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Heroes

Being a friend

Men's hands clasped

ALBAN

Those who have known a soldier throw himself between hostile fire to protect his friends will understand Alban. In 3rd or 4th century Britain (the date is uncertain) he had found someone and something so precious that he would die to keep him alive.

In the forest and meadows of Britain, Roman civilization appeared to be quite advanced with roads, cities, and villas with hypocaust heating under mosaic floors. But Romans, convinced that the world was full of spirits, many of them evil, lived in terror of ghosts, and they sacrificed human victims of every age and social class as burial evidence in Britain makes appallingly clear. The Emperor Augustus had banned killing adults for religious reasons, but the slaughtering of men, women and children did not stop.

At Verulamium, the skull of a teenage boy who lived in the late 2nd century showed he had been battered to death and decapitated. His skull was then skinned and displayed on a pole in the temple, before being consigned to the pit.

For many people at this time the good news was that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was said to end human sacrifice for all time. No longer would men and women try to appease evil spirits or dysfunctional gods. Adding to this appeal, Jesus taught forgiveness - a unique new concept in the Roman world. He called on his followers to love and to care for those in need and he liked to sit down with friends, strangers, the mixed-up and the poor for slap-up meals.

Alban lived in the city of Verulamium where the boy had been butchered. Verulamium was a walled city 22 miles north of London on the River Ver. Christians there were persecuted because they would not participate in Roman religious sacrifices and they refused to affirm that Caesar, not Christ, was Lord.

During one of these persecutions, while he was being hunted, a Christian went to Alban for help. The story does not say whether they were already friends or whether they became friends as Alban protected him. Somehow their cover was blown, and Roman troops stormed Alban's house. Like a soldier who throws himself on an exploding grenade, Alban threw on his friend’s cloak, and pretended to be the man they wanted so his friend could escape.

Taken before the Roman governor, Alban was ordered to renounce Christ. When he refused, he was scourged. When he continued to affirm his faith in Christ, the governor ordered his execution.

According to legend it was the day of the summer solstice. Roman soldiers took Alban outside the city walls and across the bridge to the top of a grassy knoll. With them went a crowd, watching him.

If Alban had been desperately afraid as he was led to his execution there would have been no light in him and no one would have remembered what he did. But Alban was not afraid. He was going to protect what he loved. He gave the gift of his life lightly, as if it cost him nothing.

When he reached the place of execution, an unprecedented thing happened. The executioner refused to execute him. “No,” he said, looking into Alban’s face. And when ordered again, “No,” he repeated.

Both Alban and the executioner were beheaded that day. The executioner’s name has been forgotten, but he is perhaps the first person in recorded history to refuse an unjust order. Alban left three gifts.

Boy in St Alban's cburch

The Cathedral of St Alban stands on the knoll
where he was executed.
His feast day is celebrated on 22 June.

The gifts of Alban are courage and defiance in the face of overwhelming authority; fortitude in defending freedom of religious conscience; and friendship, that dear, life-saving gift that is essential to our personal happiness and to the creation of civilization.

His story inspired people for centuries because it infused and illuminated friendship with love, self-sacrifice, teamwork and equality - for our friend is our equal.

“Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life
for his friends” (John 15:13).

 

 

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Copyright 2006, 2007, 2008 David Abbott & Catherine Glass