June 17 – The Nave screen of St Albans Cathedral and Abbey Chruch

Susan and Peter return from their Holiday and a Short Day at the Exhibition

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

I woke up just as the front door closed as Rachael left to get back to her work gilding. We didn’t have to be at the cathedral until 12.30 so we did several loads of washing and some housework so that things are spick and span for when Susan and Peter arrive later tonight.

We had a busy time at the exhibition with lots of people visiting after the morning service. We spent a couple of busy hours talking. Just after two, a lady arrived to say that at 2.30 there was a service for the lay preachers of the cathedral and that a drinks reception was being held in the North Transept. Unfortunately, no one had told us but it didn’t matter we wandered home again and spent a nice afternoon and evening at home.

Susan and Peter arrived home from Cologne and Vienna and we spent a lovely evening hearing about their travels.

Seven Martyrs Nave Screen

One of the very special things about Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban is the Seven Martyrs Nave Screen. The seven martyrs were placed on the screen in April 2015. From left to right they are Oscar Romero 1980, Alban Roe 1642, Amphibalus c.300, Alban c.300, George Tankerfield 1555, Elisabeth Romanova 1918, Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1945. They were blessed and dedicated by The Lord Bishop of London on 18 October 2015. They celebrate the 900th anniversary of the dedication of the Norman Abbey.

The sculptor was Rory Young and he has been creating them in his Cirencester workshop for over five years. Four of the saints are local to St Alban’s –  St Alban and St Amphibalus are the original saints of this church. Alban Roe and George Tankerfield remind us that the Reformation disputes inspired great heroism and great cruelty. St Elisabeth Romanova, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Blessed Oscar Romero are all martyrs of the modern period and represent the ecumenical congregations who worship in the Cathedral. St Elisabeth was a Russian Orthodox, Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran and Oscar Romero a Roman Catholic.

Alban (circa 300) Britain’s First Christian Saint and Martyr

Alban was a citizen of the Roman town of Verulamium at a time when Christianity was punishable by death. Amphibalus, a Christian priest, entered the town seeking refuge which he found with Alban. Alban was convinced by the priest’s teaching and example of prayer to become a Christian. Amphibalus feared capture and Alban helped him by disguising him in his own clothes. When the deception was discovered Alban was brought before the magistrate who demanded Alban renounce his Christian faith. Alban refused to make a sacrifice to the Roa=man gods so he was sentenced to death. He was led out of town and up the hill to the site where this church now stands. Later traditions of Alban tells of many miracles on this journey; of the parting of the river Ver, of roses bursting into flower in the hedgerows as Alban passed, and springs of water gushing from the earth. The first executioner was so impressed by Alban’s courage that he refused to behead him. Legend says that the eyes of the executioner who eventually wielded the sword then fell from his sockets at the sight of such an awful deed. The place of Alban’s burial began to attract pilgrims. Ever since his death, countless numbers have come here to worship God and to remember the life and witness of Alban. His shrine was destroyed at the Reformation but in the 19th century its shattered fragments were rediscovered and pieced together again. In 2002 a relic of St Alban was placed within the shrine. St Alban’s Day is celebrated on 22 June.

Amphibalus (circa 300) Christian Priest and Evangelist

Amphibalus is remembered as the priest who converted Alban to the Christian faith. Tradition tells us that Anphibalus was a hero in his own right for though he escaped safely from Verulamium with Alban’s help, he was later captured and also martyred. The name Amphibalus was given to him later and may have been a reference to his travelling cloak that an itinerant evangelist might have worn. Christianity was outlawed at the time and punishable by death. The early historian Geoffrey of Monmouth suggested Amphibalus was born in Caerleon in Wales and that he went there after Alban helped him to escape. After a time of successful preaching and teaching Amphibalus was eventually captured and returned to Verulamium where he was gruesomely executed. His entrails were tied to a pillar which he was forced to walk around slowly pulling them out until he expired. He is remembered on 21st June.

