July 23 – St Alban’s Cathedral and Abbey Church


Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

This evening was another lovely warm evening and while driving around St Albans we found the perfect spot to take a photo of “our Cathedral”.

There was a monastery on the site founded in 793 by King Offa of Mercia.  It was a double house for both men and women and it followed the rule of St Benedict.

The first Norman abbot, Paul of Caen, was appointed in 1077 and immediately set about rebuilding the Abbey church in the Norman, or Romanesque style, starting with the great tower.  This Norman church was built from bricks and tiles taken from the ruined Roman town of Verulamium. It was completed in 1115 under Abbot Richard d’Albini.

St Alban’s Abbey became important due to its shrine of England’s first martyr, St Alban.  A second shrine was erected to St Amphibalus in the 12th-century after his bones were discovered in Redbourn.

The Abbey’s scriptorium was renowned for its manuscripts and writings.  St Albans Psalter is an example and is associated with Christina of Markyate who was a holy woman and prioress of a community of nuns at nearby Markyate.

Famous chroniclers who were monks here included Roger of Wendover, Matthew Paris and Thomas Walsingham: their writings are still valuable historical sources. Among the monks, we find theologians, philosophers and historians but also artists such as Walter of Colchester, poets, scientists and even a very early clockmaker, Abbot Richard of Wallingford.

Perhaps the most successful son of St Albans was Nicholas Breakspear, whose father was a tenant of the Abbey. Originally refused admittance as a monk at St Alban’s, in 1154 Nicholas became Pope Adrian IV – the only English pope. He is commemorated on the High Altar Screen.

In 1213 St Alban’s Abbey was the meeting place for a group of churchmen and nobles, displeased with the arbitrary taxation imposed by King John. Their discussions led to Magna Carta in 1215.

The Abbey was a self-contained community. The buildings included a great gateway, cloisters, a refectory, kitchens, storerooms and dormitories. The long stable block could house 200 horses. Before the Dissolution, the outside of the church was rendered with lime plaster to protect against weather damage as well as to disguise the mixture of building materials. The plaster was later removed.  Seen from afar, the Abbey church still dominates the skyline.

At its height, there were approximately 100 choir monks and it appears that the monastery remained vibrant and a significant place of learning until its closure in 1539.  It possessed one of the earliest printing presses in England.

Today the surviving buildings of the great medieval Abbey can be seen in the strong, sturdy gatehouse and the central core of the church, including its magnificent tower.

We went for a drive later in the day and found several caches not too far from St Albans including one beside the river Ver and one at a milestone giving mileage to London. It was a lovely evening to walk beside the river and we were not the only ones here.