Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Blood of the Martyrs is the Seed of the Church

The British Isles have long been known as a land of saints and shrines and indeed is so hallowed by the blood of martyrs and the lives of saints that it was declared the 'Dowry of Mary'. Today, the Church in England celebrates the Feast of St Alban, protomartyr.

Albanus lived in the 3rd century in the Roman city of Verulamium. When the Roman Emperor began his persecutions of the Christians, Albanus (who may have been a Roman soldier) sheltered a priest known later as Amphibalus. The pious example of this priest moved Albanus to be baptised a Christian too. When the soldiers stormed his villa, Albanus took the place of the priest by wearing the priest's cloak, allowing Amphibalus to escape - hence the nomenclature! Amphibalus means cloak in Latin! Hauled before the magistrate, Albanus refused to offer incense or sacrifice to the gods. Echoing the passion of Christ, he was scourged and taken to the top of a small hill outside the town and he was executed. The legionary charged with the task of beheading Albanus was so moved by his fortitude that he refused to carry out his orders, preferring to die with the saint. So, they were both killed c.287 AD on that hill and Amphibalus was also caught later on and martyred. In this manner, Albanus became the first to shed his blood for Christ in England. It is noteworthy that Christianity had reached England long before St Augustine was sent by Pope St Gregory the Great, and this fact later gave fuel to the Protestant invention of the Church of England, severed from communion to Rome.

In time, a shrine and then a Benedictine monastery rose in the town which was renamed after him. Adrian IV (1154-1159), born Nicholas Breakspeare and the only Englishman elevated to the Chair of St Peter, was himself from the town of St Albans, although the abbey refused to admit him as a novice! Pope Adrian IV was not one to hold a grudge obviously: in 1154 he issued the Bull Incomprehensibilis which elevated the Abbey of St Albans as the premier abbey of England and the abbots of St Albans were accorded the mitre by the Pope, (giving them the rank of barons of the realm) and they ranked above all the other abbots in Parliament.

The Abbey of St Albans boasts the longest nave in the land and housed the shrine of St Alban (reconstructed in the photo above). England was then a land criss-crossed by pilgrims' paths as the famous Canterbury Tales attests to. From all over the country, pilgrims flocked to St Albans, once the richest monastery in England and prayed at the saint's shrine near to the shrine of St Amphibalus. In a gallery over-looking the Shrine of St Alban, the monks kept watch night and day for once the elaborately carved shrine (adorned with scenes from St Alban's life and the royal coat of arms) was surrounded by gold, jewels and other treasures left as votive offerings by grateful and hopeful pilgrims. Among these pilgrims were kings and queens of England. Twice these treasures were sold by the abbot to feed the poor after famine struck the land.

This rich life of devotion, charity and pilgrimage came to an end in the 1530s when Henry VIII under the insidious influence of Thomas Cromwell dissolved all the approximately 820 religious houses in the realm. The shrine of St Alban was destroyed, the saint's relics scattered and the treasures and wealth of the monastery and shrine appropriated by the king for his wars, palaces and whores. One of the monastery's few remaining treasures: the beautiful St Albans Psalter may be viewed online. All the religious orders were driven out of the country and the monasteries were either demolished or converted into cathedrals for Henry's 'reformed' church of England. The monastic buildings of St Albans no longer exist - only a 14th century gatehouse remains. The church is now St Alban's cathedral, although it only gained this status in 1871.

St Alban stands as the first of a long line of martyrs in this land. The destruction and turmoil wrought by Henry VIII and his successors was to see a fresh outpouring of blood as brave men and women martyrs died to defend Christ and his holy Church. Like St Alban, they defied the tyranny of the state, defended their ancient belief in the whole Christ - Head and Body, the Church - and they fought for the freedom to worship the living God without fear of persecution and discrimination. It is by their blood and witness that the Church in England is watered.

Prayer to the Saints of England:

O Merciful God,Let the glorious intercession of Thy saints assist us;
Particularly the most blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Thy only-begotten Son,
And thy holy apostles, Peter and Paul,
To whose patronage we humbly recommend this country.
Be mindful of our fathers,Eleutherius, Celestine and Gregory,
Bishops of the Holy City;
Of Augustine, Columba and Aidan,
Who delivered to us inviolate the faith of the holy Roman Church.
Remember our holy martyrs, who shed their blood for Christ;
Especially our first martyr,Saint Alban, and thy most glorious bishop,Saint Thomas of Canterbury.
Remember all those holy confessors, bishops and kings,
All those holy monks and hermits,
All those holy virgins and widows Who made this once an Island of Saints,
Illustrious by their glorious merits and virtues.
Let not their memory perish from before thee, O Lord,
But let their supplication enter daily into Thy sight;
And do Thou, who didst so often spare Thy sinful people for the sake
of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, now also,
Moved by the prayers of our fathers, reigning with thee,
Have mercy upon us, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance;
And suffer not those souls to perish,
Which Thy Son hath redeemed with His most Precious Blood,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
World without end.


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