June 22: Alban, First Martyr of Britain, c. 304

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About this commemoration

Alban is the earliest Christian in Britain who is known by name and, according to tradition, the first British martyr. He was a soldier in the Roman army stationed at Verulamium, a city about twenty miles northeast of London, now called St. Alban’s. He gave shelter to a Christian priest who was fleeing from persecution, and was converted by him. When officers came to Alban’s house, he dressed himself in the garments of the priest and gave himself up. Alban was tortured and martyred in place of the priest, on the hilltop where the Cathedral of St. Alban’s now stands. The traditional date of his martyrdom is 303 or 304, but recent studies suggest that the year was actually 209, during the persecution under the Emperor Septimius Severus.

The site of Alban’s martyrdom soon became a shrine. King Offa of Mercia established a monastery there about the year 793, and in the high Middle Ages St. Alban’s ranked as the premier Abbey in England. The great Norman abbey church, begun in 1077, now serves as the cathedral of the diocese of St. Alban’s, established in 1877. It is the second longest church in England (Winchester Cathedral is the longest, by six feet), and it is built on higher ground than any other English cathedral. In a chapel east of the choir and high Altar, there are remains of the fourteenth century marble shrine of St. Alban.

The Shrine of St. Alban. Photographer: Michael Reeve, 30 June 2004

The Venerable Bede gives this account of Alban’s trial: “When Alban was brought in, the judge happened to be standing before an altar, offering sacrifice to devils … ‘What is your family and race?’ demanded the judge. ‘How does my family concern you?’ replied Alban; ‘If you wish to know the truth about my religion, know that I am a Christian and am ready to do a Christian’s duty.’ ‘I demand to know your name,’ insisted the judge. ‘Tell me at once.’ ‘My parents named me Alban,’ he answered, ‘and I worship and adore the living and true God, who created all things.’ ”


I  Almighty God, by whose grace and power thy holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering and was faithful even unto death: Grant to us, who now remember him with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to thee in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  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.

Psalm  31:1–5


Wisdom 3:1–9

1 John 3:13–16

Matthew 10:34–42

Preface of a Saint (3)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


9 thoughts on “June 22: Alban, First Martyr of Britain, c. 304

  1. This commemoration is already included in the Calendar. The Hebrew Scripture reading is new.

  2. Bio: He needs a ‘Why he is important’ statement. And, he needs a ‘He died about 304’ statement.

    • Seems to me that “first British martyr” is a pretty clear statement of why he was important, and given the he probably DIDN’T die in 304, but almost a century earlier (and yet the death date on the right hand page is still 304), it seems odd to state that again as well …

  3. Except for the OT reading this is all from LLF. St. Alban has a firm place in Anglican calendars, ans there is no reason to change it.

  4. The date of Alban’s death is “much discussed,” but the weight of current scholarship puts Alban’s death in 209, while the Emperor Septimus Severus was campaigning in Caldonia. So the title — and any “he died about” statement — should read “c. 209.”
    The traditional date of 304 seems to come from Gildas’ misreading of the Latin for “the Emperor Severus” as “the severe emperor.” For early hagiographers, “the severe emperor” could only have been Diocletian. His persecutions of 303-313 were imagined as the most severe and the “tenth” and last (and so most poignant) of all the trails of the pre-Constantinian Church. As a result, all martyrs not firmly tied to some other specific date tended to slip into Diocletian’s reign of terror. During Diocletian’s persecutions, Britain was ruled by Constantius Chlorus (the father of Constantine), who seems to have had little taste for persecuting Christians.

  5. The revised date (c.209 CE) seems most likely and the bio should be revised to reflect that news (as per Lusk, cf. above).. That the death of Alban was substitutionary intrigues, Can this be woven into the Collect in some manner ? Is there any record as to the priest in question – did he escape ?

  6. The most recent studies seem to have re-opened the question of the date of his death. From Martin Biddle, ‘Alban (d. c.303?)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/272, accessed 23 June 2011]: ‘The Turin manuscript alone relates that the persecution took place in the time of the emperor Severus (r. 193–211), allowing John Morris to argue that the martyrdom took place in 209. Sharpe’s recognition that this statement is an addition to the original text and inconsistent with it has removed the basis of Morris’s suggestion. Gildas conjectured (ut concimus) that the martyrdom took place at the time of the great persecution under Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century, presumably relying on the words tempore persecutionis at the start of the short text quoted above, and Bede accepted this as a fact. It has been argued that there is no sign that Diocletian’s persecution had any impact in the western provinces, and that it is more likely that Alban suffered in one of the persecutions in the middle of the third century, under Decius (r. 249–51) or Valerian (r. 257–60). The mention of the city wall in the short text may however be decisive: the walls of Verulamium were not built until 260 at the earliest and probably rather later, in which case the traditional view that Alban was martyred under Diocletian, in the persecution that began in 303, is likely to be correct.’

    I think the part of Alban’s story that has the most impact is the fact that even as a brand new Christian his faith was strong enough to allow him to imitate Christ by dying in another’s place, and think Richard is right that the collect should reflect this in some way. I also think that the words ‘who now remember him in thanksgiving’ are redundant, since they follow immediately words that make our remembering obvious.

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