The Hunt for St Alban

David Garner investigates the work of an archaeological team in their hunt in St Albans.

It has been over a decade since the archaeologists Professor Martin Biddle and Magister Birthe Kjølbye- Biddle began their research into the history of the Romano-British martyr St Alban and the early churches built in his memory. Now it seems they have reached a turning point in their investigations. An excavation alongside one of the outer walls of the nave of St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire has revealed vital evidence about the location of the original shrine to Alban.

It had been thought, in line with a theory proposed by the scholar Wilhelm Levison in 1941, that the most likely location of Alban's grave would he under the nave of the present cathedral – but the current findings show otherwise. 'The early emphasis is to the south’, said Professor Biddle. 'There is no evidence to support the existence of a long sequence of early churches under the nave. The excavation of 1994 shows that the most likely site for the burial of St Alban and the earliest churches erected over his grave lies over the orchard field'. The location suggested by Professor Biddle is away from the present cathedral, down the sweeping hillside of the abbey orchard, closer to the Roman town of Vendamium.

Reputedly a citizen of Verulamium, Alban is said to have sheltered a Christian priest, Amphibalous, at a time of persecution, perhaps around AD 250, or even earlier. He was condemned to death for refusing to pay homage to the pagan gods. A cult grew up in the aftermath of the execution, and a shrine – where the sick sought healing – was functional by AD 429.

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