First martyr of Britain, suffered c. 304
Alban, Saint, first martyr of Britain, suffered c. 304. The commonly received account of the martyrdom of St. Alban meets us as early as the pages of Bede's "Ecclesiastical History" (Bk. I, chs. vii and xviii). According to this, St. Alban was a pagan living at Verulamium (now the town of St. Albans in Hertfordshire), when a persecution of the Christians broke out, and a certain cleric flying for his life took refuge in Alban's house. Alban sheltered him, and after some days, moved by his example, himself received baptism. Later on, when the governor's emissaries came to search the house, Alban disguised himself in the cloak of his guest and gave himself up in his place. He was dragged before the judge, scourged, and, when he would not deny his faith, condemned to death. On the way to the place of execution Alban arrested the waters of a river so that they crossed dry-shod, and he further caused a fountain of water to flow on the summit of the hill on which he was beheaded. His executioner was converted, and the man who replaced him, after striking the fatal blow, was punished with blindness. A later development of the legend informs us that the cleric's name was Amphibalus, and that he, with some companions, was stoned to death a few days afterwards at Redbourn, four miles from St. Albans. What germ of truth may underlie these legends it is difficult to decide. The first authority to mention St. Alban is Constantius, in his Life of St. Germanus of Auxerre, written about 480. But the further details there given about the opening of St. Alban's tomb and the taking out of relics are later interpolations, as has recently been discovered (see Levison in the "Neues Archiv", 1903, p. 148). Still 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. It is also probable that the name Amphibalus is derived from some version of the legend in which the cleric's cloak is called an amphibalus; for Geoffrey of Monmouth, the earliest witness to the name Amphibalus, makes precisely the same mistake in another passage, converting the garment called amphibalus into the name of a saint. (See Ussher, Works, V, p. 181, and VI, p. 58; and Revue Celtique, 1890, p. 349.) From what has been said, it is certain that St. Alban has been continuously venerated in England since the fifth century. Moreover, his name was known about the year 580 to Venantius Fortunatus, in Southern Gaul, who commemorates him in the line: Albanum egregium fecunda Britannia profert. (Lo! fruitful Britain vaunts great Alban's name). ("Carmina", VIII, iii, 155). His feast is still kept as of old, on June 22, and it is celebrated throughout England as a greater double. That of St. Amphibalus is not now observed, but it seems formerly to have been attached to June 25. In some later developments of the legend St. Alban appears as a soldier who had visited Rome, and his story was also confused with that of another St. Alban, or Albinus, martyred at Mainz.