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Alban:  Britain’s First Christian Martyr

Alban:  Britain’s First Christian Martyr

Readings for the feast day of St. Alban, June 22, 2018:


Psalm 31:1-5

Wisdom 3:1-9

1 John 3:13-16

Matthew 10:34-42


I’m guessing that from the photo of the statue I provided with my reflection today, you have already discerned St. Alban’s ultimate fate.  Not only is his story one of the power of personal conversion to Christianity, it’s a timely one in light of recent events of the news.


Alban was a Roman soldier (popular legend says he was a native Briton who had joined the occupying army), and, as best we know, was a pagan. Yet a chance encounter with a Christian priest freeing Roman persecution changed everything.  The most legendary accounts of Alban came from the Venerable Bede’s work An Ecclesiastical History of the English People (you may recall I featured Bede in Speaking to the Soul a few weeks ago.)


According to Bede, for reasons that still remain a mystery, Alban sheltered the fugitive priest for several days.  Alban was so struck by his faithfulness and piety–not only did he find himself emulating the priest, he wanted his own slice of it–and converted to Christianity.


As you might imagine, though, people talk…and eventually word of Alban’s guest got to the ears of the Roman authorities in Roman-occupied Britain.  When the Roman governor sent soldiers to search Alban’s house, Alban exchanged clothes with the priest, allowing him to escape, and Alban was arrested.


He was brought before the judge, and he probably could have gotten off easy (well…easy in the Roman sense of the word) had he merely recanted and worshiped the Roman gods.  Alban would have none of it. His reply to the court was, “I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things.” This enraged the judge, who ordered him scourged, thinking a good scourging would help him see that recanting might be in his best interests–but it did not shake his faith.  When the judge realized that torture would not budge Alban’s faith a bit, he ordered him beheaded.


It feels important to recognize that Alban’s “crime” was that he was a man well versed in the law of the land, yet he recognized that this Christian witness was that of not only welcoming the stranger fleeing persecution, but to protect that stranger.  Alban was called to obey a bigger law–the law of Christ’s love for our neighbor.


Although much of what we are left to sift through with Alban’s story is filled with fanciful lore, and we can all debate the details of how much of it is historical fact, and how much is hagiologic fancy, one thing comes through loud and clear–part of our Christian witness is to protect those outside the margins, even at risk to ourselves.


Alban was willing to pay that price with his life–are we willing to, at least, pay a similar price with our reputations?

(photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as Interim Pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.


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