Celtic and Old English Saints          22 June

* St. Alban, First Martyr of Britain
* St. Heraclius the Soldier
* St. Aaron of Brittany

St. Alban, Proto-Martyr of Great Britain
3rd or 4th century. There were probably already Christians in the
British Isles in the first century. In fact, by the end of the second
century a great many of the inhabitants of southern England were
Christians. However, Alban is the first recorded Christian martyr of the
island. The traditional date of his death is 304, during the persecution
under the Emperor Diocletian; but many scholars now date it as early as
209, during the persecution under the Emperor Septimus Severus. This
date was derived from a study of the Turin manuscript of a "Passio

The first known reference to him, outside the Turin manuscript, is in
the 5th century life of Saint Germanus of Auxerre. Gildas, writing
c.540, gives the core of the tradition. Saint Bede gives an amplified
account, which includes a lively description of the beheading and more
details of signs from heaven.

Alban was a pagan, a Roman soldier, who, during the persecution of
Diocletian, took pity on a fleeing Christian priest and sheltered him in
his own home. When he saw that the priest spent day and night in prayer,
he was moved by the grace of God. They spent several days talking
together and Alban was so impressed by the priest's sanctity and
devotion that he became a Christian and wanted to imitate the piety and
faith of his guest. Encouraged and instructed by the priest, Alban
renounced his idol worship and embraced Christ with his whole heart.

He was a leading citizen in the old Roman city of Verulamium (Verulam),
Hertfordshire, England, now called Saint Albans. The town was originally
a collection of huts of wattle and daub that stretched along Watling
Street, and later destroyed by the army of Boadicea, the warrior queen.

The history continues that the Roman governor of the city, hearing a
rumour that a priest was hiding in the house of Alban, sent a search
party of soldiers to find him. Seeing them approach, Alban took the
priest's cloak and put it over his own head and shoulders, and helped
him to escape. Thus disguised, Alban opened the door to the soldiers and
was arrested in mistake for the priest. He was bound in fetters and
brought before the governor, who was attending a sacrifice to the pagan
gods. When the cloak was removed and his true identity was discovered,
the governor was furious. He then declared himself to be a Christian,
whereupon the governor angrily ordered him to be taken before the altar.
He was threatened with all the tortures that
had been prepared for the priest if he did not recant.

Alban faced his anger calmly and, ignoring his threats, declared that he
could not sacrifice to the gods. Upon Alban's refusal to deny his faith,
the governor enquired of what family and race he was. "How can it
concern you to know of what stock I am?" answered Alban. "If you want to
know my religion, I will tell you--I am a Christian, and am bound by
Christian obligations." When asked his name, he replied: "I am called
Alban by my parents, and I worship and adore the true and living God,
who created all things." He was then commanded to sacrifice to the Roman
gods, but he refused and was cruelly scourged. Alban bore the punishment
with resignation, even joy. When it was seen that he could not be
prevailed upon to retract, he was
sentenced to decapitation.

On the way to his execution on Holmhurst Hill, the crowds that gathered
to honour his heroism were so great that his passage was delayed because
they could not reach the bridge over the river. Alban, who seemed to
fear that any delay might deprive him of the martyr's crown, decided to
cross at another point, and going down to the water's edge he prayed to
God and stepped into the river which he then forded without difficulty.
Both Gildas and Bede have accepted the tradition that this was a miracle
and that the waters dried up completely in answer to the saint's prayer.

They add that a thousand other people crossed over with him, while the
waters piled up on either side, and that this miracle converted the
appointed executioner. Still accompanied by a huge throng of people,
Alban climbed the hill to the place of execution. But, on his arrival
there, the executioner threw down his sword and refused to perform his
office. He said that if he were not allowed to take Alban's place then
he would share his martyrdom. Confessing himself to be a Christian, the
soldier was replaced by another. Then he took his stand beside Alban,
and they faced death together. Alban was beheaded first, then the
soldier, Saint Heraclius, was baptized in his own blood to share the
glory of martyrdom. The third martyr was the priest, who when he learned
that Alban had been arrested in his place, hurried to the court in the
hope of saving Alban by turning himself in.

