St Albans – the screen of the martyrs

st albans january hols 047

In the Anglican year, our visit still fell within the season of the Nativity and the figures depicting the birth of Jesus still stood before the altar in the nave. The brightly coloured statues on the altar screen seemed incongrous somehow, even though such colour would have covered the walls long ago.

The stone rood screen was built by Abbot Thomas de la Mare, around the time of the Black Death (1349-51) to divide the lay from side of the Abbey from the monastic. It was richly carved, filled with statues and surmounted by the Rood, or Cross. At either side of the screen two doors were built through which the monks could process, bearing the relics of St Alban. These two doors remain, both flanked by a series of portraits of the Green Man.

The statues and carvings were destroyed at the Reformation, when Henry VIII broke with Rome and was declared head of the Church of England in 1534.  For centuries the niches stood empty.

The freshly coloured statues that now stand there are a very recent commission by the Abbey from sculptor Rory Young. They depict seven martyrs, each carrying the symbol of the palm branch, executed for their faith, from St Amphibalus and St Alban himself to some very recent figures. The Dean of the Cathedral writes that there are  “martyrs in every age – probably more now than there have been for many years – and inspire us to be braver ourselves in standing up for what we believe.” A sentiment that, in our time, where division and prejudice is still rife, may apply to each one of us, regardless of our faith.

There is a vast difference between affirming what we personally believe to be true and seeking to impose that belief on others… just as there is a huge gulf between sharing our beliefs in a spirit of understanding and coexistence and seeking to bully and blast people, both individuals and nations, into submissive compliance with the bigotry of the few.

I can’t say I particularly liked these statues… they may need a few hundred years to mellow before they are aesthetically pleasing. Nor do I like the fact that such deaths still occur. But they are beautifully executed… and I cannot help but agree with the message they are sending of the need for tolerant and peaceful coexistence.

st albans january hols 051

Oscar Romero – Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador, under a totalitarian regime, he condemned poverty, social injustice and torture until his assassination during Mass in 1980.

St Alban Roe – a Roman Catholic, imprisoned for a time in St Albans Abbey Gatehouse and hanged in London in 1642 having been found guilty of treason for being a Roman Catholic priest.

St Amphibalus – a Christian priest sheltered by Alban, when Christianity was forbidden.

St Alban – The first British saint, beheaded in Roman Verulamium on the site of the Abbey in the 3rdC AD.

George Tankerfield –  burnt to death in Romeland, an alley close by, in 1555 because, as a Protestant, he refused the doctrine of transubstantiation.

St Elisabeth Romanova – a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. Married into the Russian Royal Family, she embraced the Orthodox Church, becoming a nun and Abbess after her husband died.  She was murdered in 1918 by the Bolsheviks.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Lutheran pastor and theologian, sent to a  Nazi concentration camp, tried with neither witness nor defence, he was hung in April 1945.


About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
This entry was posted in Christmas, Churches and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to St Albans – the screen of the martyrs

  1. Rajiv says:

    This is very interesting stuff indeed


  2. Grandtrines says:

    Reblogged this on Still Another Photoblog.


  3. Mary Smith says:

    Fascinating, Sue. Sobering to realise being killed for standing up for one’s belief/faith isn’t something consigned to the distant past but is still happening. Sobering and humbling – not sure I’d be so brave.


  4. vronlacroix says:

    I appreciate that you researched the history of each character. It brings them to life, and highlights the conflicts of different faiths that are ever present in our human lives.


  5. BunKaryudo says:

    Em… I actually quite, er, like the statues, Sue. (I’m sorry to disagree. Please don’t hate me.) They are perhaps a little brighter and more colorful than statues often tend to be, but I thought they were rather well done.

    I was delighted to see a statue of Oscar Romero. I occasionally listen to a short BBC podcast called Witness, which features interviews with someone who witnessed an important event in history. One of the shows a year or two ago was about the Romero assassination. I was very impressed with his courage and his willingness to stand up for the poor and the downtrodden. It’s nice to see him being remembered.


    • Sue Vincent says:

      I don’t exactly dislike them… They just aren’t my cup of tea.. But yes. He was a man of some courage.

      Liked by 1 person

      • BunKaryudo says:

        Of course, I only saw one photograph taken at a distance whereas you saw them close up and in full context. I might feel differently about them if I were actually to visit them. In any case, in a couple of hundred years once the paint has faded a little, they may fit in with the surroundings much more. 🙂


  6. It was a fascinating read, thanks for sharing, Sue… 🙂


  7. Widdershins says:

    These and many, many, too many, more. 😦


  8. Eliza Waters says:

    Why are humans so religiously intolerant? It is so hypocritical and boggles my mind.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.