JACOBS MILNESTEIN looks at the execution of Britain’s first Christian martyr, St Alban, which was literally an eye-popping event!
“I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things,” are the words that still ring out in prayer throughout St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire.
The same words were spoken by the former soldier, St Alban before he was cruelly decapitated by the Roman authorities, the rolling of his head followed shortly by a curse that left his executioner not only blind but completely eyeless!
Such was St Alban’s conviction of belief that his original executioner refused to carry out his orders and promptly followed the saint to his doom.
The second executioner, determined not to sway from his bloody duties, succeeded in decapitating both his own predecessor and the saint, only to have his eyes roll out of his skull and spattering in two fleshy smears upon the ground.
Yet what it was that St Alban died such a bloody death for, what was it that caused so much anger in the Roman governors – enough anger for them to make Alban the first saint to be martyred on British soil?
The story of the saint’s execution begins with an act of kindness, an attempt to shield a Christian priest from his persecutors. Through conversation and discussion, Alban, still a soldier in the Roman army, found himself slowly convinced of the priest’s faith.
“The second executioner … succeeded in decapitating both his own predecessor and the saint, only to have his eyes roll out of his skull and spattering in two fleshy smears upon the ground.”
He was baptised and converted shortly after and, in an attempt to throw off those who had been pursuing the priest, St Alban suggested that they swap cloaks.
Whether the priest was aware of exactly what it was that the newly converted Christian was suggesting is not documented, yet it cannot have gone unnoticed that, dressed in the cloak of a priest, Alban himself would be putting his life in danger.
What happened to St Alban?
We do not know the fate of the priest whom St Alban saved but we do know that the former soldier was captured shortly after they parted company. Wishing to make an example of him, the sentence was soon passed by the cruel Roman authorities.
Like St Nectan who was martyred after him, St Alban is oft depicted with his head held in his hands, a constant reminder of the price he paid to help a man he barely knew.
In what is perhaps an example of medieval humour, he is also depicted with a platter from which the disembodied eyes of his executioner stare penitently back.
JACOB MILNESTEIN writes stories. His most recent story, “lecteur de tarot” can be found here.