According to Bede, the governor was so impressed by the miracles that
followed Alban's martyrdom that he immediately ended the persecutions,
and Bede states that these miracles were still occurring in his lifetime
at the intercession of England's protomartyr.

On the hill where these martyrdoms took place a church was later
erected, and, 400 years later, Offa, the king of Mercia, founded on the
same site the Benedictine Abbey of Saint Albans. According to
Constantius of Lyons, Saint Germanus of Auxerre, at the end of a mission
to England to combat the Pelagian heresy, chose the Church of Saint
Alban as the place in which to thank God for the success of his mission.
He brought back from England a handful of earth from the place where
Alban, the soldier, and the priest were martyred (Attwater,
Benedictines, Delaney, Encyclopaedia, Gill, Morris).

The Proto-Martyr of England is portrayed in art as a warrior with a
cross and shield. He may be depicted (1) crowned with laurel; (2) with a
peer's coronet, holding a crossing; (3) with his head cut off; (4) with
his head in a holly bush; (5) spreading his cloak under the sun; or (6)
as his executioner's eye drops out (Roeder). Alban is especially
venerated in Saint Albans and Angers (Roeder).

The Story of Saint Alban
as recounted in the
Ecclesiastical History of the English People
by the Venerable Bede [672 - 735]

Troparion or St Alban tone 4
Thy holy martyr Alban in his struggle/ has gained the crown of life, O
Christ our God;/ for strengthened by Thee and with a pure heart/ he
spoke boldly before worldly judges,/ giving up his sacred head to Thee,
the Judge of all.

Homily for the Feast of St. Alban from Aelfic's Lives of the Saints:

Service of Commemoration of the Holy Alban of Verulamium,
Protomartyr of Britain

Icons of St. Alban:
( Homesite:. http://www.cybercom.net/~htm/ )

Shrine of Saint Alban:

Sr Alban's relics were enshrined at his abbey at St Albans from the late
eighth century until its suppression in the sixteenth. In the later tenth
century relics said to be his were deposited in Kцln's church of St.
Pantaleon, which has them still (less a bone transferred to St Albans in
2002) in the late twelfth-century reliquary shown here:

A few views of St Albans Abbey:
The Abbey's "Virtual Visit":
One of a fifteenth-century pair of doors made for the Abbey:

St. Heraclius the Soldier
Martyred at Verulamium in Hertfordshire, together with Saint Alban and
the holy priest-martyr who taught St. Alban, Amphibalus (commemorated
25 June.)

St. Aaron of Brittany, Abbot
Died after 552. The Briton Saint Aaron crossed into Armorica (Brittany)
and lived as a hermit on the island of Cesambre, called Saint Aaron
until 1150 and now Saint Malo. The island was separated from Aleth by an
arm of the sea, which the tide at low water left dry twice daily.
Eventually Aaron was joined by a group of disciples and became their
abbot. Among the disciples was Saint Malo, who arrived from Wales about
the middle of the 6th century and was warmly welcomed. A parish church
in the diocese of Saint Brieuc bears Aaron's name (Benedictines,


Attwater, D. (1983). The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, NY:
Penguin Books.

Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine Abbey, Ramsgate.
(1947). The Book of Saints. NY: Macmillan.

Delaney, J. J. (1983). Pocket Dictionary of Saints, NY:
Doubleday Image.

Encyclopaedia of Catholic Saints, June. (1966).
Philadelphia: Chilton Books.

Gill, F. C. (1958). The Glorious Company: Lives of Great Christians
for Daily Devotion, vol. I. London: Epworth Press.

Husenbeth, Rev. F. C., DD, VG (ed.). (1928). Butler's
Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints.
London: Virtue & Co.

Morris, J. (1968). Hertfordshire Archaeology, vol. 1.

Roeder, H. (1956). Saints and Their Attributes, Chicago: Henry

For All the Saints:

An Alphabetical Index of the Saints of the West

These Lives are archived at:

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