St Albans Cross
St Albans Cross
In St Albans, southern England, a monument to Queen Eleanor was erected in the Market Place in the late 13th century, and remained there until the early 18th century. This was one of twelve Eleanor Crosses, no trace of which exists today.
The present St Albans Cross is the name of the city's emblem. It appears on various logos of city associations as well as flags occasionally flown from public buildings and St Albans Cathedral.
The symbol is a diagonal yellow cross on a blue background that bears a strong resemblance to the St. Andrew's cross on the flag of Scotland. According to tradition, the cross is diagonal because Alban was beheaded and not crucified.
The geographically ignorant might be excused for referring to people from St Albans as Albanian, Albino or even AllBran, but no forgiveness is granted to anyone using a dot and an apostrophe to make the name St. Alban's. Any grammatical correctness has been over-ruled by the civic leaders, who have decided their town should be named without a dot and without an apostrophe.
Forgiveness was not granted also to a priest named Alban, who lived in the 3rd century and is recorded as being the first Christian martyr in Britain. He was a Pagan priest who worshipped Roman gods and lived in Verulamium, a Roman city just north of London. Amphibalus, a Christian priest, arrived in Verulamium seeking shelter from persecution and Alban took him into his home. Alban was so influenced by the priest's sincerity for his religion that Alban converted to Christianity.
Chantry Island was a thickly wooded area, suitable for clandestine meetings of Christians, and it was here that the Roman soldiers came to arrest Amphibalus. Alban donned the priest's cloak in an attempt flummox the soldiers by impersonating Amphibalus. The deception enabled the priest to escape but Alban was not so fortunate. He was arrested and on refusing to renounce his Christian faith, he was taken across the River Ver to a hill above Verulamium and there beheaded.
Various legends exist, including the story of the river crossing to the hill for execution. The bridge was blocked by local people trying to prevent the soldiers taking Alban, but Alban miraculously parted the waters so the execution party could cross. The executioner was so moved by Alban's faith that he refused to carry out the sentence and instead immediately converted to Christianity. A substitute was ordered to carry out the decapitation, which was followed by the killing of the first executioner (who then became Britain's second Christian martyr).
Five centuries years later, near the execution site, a Benedictine abbey was founded and named after Saint Alban. Then in the late 13th century, an Eleanor Cross was erected in the vicinity. That cross disappeared with the abbey when it was dissolved in 1539. The huge St Albans Cathedral stands on the same site today.
The first executioner's own beheading was not carried out by the substitute executioner because that poor guy's eyes dropped out after he chopped off Alban's head. So a third executioner was used.