The Coming of Christianity to Britain; St. Alban, British Protomartyr

English Language Study for Russian Orthodox Learners

The Coming of Christianity to Britain
St. Alban, British Protomartyr (✝304)

... if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord
and believe in your heart that God raised Him from
the dead, you will be saved. - Romans, 10:9

Greater love has no man that this, that a man lay
down his life for his friends. - John, 15:13

Saint AlbanBritain was a part of the expansive Roman Empire from 43 A.D. until the beginning of the fifth century.  The native inhabitants worshipped numerous deities whose cults often required violent rituals.  After the conquest, the Britons replaced their idols with Roman gods.  The earliest knowledge of the Saviour came to the island in the first century from traders, merchants and artisans of the continent.  The Britons were drawn to the unusual teaching of everlasting love and forgiveness.  St. Bede, the most respected historian of the English church, states in his writings that in 156 A.D. British king Lucius received holy baptism.  A number of people followed the king’s example and worshipped Christ openly.*

At the beginning of the fourth century, when Emperor Diocletian started savagely persecuting Christians, Britain became a refuge for many converts fleeing from Rome.  Interacting with Christians and learning about their religion, more natives accepted the holy faith.  Churches were built and bishops were appointed to large cities like York and London.  Although British Christians did not suffer as intensely as their brothers and sisters on the continent, they did not escape persecution completely.  Britain also “attained to the great glory of bearing faithful witness to God.”**

One of the first British martyrs was a young man named Alban.  Not much is known about the life of St. Alban before his martyrdom, apart from the fact that he was a pagan and lived in the town of Verulamium.  In his house Alban gave shelter to a Christian priest who fled the prosecution.  The priest spent day and night in prayer.  Observing the holy man’s example of devotion, Alban learned about salvation and whole-heartedly accepted Christ.  

Roman soldiers soon discovered where the priest was hiding and came to arrest him.  Alban put on the cleric’s garment and gave himself up in place of his teacher.  He was dragged to the judge and beaten.  After St. Alban confessed himself a Christian and refused to renounce his faith, the judge sentenced him to death by decapitation.  

The place of execution was on a hill across a river.  As the executioners led the saint martyr to his death, the waters of the river parted giving Alban a dry path to cross.     

When St. Alban reached the summit of the hill, a fountain of sparkling water sprung at his feet.  There, on a green hill covered with flowers, the first martyr of Britain met his death.  God’s will was such that not one but two British saints entered the kingdom of heaven on that day.  The appointed executioner, seeing the miracles, threw his sword on the ground and begged to be martyred for Christ too.  He was replaced by another soldier and killed immediately after Alban.   

The town of Verulamium was later renamed St. Albans.  A cathedral now stands on the place of the martyrs’ execution.  St. Alban’s final words to his accusers – “I worship and adore the true and living God Who created all things” – are still part of daily prayer at St. Albans Abbey.

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* According to St. Bede’s writings, Britain is the first nation to officially allow Christian worship.
** Colgrave, Bertram and R.A.B. Mynors, eds., Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 29.

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