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Annual martyrdom

26 July 2012

ONCE again, St Alban was executed (right) during the annual Alban Pilgrimage, as an estimated 3000 people made their way from Verulamium Park to St Albans Cathedral. Hundreds of children took part, dressed as roses, soldiers, stained-glass windows, angels, and monks. Mercifully, the rain held off as the giant puppets re-enacted the martyrdom, and the crowd watched in silence.

It included, this year, a new huge puppet in the form of St Amphibalus, the priest with whom Alban exchanged his cloak so that the priest could escape execution while Alban took his place. And there was an extra element when a new ecumenical link was signed between St AlbansCathedral and the Roman Catholic basilica of the Holy House of Loreto.

The idea came from the participation by a group of young people from St Albans at an ecumenical youth camp at Loreto, one of Italy's great places of pilgrimage, where, according to pious belief, angels deposited the small cottage that was Jesus's early home, having carried it there from Nazareth. It is now encased in marble in the basilica.

Honoured guests at the festival evensong in the cathedral were members of a group from Loreto, including the Rector, Fr Giuliano Viabile, dressed in a simple black cassock in contrast to the gorgeous red and gold copes of the Anglican clergy.

The ecumenical agreement was signed during the service by the Rector, and by the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, and the Dean of St Albans, the Very Revd Jeffrey John.

Two archbishops added to the full panoply of ecumenical dignity, as the signing took place. Present were the RC Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, who preached at evensong, and said that it had been a special joy for him to take part in the pilgrimage; and the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, had preached earlier in the day at the festival eucharist.

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