Martyrs Alban, Amphibalus, Aaron And Julius
Who received the crown of Martyrdom in Britain
martyrdom of St. Alban, the protomartyr of Britain, is variously
dated to the reigns of Septimius Severus, Decius, Valerian and
Diocletian. The balance of scholarly opinion ascribes it to
sometime in the third century.
Writing in the sixth century, St. Gildas the Wise writes: "By
God's own free gift, in the time of persecution, lest Britain
be totally plunged into the thick gloom of black night, He kindled
for us the brilliant lamps of the holy martyrs - I mean St.
Alban of Verulamium (today's St. Alban's), together with Aaron
and Julius, citizens of the City of the Legion (Caerleon in
"This Alban," writes the Venerable Bede in the eighth
century, who was as yet a pagan, received into his house a certain
priest fleeing from persecution at the time when the commands
of the heathen emperors were raging against the Christians.
Seeing that this man applied himself night and day to constant
prayer and vigils, and influenced by God's grace, he began to
imitate his example of faith and piety. Gradually he was taught
by the man's salutary encouragement, and relinquishing the darkness
of idolatry became a whole-hearted Christian. While the aforementioned
priest was being entertained in his house for some days, news
reached the ears of the impious prince that one of Christ's
confessors, for whom the role of martyr had not yet been assigned,
was lying low in the house of Alban. As a result he straight
away ordered soldiers to make a careful search for him. When
they came to the martyr's cottage, St Alban soon showed himself
to the soldiers in place of his guest and mentor, dressed in
the man's clothes, the hooded cloak that he wore, and was led
off to the judge in bonds. It happened that at the time Alban
was brought to him the judge was offering sacrifices to the
pagan gods at the altars. When he saw Alban, he became enflamed
with anger at the fact that Alban had ventured to offer himself
of his own free will to the soldiers in place of the guest he
had harbored, and thus to expose himself to danger . He ordered
him to be dragged to the images of the gods before which he
stood and said: "Since you preferred to conceal that profane
rebel rather than surrender him to the soldiers so that he might
pay the penalty he deserves for his blasphemy and contempt of
the gods, you will suffer the penalty for which he was due if
you attempt to reject the rites of our religion." But St
Alban, who had voluntarily given himself up to the persecutors
as a Christian, was not in the least afraid of the prince's
threats. Rather, being girded with the armor of spiritual warfare,
he openly declared he would not obey his commands. Then the
judge said: "Of what house and stock are you?"
Alban replied: "What business is it of yours of what lineage
I am born? If on the other hand you desire to hear the truth
of my religion, know that I am now a Christian and devote myself
to Christian service."
The judge said: "I seek your name, so tell me it without
The other replied: "The name given me by my parents is
Alban, and I revere and ever worship the true living God, Who
created all things."
Then, filled with anger, the judge said: you wish to enjoy the
blessings of a long life, do not refuse to offer sacrifice to
the great gods."
Alban replied: "These sacrifices which you offer to the
pagan gods can neither help their recipients nor fulfill the
wishes and desires of those praying. Rather, whoever offers
sacrifice to these images shall receive as his reward the eternal
punishment of Hell."
When the judge heard this, he was roused to great fury and ordered
the holy confessor of God to be beaten by the torturers in the
belief that since words had failed, he could weaken the constancy
of his heart with the lash. Though afflicted in most cruel torture,
Alban bore it with patience and even with joy for God's sake,
and when the judge realized that he could not be overcome by
torture or enticed from the rites of the Christian religion,
he ordered him to be beheaded.
As he was being led to his death, Alban came to a river which
separated the town from the place of his execution by its very
swift course. There he saw a large crowd of people, both men
and women of all ages and social class, who were clearly drawn
by divine impulse to follow the blessed confessor and martyr.
