Monday, 26 January 2015

HLD#2: St Albans Abbey


A view of the nave, tower and transept from the south west.

On the second outing of my HLD (Heretic: Live Diary) Tour, I paid a visit to St Albans Abbey.
     The abbey church, which, since 1887 has been a cathedral, was once a part of a great benedictine monastery. Originally the abbey was built by Offa II, the King of Mercia in 793. It was built on the site of an earlier church, which was destroyed in 586 and held a shrine and the remains of the great Roman martyr St Alban. The site is also said to be, the very spot where Alban himself was executed.
     For those of you that do not know his story, I'll fill you in briefly. He was a Roman citizen living in the town of Verulamium in the 4th C. Some of the towns remains can still be seen in St Albans today. The story goes that he harboured a Christian priest, who was on the run from persecutors in what was a very pagan empire. Whilst in his care the priest convinced Alban of the Christian faith and during the course of his stay, so taken was Alban by the priest that he converted to Christianity. When the priest was finally discovered to be hiding in Albans house, Alban changed clothes with the priest, who escaped and Alban was arrested in his place and sentenced to death by beheading.
     A lot of things are said to have happened on the day of his execution. Not namely that the first Roman soldier who was ordered to kill him, refused and wished to convert to the Christian faith and be executed in Albans place. But a spring is said to have sprung up at Albans feet when he spoke out to God and told him that he was thirsty. Also, the second Roman soldier who was then ordered to cut off Albans head and that of the first soldier's for disobeying his orders, his eyes are said to have fallen out!
     Whether those things actually happened is another story, but there is no denying the natural beauty and tranquility of the place that has been a sacred spot for nearly 2000 years.
     Most of the abbey was rebuilt by Robert the Mason during the time of the Normans and most of its layout today resembles that period. The first Norman abbot Paul of Caen, undersaw the most part of that transition. The church has the longest nave in England and the crossing tower is the only 11th C tower of it's type still standing in England. Like most churches of that era it takes a cruciform shape.
     It has changed mightily over the years and with the times. Like most old buildings it has needed repairs. In the 13th C  there was a great earthquake which cracked many of the walls and in the 14th C a large part of the nave collapsed.
     A huge gateway was built to lead into the monastery buildings, which still stands today. The only remaining structure other than the church itself. It now belongs to the St Albans School for boys, founded at the abbey in 948 by Abbot Wulsin.
     There have been a total of 40 abbots of St Albans abbey, the last of which was in 1539. It was at that time that King Henry VIII wished to break away from the Catholic Church and brought about the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Like most catholic churches in that period it fell from grace.
     But the church, which has seen much modernisation over recent centuries, very much in the gothic fashion, now with cathedral status, still remains much in use today as a Church of England.
     Despite its downfall, it remains as mesmerizing as ever.

A view from inside the nave.