Saint Alban, first martyr of England

Ecclesiasticus 48:1-15; Psalm 96(97):1-7; Matthew 6:7-15

St Alban was the first British martyr. Almost nothing about him is known for certain – even the date of his martyrdom is unknown, and historians’ estimates vary between 209 and 314 A.D. (more recent historical research suggests the mid-3rd century).
  Alban was a Roman who lived in Verulamium and sheltered a fleeing Christian during a persecution. He was converted, and was executed. Whether the persecution was that of the emperor Diocletian or the emperor Decius – whether Alban pretended to be the fleeing Christian, and so died – whether any of the miraculous circumstances of his martyrdom actually happened – all this is, by now, known only to God.
  This does not mean that St Alban did not exist. His cult was already well established by the year 429, and on the hill where tradition said he was martyred, a great abbey grew up which eventually gave its name to the town. Such cults do not appear from nowhere; and the local people conserved in their tradition only what they needed to know – that there had been a martyr there. The fact that legends grew up around him is nothing unusual for the time, and does not cast any doubt on his existence, any more than the legends that gathered round Alexander the Great (who, as “Iskender,” became the hero of many oriental myths that had existed long before his birth) cast any doubt on his existence.
  Scholarship has not dealt so kindly with the supposed companion of St Alban, St Amphibalus, who was at one time commemorated on 25th June. The trouble is that his name (derived from the Greek “amphibalos,” a thing thrown around something) means a cloak, and a cloak figures strongly in the later embroideries of St Alban’s story. St Amphibalus has not, therefore, been in the calendar for many centuries now. Science is not immune from this embarrassing phenomenon. In 1992, a letter to the prestigious science magazine “Nature” revealed the unusual biography of a biochemist named Chir, who had papers credited to him and appeared in all the right citation indexes. There turned out to have been a paper published in the 1960s, by [I am inventing the other names] K.J. Smith, M.Chir, and F. Williamson, Ph.D. Unfortunately, M.Chir is simply the abbreviation of the degree “Master of Surgery,” and so the second author of this paper turns out to be just a degree held by the first author!
  All we know about Alban is all we need to know: that he was faced unexpectedly with a simple, straightforward decision, and he made the right choice. Easy, we think – obvious what to do – lucky man... except that when we envy him his opportunity, we would do well to remember that it was his entire life and character that were summed up in that single split-second decision. His life (of which we otherwise know nothing) made him the sort of man he was. We may imagine that we would do as he did, given the same chance, but given how idiotically most of us behave when taken by surprise, we may well be wrong. When we pray to be given, like St Alban, a simple opportunity to show what we are made of, we should perhaps add a second prayer – that the first prayer should not be answered.
Posted in Daily Reflection.