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St. Albans, Hertfordshire (England)

English Town

Last modified: 2020-11-07 by rob raeside
Keywords: hertfordshire | st albans | saltire |
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[Flag of St Albans] image by Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

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Introduction: St. Albans

St. Albans is an English town located in Hertfordshire. The city flag, a yellow saltire on a light blue field, is hoisted over the town hall. The corresponding shield can be seen on several municipal buildings.
Ivan Sache, 5 March 1998

St. Albans is a cathedral city located in Hertfordshire. It is the major urban area in the City and District of St Albans. It is about 20 miles north-west of central London. It was the first major town on the old Roman road of Watling Street, known as Verulamium (settlement by the marsh) in Roman times. It takes its name from the first British saint, Saint Alban. In Anglo-Saxon times it fell under the rule of the Waeclingas tribe. In medieval times the Benedictine Abbey of St. Albans was founded by Ulsinus in 793. Two battles during the Wars of the Roses took place in or near the town. The First Battle of St Albans was fought in 1455 within the town, and the Second Battle of St Albans was fought in 1461 just to the north. St. Albans remained basicaly a small rural market town, a Christian pilgrimage site, and the first "coaching" stop on the route to and from London, but it had little industry other than numerous inns for travelers. That changed, of course, during the 20th Century as London grew. In 1877 Queen Victoria issued the town a royal charter that granted city status to the borough and cathedral status to the former abbey church. A new diocese was established in the same year. Because of all this St. Albans is now a popular tourist destination.
Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

The Legend of St. Alban
The Fugitive's Convert *

     The 19th-century founders of the Anglican Church in South Africa had a great regard for St Alban, the first Christian martyr in Britain, whose saint's day (in English tradition) falls on June 17 1. Pretoria's Anglican cathedral and diocesan college are named for him, as is the chapel at Draaifontein, west of Port Elizabeth, which gave its name first to a railway halt and then to a prison. The Natal town of Verulam is named for his Roman-British hometown, but that, strangely, has no Anglican church of St Alban 2.
     Unfortunately, like many saints of early times, Alban has had myths and legends weaved about his name until we are not sure what it true and what is fantasy. However, at the core of the legend there is enough hard fact for us to appreciate what the man did and what its value is for us.
     His name was Albanus 3 and he was the son of Roman-British parents who lived in Verulamium, a city (fortified town) on the River Ver in what is now Hertfordshire, during the 3rd century AD. Educated in Rome, Albanus returned to Verulamium, situated on the Roman road now called Watling Street 4, which joined the capital, Londinium, to Viroconium on the Severn (Wroxeter, in Shropshire).
     Christianity had arrived in Britain during the 2nd century AD and the British king or tribal ruler Lucius had been baptised. But in 303 the Emperor Diocletian ordered the confiscation of Christian books, the dismissal of Christians from military and administrative posts, and the imprisonment of clergy. In 304 he ordered all Christians to offer sacrifices to the gods.
     Enter a priest. His name is not known, but later writers gave him the name Amphibalus 5. Fearing for his life, he begged Albanus for shelter. The priest did not stay long, but in that time Albanus was so taken with his manner and his message that he asked for baptism.
     Meanwhile the prefect of the city had heard that a priest was in hiding, and ordered Albanus's house searched. Albanus, learning of the search just in time, sent the priest away in disguise and presented himself for arrest in the priest's long coat. "But he was recognised by the judge, who was of course infuriated at the trick which lost him his rightful quarry, and who demanded that Alban should at once offer sacrifice to the gods or pay the utmost penalty due for blasphemy. Alban then declared that he could not obey this command." 6
     The judge questioned him about his family, but Albanus would only tell him his name and that he was now a Christian. The judge ordered him scourged, and when that brought no change, sentenced him to death. A crowd had gathered to watch him taken from the city, across the Ver and to the top of a nearby hill. Legend has much to say about this walk, including the claim that a spring burst forth from the hilltop when Albanus asked for a drink. It also has it that the executioner refused to kill Albanus because he could not harm such a good man. Another swordsman was found to chop off both Albanus's head and the executioner's - and, it is said, was struck blind. The martyr was buried on the hilltop, which became a site for pilgrimage and a church was built above it. The pagan Saxons destroyed the church, and in 793 Offa, King of Mercia 7, rebuilt it and established a monastery which eventually took first place among the Benedictine abbeys of England. Nicholas Breakspear, the only English Pope, was a brother there before going to Rome, where he ruled as Adrian IV from 1154 to 1159.
     The abbey church dominated the city to the extent that its older Roman and Saxon names were forgotten. Today it is called simply St Albans. The present church building, one of England's largest, was begun in 1077 and added to down the centuries, becoming (in 1877) a cathedral.
     Since the 15th century the city has been famed for printing. The "Scolemaster Printer" (name unknown) who operated there from 1479 to 1486, produced The Boke of St Albans, the earliest example of colour printing in England.

