| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
THE STORY OF ST. ALBAN
 THE first Christian martyr in Britain was called Alban. He
lived in the town called Verulamium. He was a Briton, but he
was one of those who had learned many things from the
Romans. When he was a boy he had even travelled to Rome, and
had seen the beautiful city from which these conquerors took
their name. And all that he had seen and learned had helped
him to grow up a noble, generous man.
Alban had a great deal of money, and with it he used to help
the poor people who lived around him. Every one loved and
trusted him. Even the Christians loved and trusted him
although he was a heathen. If any one was in trouble he
would go for help to Alban the great, rich, kind man.
When the wicked Roman Emperor sent men to kill the
Christians in Britain, a holy man called Amphibalus, who
also lived in Verulamium, fled to the house of Alban for
"My lord," said this old man, "the soldiers of the emperor
seek me to take my life. Hide me, and God will reward you."
"What evil have you done?" asked Alban.
"I have done no evil," replied Amphibalus. "I am a
Christian, that is all."
"Then fear nothing," said Alban kindly. "I have heard much
of the Christians, but nothing that is bad."
 Then Alban took Amphibalus into his house and hid him. He
seemed quite safe there, as the soldiers did not think of
looking for him in the house of a man who was a heathen.
Alban talked every day with Amphibalus, who told him all the
story of Christ. It seemed to Alban very beautiful and
wonderful that any one should die to save others. He felt
that this religion of love and gentleness was much better
than the fierce teaching of the Druids.
For some days Amphibalus lived in peace. But one day while
he sat talking with Alban, a frightened servant came to say
that soldiers were at the gate. They had found out where
Amphibalus was hiding.
"My son," said the old man trembling, "I must say farewell,
for I am about to die."
"No," replied Alban, "I will save you yet. Give me your
Then hastily taking off his own beautiful robe he threw it
over the old man's shoulders, and thrust a purse of gold
into his hand. "God," he said, "go quickly; my servant will
take you by secret ways. I will keep the soldiers from
pursuing you. But bless me, father, before you go."
Alban knelt, and Amphibalus gently laid his hand upon the
"May God the Father reward you, and may the Holy Spirit lead
you in the true way of Christ. Farewell, my son." Then he
made the sign of the cross over him, and was gone.
Alban wrapped himself in the robe which Amphibalus had taken
off and, drawing the hood over his head, waited.
The soldiers, having at last forced a way into the house,
rushed in upon him. Seeing a man in the robe of a priest,
 they seized and bound him, never doubting that it was
Amphibalus the Christian.
Alban was then led before the Roman Governor. There his
hands were unbound, and he threw off his long robe. Great
was the astonishment of the soldiers when they discovered
that their prisoner was not the Christian priest for whom
they had been seeking, but the heathen lord, Alban.
The Governor happened to be offering up sacrificed to idols,
when Alban was led before him. He was very angry with the
soldiers for allowing Amphibalus to escape, and still more
angry with Alban for helping him to do so.
"Who are you, and how dare you hide wicked and rebellious
people in your house?" he asked. "You must tell me where
this Christian is hiding, and offer sacrifices to the gods
to show that you are sorry for what you have done."
"I can do neither of these things," replied Alban.
"Who are you, that you dare to defy me?" demanded the
"What does it matter to you who I am?" replied Alban.
"I asked for your name," repeated the Governor in furious
anger. "Tell it to me at once."
"My parents called me Alban," he then replied.
"Then, Alban, if you would have the gods forgive you, you
must offer sacrifices to them, and repent of your wicked
words and deeds."
"I cannot," replied Alban. "I no longer believe in these old
gods. They teach men to be cruel and wicked. I shall never
sacrifice to them again. Amphibalus is a good and gentle old
man. He has never hurt nor wronged any one, yet these gods
tell you to torture and kill him. I will not believe in them
any more. I would
 rather believe in the God of Amphibalus,
who teaches people to love one another."
Then the Governor cried out, "This man is too wicked to
live. Take him and put him to death."
The soldiers led Alban away, and it soon became known all
over the town that Alban, who was good and kind and loved by
every one, was to be put to death. So a great crowd followed
him as he was led across the river and up the grassy slope
to the top of a hill. Indeed so many people followed that no
one was left in the town, except the wicked Governor.
Perhaps when he was alone in the terrible silence of the
empty streets, he felt sorry for what he had done. But it
was too late. Alban had gone to death, and there was not one
person remaining in the town whom the Governor could send
after him to bring him back.
With tears and sobs the people followed and pressed round
Alban. Every one was eager to show his love for him, and to
say a last good-by.
When they came to the little bridge over the river, the
crowd was so great that it was impossible for Alban to pass.
So the soldiers, impatient and angry, said he must walk
through the water. Then, we are told, a wonderful thing
happened. The water of the river dried up, and Alban passed
over on dry land.
On they went up the hillside. It was a beautiful green,
grassy slope where the children used to play in the summer
sunshine. Sweet-scented wild-flowers made it gay with their
bright colors. Pretty butterflies fluttered about, and the
air was full of the hum of bees and the song of birds.
On the top of the hill Alban knelt down, feeling tired and
thirsty. Just at that moment there seemed to spring from the
ground a clear stream of water which no one
 had noticed
before. Alban bent down, drank from it and felt refreshed.
A tall soldier had been walking beside Alban, carrying a
great sword with which to cut off his head. But when he saw
how gentle and good Alban was and how the people loved him,
he began to feel sorry for what he had to do.
As Alban knelt upon the grass the soldier threw down his
sword, crying out, "This is a holy man. I cannot kill him."
The captain of the soldiers was very angry at this. "Take up
your sword," he said, "and do your duty."
"I cannot," replied the man, "I would rather die."
"Then you shall die," replied the captain. And drawing his
own sword, with one blow he cut off Alban's head and with a
second the head of the soldier. At the same moment, we are
told, the captain lost his sight and remained blind for the
rest of his life.
This is the story of how the first martyr in Britain died.
He was brave, and wise, and kind and, like Christ, he gave
his life for others.
After his death Alban was called St. Alban, and the name of
the town in which he had lived was changed from Verulamium
to St. Albans. The sorrowing people built a church on the
spot where he died and, when it became so old that it fell
into ruins, a still more beautiful one was built. That
church remains to this day, and people still worship God on
the very spot where the first Christian martyr in Britain
Although we need not believe the wonderful stories of what
happened at St. Alban's death, it is interesting to know
that there is still a spring called Holywell at St. Albans,
and that the hill up which the people followed the saint is
still called Holywell Hill.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics