July 22 – A visit to St Michael’s Church St Albans

Roman Mosaics at Verulamium Museum

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Today we had a short day at the cathedral and so we decided to drive up to the Verulamium Museum through the park. We have stopped walking to the cathedral at the weekend as it is so hot and we feel very uncomfortable by the time we walk there. There is parking at the school and we are able to park there at the weekend.

Many people had told us about the museum and last night we found the cache at St Michael’s church so we wanted to visit it during the day as well. St Michael’s church is lovely and features a Charles II royal coat of arms from 1558 made in wood. There is a late 16th-century hourglass pulpit with a tester above which acts as a loudspeaker for the minister’s voice. The hourglass eludes to the thin stand for the pulpit but also on the wall beside the pulpit is a real hourglass which was used to time a minister’s sermons and to stop them from preaching too long. We have seen the stand for these in a few other churches but this is one of the few times that we have seen one intact. There was also a late 16th-century chair all of which were made from carved wood. There were three monumental brasses, one depicting a civilian from 1380, another a knight in armour from about 1400 and the other a 14th-century brass to John Pecock and his wife. One of the monumental brasses is under perspex in front of the altar.

According to the 13th-century chronicler Matthew Paris, in AD 948 Abbot Wulsin (or Ulsinus) of St Alban’s Abbey founded a church on each of the three main roads into the town of St Albans, namely St Michael’s, St Peter’s and St Stephen’s, to serve pilgrims coming to venerate the Abbey’s shrine of Saint Alban. Although there may have been a simple church on the site as early as 880 AD a stone church was built with a chancel and a nave. It was built from Roman bricks taken from the ruins of Verulamium nearby. The north and south aisles were added later. In the mid-1890’s Edmund Beckett, 1st Baron Grimthorpe, remodelled the church to his own designs and at his own expense as he did with St Albans Cathedral.

St Michaels has many wonderful stained glass windows from a variety of artists and in some of the window recesses, there were wall paintings. There is a 15th-century Doom painting on wood attached to the wall with a Doom scene embroidered on sacking below it. There is also a significant 17th-century monument to Francis Bacon, Viscount St Alban, who died in 1626. The monument is a life-sized sculpture of Bacon seated in a relaxed pose in an armchair. The name of the sculptor is unknown, but it may have been Nicholas Stone.

Next, we went to visit the Verulamium Museum which had some wonderfully intricate large-scale and mostly complete Roman mosaics which were found in the ruins of the Roman city nearby. They are rather stunning made of quite small pieces less than 1 cm across. There are also displays of pottery and implements including some used by doctors and embalmers from Roman times. Several of the displays depict life in Roman homes and workplaces. One of the really cool things is the Sandridge Hoard, a collection of 159 Roman gold coins which were found in 2012 just north of St Albans. A lovely museum with lots to see and learn about.