Alban, the earliest Christian in Britain who is known to us by name, is according to tradition the first British martyr to the faith. He was a citizen of Verulamium, a city about twenty miles northeast of London, now known as St Alban’s. (He may have been a soldier of the Roman army stationed at Verulamium, hence his iconographic depiction as a Roman soldier.) He gave shelter to a Christian presbyter who was fleeing persecution, hiding him in his house for several days. Influenced by the presbyter’s devotion in prayer, Alban was converted to faith in Christ. When the presbyter’s hiding place was discovered, Alban dressed himself in the presbyter’s cloak and was arrested in his place. Refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods, Alban was sentenced to death. After the conversion of one executioner, Alban was beheaded on the 22nd of June by another executioner, traditionally about the year 304, although more recent scholarship suggests a date of around 254, during the persecution under the emperor Decius.
Alban is the only saint in Britain whose veneration is continuous from Roman times. A church was built on the site of his martyrdom, and the shrine was frequented at least up to the time of Bede. The first mention of veneration at this shrine come in the late fifth-century Life of Germanus of Auxerre. This work recounts the visit to Alban’s tomb at Verulamium by Germanus and Lupus in 429, when they removed some dust from it and gave relics of apostles and martyrs in its place. King Offa of Mercia established a monastery at the shrine about the year 793, and by the thirteenth century St Alban’s ranked as the greatest abbey in England. Alban’s relics were venerated there until the Reformation. The great Norman abbey church, begun in 1077, now serves as the cathedral of the diocese of St Alban’s, created by act of Parliament in 1877. The remains of a fourteenth century marble shrine of Saint Alban are contained in a chapel within the cathedral.
taken from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980), Celebrating the Saints,
and The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering and was faithful even to death: Grant us, who now remember him in thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of Alban, First Martyr of Britain, are published on the Lectionary Page website.
The icon of Saint Alban is taken from Aidan Hart’s gallery of icons and is reproduced here with his generous permission.
The Venerable Bede’s account of the martyrdom of Saint Alban and his companions is found in Chapter VII of Book I of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People.