Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Alban

June 17; A.D. 283

St. Alban is called the Proto-Martyr, that is, the chief or most notable martyr, of England. He might also be called pro-martyr, because he suffered in the place of some one else—a glorious fate! By his death he saved the life of another; he died for his friend. He was also the first of our English "army of martyrs." Let me tell you the story.

At the time of St. Alban's birth, and for nearly two hundred years afterwards, Britain was governed by the Romans. It was regarded as one of the many Roman provinces of the time. For the Romans conquered lands far and near, and were the most powerful people in Europe for several hundred years.

It was on the banks of the river Ver—called now the Ware—that Alban lived. The town was called Verulam; it bears in these days the name of the noble saint who suffered there, and the cathedral, St. Alban's, stands on the spot where he was martyred.

The young Alban was the heir of a very rich Roman house, and he was sent to Rome to be educated. When he came back to live at his British home, he found his chief pleasure in holding open house; strangers of every sort were welcomed at his table. In his kindness of heart he loved above all things to make others happy, and so it came about that he entertained one day the stranger who became to him the angel received and welcomed "unawares."

The Diocletian persecution, under which the brave St. George and so many other Christians in Rome suffered, spread even to Britain, as a province of the empire, and the believers in CHRIST and their teachers were hunted out everywhere. One day a poor Christian Priest of Wales came flying from before his persecutors; he found refuge in the home of the rich and kind Alban, who, though not yet a Christian, was always ready to help those in trouble. For many days the Priest lay hidden there. His young host meanwhile noticed that he used to spend much time alone in prayer, and was of singular gentleness and piety. He asked the Priest to explain to him his way of worship. Rejoiced at this chance of winning the good young Roman to CHRIST, the Priest spoke of the SON of GOD, of GOD made Man, of the birth of the Saviour. But he also warned Alban of the danger he would be in if he openly followed CHRIST. "These are cruel days for the Christians," he said, "if you believe and are baptized, you may ere long be called upon to die for your faith."

That night the young man had a strange dream. When he rose in the morning, he went at once to his guest, and said, "If what thou sayest is true, tell me the meaning of this my dream. I saw a man come down from heaven; but, behold, he was at once seized by a rude crowd of soldiers, who bound him with cords, and smote him with rods.

Then they nailed him to a tree, and pierced his side, till there flowed forth blood and water."

It was the story of the Crucifixion. After a few more days of converse with the Christian teacher, St. Alban was baptized. Then there came to the place soldiers in search of the Priest. When St. Alban found them in his house, ready to pounce upon the hiding-place of his guest, he insisted upon changing clothes with him. The Priest resisted at first.

"Why do you do this?" he cried. I am found—my time is come—let me give myself up.

"No!" was the reply; "stay where thou art. Quick, give me thy cloak! Ah, here they are upon us!"

St. Alban went boldly to meet the searchers, wrapped in the teacher's mantle. He was taken and dragged before the judge.

"Of what family and race are you?" was the stern demand.

"I am a Christian," answered St. Alban, firmly.

They tried to induce him to give up his faith and sacrifice to the Roman gods. The noble-hearted young man refused coldly and proudly. He was laid upon the rack and cruelly tortured. All of no use. Alban had declared himself a Christian—nothing could shake him now.

So he was led out to die. The place of execution was beyond the river. The bridge over the stream was filled with eager, and, no doubt, in many cases, grieved lookers-on, for the young man was beloved by all who knew him and his kindness. There was no room for him and his guard to pass, so he was led through the cold stream; but the legend tells us the waters parted as he stepped in, and that he went through on dry ground. It is likely that GOD had directed the steps of the soldiers to a part of the river which was much less deep than people thought, and so, instead of being up to his neck in water, his feet only were covered. Then he was led across the hill, on to the other side of the stream, to the place set apart for the death-blow. But the soldier whose place it was to strike, was so touched by the noble firmness of the martyr, that he shrank from his duty, and finally refused to deal the blow. He was urged to do the work given him. Nothing could move him to obey. So they said he, too, must die, and the soldier and the saint were beheaded together.

"One presses on and welcomes death,

One calmly yields his willing breath,

Nor slow nor hurrying, but in faith

Content to live or die"

Christian Year