George Tankerfield (1528 – 1555) Protestant Baker

In the first half of the 16th century, the authorities in England held several different sets of beliefs. When Mary I came to the throne in 1553 she worked to re-establish Catholicism in England. During the previous reign, Protestantism had taken a substantial hold, especially in London and the South-East. The response of Mary’s authorities was swift and potent, many hundreds of Protestants were executed. In August 1555 George Tankerfield was burnt at the stake just beyond the West End of St Albans Abbey. Tankerfield may have been executed in St Albans because London’s Protestant sympathies had already been roused by large numbers of executions there. Alternatively, it may have been that St Albans had a number of Protestants and Tankerfield was burnt here as a warning to the townsfolk. The English Martyrs of the Reformation are commemorated in the Anglican calendar on 4th May.

Alban Roe (1583 – 1642) Roman Catholic Benedictine Priest

Bartholomew Roe was born in 1583 and brought up as a Protestant but converted to Catholicism after visiting a prisoner in the Abbey Gatehouse gaol in St Albans. He had intended to convert the prisoner to Protestantism –  but the prisoner was persuasive and he himself underwent a conversion to Catholicism. He joined the English Benedictine Community of St Lawrence at Dieulouard in Lorraine. He was ordained in 1615 and became a founder member of the new English Benedictine Community at St Edmund in Paris, his religious name was Fr. Alban of St Edmund. Between 1615 and 1623 he was arrested and banished several times. In 1625 he was arrested for the last time and imprisoned in the St Albans gaol. He was moved to London where he lived on for 17 years. Conditions in the Fleet Prison were relaxed and he was able to minister to souls during the day provided he was back in his cell at night. He played cards in alehouses but the stakes were not monetary but short prayers. Alban Roe and Thomas Reynolds, another English martyr we hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 21 January 1643. He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales and he is celebrated on January 21, the day of his martyrdom.

Elisabeth Romanova (1864 – 1918) Russian Orthodox Grand Duchess and Abbess

Elisabeth Romanova was born Elisabeth of Hesse and Rhine and was a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria. She was raised in very n=modest surroundings. She had a Lutheran upbringing but converted to Orthodoxy in 1884, a decade after her marriage to Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, the son of Tsar Alexander II. She was a zealous convert and a devoted wife but the assassination of her husband in late 1894 shocked her. She retreated from public life and began an ascetic existence, selling her clothes and jewels – not even her wedding ring was kept. She used her personal wealth to create a new religious order called the “Sisters of Love and Mercy”  In 1909 they founded the Convent of Martha and Mary which included a refuge, pharmacy and hospital which served orphans and widows. When the Bolsheviks seized power in the revolution of 1917, they sought to destroy the Russian establishment especially the monarchy and the church. The convent was left unmolested by the Revolution but in May 1918 Elisabeth was imprisoned. In July the Russian Royal family were murdered and as a member of that family, she was killed the following day. She was thrown with others into a mine-shaft, followed by grenades and the shaft was then set on fire. She was canonised in 1981 and her feast day is celebrated on 5th July.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945) Lutheran Theologian, Pastor and Resistance Leader

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a remarkable man who became the leading light in the German Lutheran Confessing Church that was the centre of the Protestant resistance to the Nazis.vFrom his time in London and New York he became convinced of the need for all Christians to unite in opposition to Hitler and he became actively involved in the ecumenical movement. He was also one of the founders of the Confessing Church, an evangelical offshoot of Lutheranism, which opposed the Nazis and helped many Jews to escape from Germany. The Gestapo banned him from ministering or preaching but he continued to help the ung=derground resistance operations. This was discovered and he was caught and imprisoned in 1943 before being moved to the Flossenberg death camp. Bonhoeffer continued his theological writings which were later published as his “Letters and Papers from Prison”. Bonhoeffer was taken out one morning, stripped naked and then hanged, only two weeks before the camp was liberated. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is remembered on 9th April, the day he was executed.

Oscar Romero (1917 – 1980) Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador

Oscar Romero was made Archbishop in 1977 and he begged for international intervention – even going to the Pope himself. Despite evidence of torture, murder and kidnappings there was no effective response. Romero was murdered while saying mass by gunmen associated with the ruling government of El Salvador. His coffin, on display in San Salvador Cathedral, was visited by over a million people, of which at least forty, were killed for doing so. A number of people attending the funeral were shot on the steps of the Cathedral itself. A canonisation process is underway and he was beatified on 23 May 2015 by Pope Francis. The Church of England remembers him on the anniversary of his death on 24th March.