1 He actually died on 22 June 304. The date on his tomb is given as XXII (22), but it was for some reason read as XVII (17).
2 Other Anglican churches of St Alban are to be found at Pacaltsdorp, Cathcart, Vincent (East London), Engcobo, Green Point (Cape Town), Kimberley, Virginia in the Free State and Mvangana in Zululand. But Verulam was founded by Methodist settlers sponsored by the Earl of Verulam, so they're unlikely to have been thinking of Alban at all.
3 The name means "of Alba". There is a town of that name near Turin.
4 The road takes its name from the early Anglo-Saxon name for Verulamium, Waetlingceaster.
5 Which means cloak. The name seems to have been a later invention.
6 Quoted from Stars Appearing by Sybil Harton.
7 The leading Anglo-Saxon kingdom of the time.
* Please Note: This was originally written for an Anglican audience. There was no intention to offend or exclude people of other faiths, merely to inform people within a particular church context.
Mike Oettle, 23 January 2002

A shorter version would be that Alban met a Christian priest fleeing from his persecutors and sheltered him in his house. Impressed with the priest's piety, he converted to Christianity. When the authorities searched Alban's house for the priest, he put on the priest's clothes and allowed himself to be arrested to protect his hidden guest. He was tortured, and sentenced to death, never giving up the real priest. Later, when he was sainted, the abbey and church were built in his honor.
Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

The Flag of St. Albans

This flag is flown over the city and cathedral of St. Albans in Hertfordshire, England. The golden saltire represents the first British martyr St. Alban, a Romano-British soldier.
John Windle, 12 March 1999

[Flag of the City of St. Albans] St. Albans    [Regional Flag of the Mercia] Mercia    [Cross of St. Alban] Cross of St. Alban

Because of the similarity of the traditional flag of St. Albans (light blue field) and the regional flag of Mercia (dark blue field), then add manufacturer variants, things have become a bit confused. Mercia flags have been seen flown or displayed as St. Alban flags, both on websites and even in St. Alban itself. The only officially registered version of these flags is the one with the dark blue field. It was registered by the Flag Institute as the Flag of Mercia in 2014. The Flag Institute's rules did not allow an identical flag being recognized for two different places, and since the Cross of St. Alban had already been in use by the City of St. Albans, it could not be used for the Region of Mercia. Eventually the Institute decided to adopt the darker background, as this tends to better match actual flags flown to represent Mercia, such as the one on Tamworth Castle. To further confuse the issue, flags of St. Alban are available with yellow crosses rather than gold.
For further information see: Saint Alban's Cross and Flag Institute: Mercia.
Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

The Arms of St. Alban

[Arms of St. Albans] image by Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

The traditional arms of St. Albans derive from St. Alban being the first British martyr, hence the cross. It is diagonal as he was not crucified, but beheaded. Hence he was entitled to the cross of martyrdom, but not in the usual form. These arms were assigned to St. Alban along with those assigned to many other early Christian saints and figures.
Michael Faul, 5 October 2001

The association of St. Alban with a gold saltire on blue seems to have some reality. A quick web search shows "azure a saltire or" as the arms of St. Alban's Parish in Kooringal, New South Wales; and St. Alban's School in Washington, DC, has as its coat of arms "azure a saltire or on a chief gules a Jerusalem cross argent." (I know this violates the law of tincture and may have the field and saltire reversed, but I don't think so.) Also which is the site of a US fraternal organization, says the gold saltire on blue is the traditional coat of arms of St. Alban. What I haven't found is why.
Joe McMillan, 17 January 2001

St. Albans Rural District Council
Coat of Arms

[Coat of Arms of the City of St. Albans] image by Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020
The drawing is based on this photo of the coat of arms.