They filled the bridge over the river to such an extent that
they could scarcely all get over before nightfall. Indeed since
almost all had gone forth, the judge was left in the city without
So, St Alban, in whose mind was a burning desire to come quickly
to his martyrdom, approached the torrent, and raising his eyes
to heaven, he saw the bed of the river instantly dry up and
the water withdraw and make a path for his steps. When the executioner
himself saw this along with others, he hastened to meet Alban
when he came to the place appointed for his execution, doubtless
urged on in this by divine impulse. Casting away the sword he
held ready drawn, he threw himself at his feet and earnestly
desired that he himself be thought worthy of being executed
either with the martyr he was ordered to slay or in his place
. . .
So while he was turned from a persecutor into a companion in
the true faith, and while there was a very proper hesitation
among the other executioners in taking up the sword which lay
on the ground, the most reverend confessor ascended the hill
with the crowds. This hill lay about five hundred paces from
the arena, and, as was fitting, it was fair, shining and beautiful,
adorned, indeed clothed, on all sides with wild flowers of every
kind; nowhere was it steep or precipitous or sheer but Nature
had provided it with wide, long-sloping sides stretching smoothly
down to the level of the plain. In fact its natural beauty had
long fitted it as a place to be hallowed by the blood of a blessed
When he reached the top of the hill, St. Alban asked God to
give him water and at once a perpetual spring bubbled up, confined
within its channel and at his very feet, so that all could see
that even the stream rendered service to the martyr. For it
could not have happened that the martyr who had left no water
remaining the river would have desired it on the top of the
hill, if he had not realized that this was fitting. The river,
when it had fulfilled its duty and completed its pious service,
returned to its natural course, but it left behind a witness
of its ministry.
And so in this spot the valiant martyr was beheaded and received
the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.
But the man who set his unholy hands upon that pious neck was
not allowed to rejoice over the death: for his eves fell to
the ground along with the head of the blessed martyr.
Beheaded too at that time was the soldier who previously had
been impelled by the will of Heaven to refuse to strike the
holy confessor of God . . .
Then the judge, daunted by such great and unprecedented heavenly
miracles, soon ordered a halt to the persecution. He was beginning,
in fact, to pay honor to the slaughter of saints, through which
he previously believed he could force them to give up their
allegiance to the Christian faith.
The blessed Alban suffered on the 22nd of June near the city
of Verulamium. Here when peaceful Christian times returned,
a church of wonderful workmanship was built, a worthy memorial
of his martyrdom. To this day sick people are healed at this
place and the working of frequent miracles to bring it renown.
"About this time there also suffered Aaron and Julius,
citizens of Caerleon, and many others, both men and women, in
various places. They were racked by many kinds of torture and
their limbs were indescribably mangled but, when their sufferings
were over, their souls were carried to the joys of the Heavenly
In the fifth century, Saints Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of
Troyes prayed at the shrine of St. Alban, and through the influence
of St. Germanus several French churches and villages were named
after him. Nine ancient English churches were dedicated to him.
By tradition, the name of the priest whom St. Alban sheltered
is known to have been Amphibalus. He also received the crown
of martyrdom (although this is disputed), and it is claimed
that his relics were recovered at Redbourn in 1177. Churches
were dedicated to Saints Julius and Aaron in and near Caerleon.
As Robert Thornsberry writes, "the relics of holy Alban,
Amphibalus, and perhaps the soldier as well, were preserved.
A church, and later a cathedral, were built upon the site of
the martyrdom and burial. During the invasions of the pagan
Danes, they were removed for safekeeping. This later led to
a shameful altercation between the monks of St. Albans and Ely
that lasted for centuries.
After the conquest (of 1066), the Normans, in order to impress
the populace with their reverence for the island's saints, repaired
and rebuilt the cathedral. Early in the fourteenth century,
a new chapel and an elaborate shrine were constructed to house
the relics. In the sixteenth century, the impious hands of the
minions of Henry VIII destroyed the shrine during the dissolution
of the monasteries. I do not know what became of the relics.
Many years later, the shrine was laboriously pieced back together
from the approximately two thousand fragments into which it
had been smashed, and now stands in its former glory in the
Anglican cathedral of St. Alban's."