Alban, St. (man from Alba) (fourth century) In Christian legend, proto-martyr of England. Feast, 22 June. St. Bede records the life of the saint in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. When the persecution of the Christians in England was ordered by the emperor Diocletian, Alban, though a pagan, hid a Christian priest. For his crime he was condemned to death. He was first tortured and then led to the place of execution. On the way it was necessary to cross the river Coln. A great crowd had gathered, and the bridge was too narrow for the many people to pass. When St. Alban “drew near the stream,” it “was immediately dried up, and he perceived that the water had departed and made way for him to pass,” according to Bede’s account. When they reached the hill of execution, Alban prayed for water to quench his thirst. A spring suddenly gushed out at his feet. Finally, the saint was beheaded, and the executioner’s eyes “dropped to the ground together with the blessed martyr’s head.” St. Alban’s burial place was forgotten and then rediscovered by King Offic in 793 after the king had seen in a vision where the remains of the saint could be found. A church was built over the spot, and nearby the great Benedictine monastery and the town of St. Alban’s in Hertfordshire, England, were built. The saint is variously portrayed: as a warrior with a cross and sword, crowned with a laurel, with a peer’s coronet and cross, with his head cut off, with his head in a holly bush, spreading his cloak with the sun above, and in a scene with the executioner’s eyes dropping out. He is often depicted as carrying his head in his hands, a conventional symbol adopted by artists to show that the martyr had been beheaded.
Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow
Copyright © 2009 by Anthony S. Mercatante