20 miles north of London, its not a town one thinks too much about or of. Satellite, suburban, commuterville, dullsburg, half hour from the City,regular trains. The eyes glaze over, a yawn is stifled. But think on. It has a medieval cathedral which means history, tradition, identity, character, place, the very soul of Brexit.
I was there on Friday for my now annual lunch with my ex university room mate, now successful potter Marshall Colman. But before lunch ,the cathedral.
I talk to a lady putting out flowers. These are a bit special as tomorrow was to be The Alban Pilgrimage. Here ten fifteen feet high puppets are paraded through the town, 300 children dress up as Roman soldiers or roses. To celebrate Britain’s first martyr.(see link)
This is how it is told. Alban was a Roman soldier. He was sent to arrest a Christian priest,Amphibalus. Instead he hid him. The magistrate sentenced him to be executed. On the way to death row the river dried up which made the first executioner refuse.
The second did the foul deed and for his sin, his eyes fell out. Oh yes, this is the way with martyrs and miracles.Some have dared suggest the whole story is made up. Oh ye of little faith.
Anyway the bones of Alban attracted pilgrims and money to the cathedral. When other cathedrals started to compete,they found the remains of Amphilabus. That meant pilgrims at St Albans got two relics for the price of one. Value indeed. While I was there a handful were on their knees by Alban’s tomb but an attendant told me “we don’t get as many pilgrims as in the middle ages.” Well, must be everyone is watching tv or on the phone.
The new age has put up some awful statues to other martyrs. Alban Roe caught my jaundiced eye. Sent in 1607 to convert an imprisoned Catholic to the reformed no hocus pocus church. He himself was turned. Eventually becoming a monk and dedicated to converting England back to the scarlet faith. The Puritans put up with this for so long and he was and out of prison, until even a suspended execution couldn’t stop him trying to get good folk to mumble in Latin. He was executed in in 1642. On the scaffold he was cool enough to crack jokes. The crowd surged forward to dip their handkerchiefs in his martyrs blood. He was made a saint in 1970.
The day I was at this Anglican cathedral they celebrated Catholic Mass at 12.00. Even 100 years ago a momentous event, now as dull as men marrying each other and having families.
I asked my taxi driver what he thought of Saturday’s pilgrimage event. The Asian fellow said “Its an absolute disaster, the town closes down, you can wait hours for a job. Lots of drivers don’t bother to come in.”