The arms were recorded in 1634, certified in 1951, and finally officially granted in 1974. The guy on top of the crest popping out of the crown is a baron holding the Magna Carta, which has associations with St. Albans. The supporter on the left is an abbot since they once governed the town. The supporter on the right is a printer, as the town was an early center of the printing trade.

Official Blazon:

  • Arms: Azure a Saltire Or.
  • Crest: Issuant from a Mural Crown Or a demi Figure of a Knight armed of the period circa 1215 holding in the dexter hand a Sword erect and in the sinister hand a Roll of Parchment proper.
  • Supporters: On the dexter side an Abbot in Liturgical Vestments and Plain Mitre and supporting with the exterior hand a Crozier on the sinister side a Figure representing John the Printer and holding in the exterior hand an Ink-ball, the whole upon a Compartment per pale of a Ploughed Field and Cobbles all proper.
Source: Heraldry of the World: St. Albans.
Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

City and District of St. Albans
Logo and Flag

[Logo of the City of St. Albans]      [Flag of the City of St. Albans] images by Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

The main offices of St. Albans City and District Council are in St. Albans. There are 59 elected councillors, representing twenty electoral wards. There are parish councils in Colney Heath, Harpenden, Harpenden Rural, London Colney, Redbourn, St. Michael, St. Stephen (including the villages of Chiswell Green and Bricket Wood), Sandridge and Wheathampstead.
Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

St. Albans Cathedral Flag
Flag of Diocese of St. Albans

[Flag of Diocese of St. Albans] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 12 August 2008

Here is a photograph of St Albans Cathedral on a local photographer's web site taken 23 January 2005, showing the flag flown at the Cathedral to be tapered at the fly, with the saltire occupying the first part of the flag only. St Albans Cathedral was also photographed flying the St George's Cross by the same photographer on Monday, 17 April 2006 and Sunday, 24 April 2005, so it is clear that they do not always fly the same flag. The Diocesan Arms differ from this flag to the extent that the shield has a sword and a crown superimposed upon it, but the Cathedral uses both versions of the arms on its web site. There is further photographic evidence on the same web site which confirms the information in respect of St Albans District Council, styling itself The City and District of St Albans, which flies the flag as described from St Albans Town Hall.
Colin Dobson, 19 July 2006

What you describe isn't their flag, it's their pennant. Since the introduction of pennants (aka vimpels) to the British flag scene Cathedrals have been one of the most enthusiastic adopters. They are often just a bicolour of the Cathedral or Diocesan arms, but in St Alban's case the saltire is a simple charge and so they chose to use a pennant that is a simplified version of their flag.
Graham Bartram, 19 July 2006

It is a white flag with a red St. George cross. In the upper hoist is the coat of arms of the diocese. The diocese of St. Albans is the one north of London.
Source: I spotted this flag on top of St. Johns in Lemsford, near Welwyn Garden, on 3 May 2007.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 12 August 2008

St. Albans City Football Club
The Saints

[St. Albans City Football Club]      [St. Albans City Football Club] images by Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020
First image based on this photo.

The original St Albans FC team played between 1881 and 1904 until they disbanded. The second St Albans City FC were founded in April of 1908 and had their most seasons during the 1920s when the Saints won five championships in eight years. The team has continued off and on since that time, moving between divisions and leagues, but never has been able to have the amount of success they did in their hay-days. The title has never returned to Clarence Park, their home green.
Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020

[St. Albans City Football Club]      [St. Albans City Football Club] images by Pete Loeser, 1 November 2020
Images based on this photo.