On Saturday 24th September, 32 people from the Parish of St Alban visited the shrine of our patron saint at St Alban’s Cathedral in Hertfordshire. The Cathedral is truly magnificent, and contains outstanding examples of medieval woodwork, decorations and sculptures. It is the oldest continuous site of Christian worship in Great Britain. Though it has had a chequered history, which is clearly visible in its different architectural styles, repairs and additions, the dedication of its clergy and parishioners during the past 200 years has ensured that much has been rescued and restored. The original 14th century shrine of St Alban was demolished during the Reformation but, miraculously, in 1872 the pieces were found to have survived, having been used to help block up the arches that separated the shrine from the Lady Chapel, which had become a School following the dissolution of the Abbey. The 2000 pieces of the shrine were painstakingly restored, and in 2002 St Pantaleon Church in Cologne gifted the Cathedral with a shoulder bone relic of St Alban to be placed in the shrine. The wooden Watching Loft, a medieval version of CCTV, that allowed the monks to keep a very close watch on pilgrims visiting the shrine, remarkably survived the Reformation, and is thought to be the only one still in existence in the UK.
We were privileged to be able to celebrate Mass at the High Altar. Its backscreen is utterly breathtaking. Having been restored at the end of the 19th century it contains sculptures of Christ, the saints and notable people from British Christianity, including Nicholas Breakespeare, the only Englishman to be made Pope, who was a pupil at St Alban’s School.
Though the Cathedral belongs to the Church of England, a deliberate decision was made to open this beautiful and historic church to those of all denominations. The Cathedral are rightly proud of their ecumenical stance which sees Christian worshippers from traditions such as Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, German Lutheran and Methodist regularly meet inside its walls for services and to celebrate the Sacraments. Our parish pilgrimage ended with many of us choosing to join our Anglican brothers and sisters for an uplifting and beautifully sung Evensong. St Alban, as the first British saint, was a saint for an undivided church and within the walls of his Cathedral, it was humbling for those of differing Communions to be able to worship together.