and an account of his life is given by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History. The story goes that Alban was a pagan who gave a Christian priest, Amphibalus, shelter and hid him from Roman soldiers who were trying to capture him. However, during their time together the priest converted Alban to Christianity and when soldiers arrived to arrest Amphibalus, Alban donned the priest’s garments and took his place. A judge recognized the deception and insisted Alban renounce Christianity – and had him savagely beaten when he refused.
A rather grizzly depiction of Alban's execution

            Alban was sentenced to death, but on the day of his execution a number of miracles happened which made the executioner refuse to perform his duty. A second executioner was found who beheaded Alban, along with the first executioner - but then this second executioner was struck blind. Alban’s head bounced down a hill (Holywell Hill) and a stream arose where it landed.  The place of Alban’s execution is reputedly where St Alban’s cathedral stands today.
The shrine of St Alban - housed within
the cathedral that bears his name

            By AD 410 the roman presence dwindled as the army left, and many of their buildings fell into disrepair. The industrious locals reused bricks and stone, incorporating roman materials into their own houses and barns. Indeed, to this day St Albans is a place with a strong sense of history seeping from its stones, including an "Eleanor Cross" – more of this in another post.
The view down Holywell Hill in the late 19th century


  1. I knew the history of St. Albans - love history and I used to live there and wrote a essay as part of my post graduate degree on St. Albans - brought back some memories. Thank you for reminding .

    1. Thank you for visiting, Vesper ( fabulous name, by the way.) So glad my post passed muster and you enjoyed it,
      Grace x


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