He lived sometime between the 3rd and 4th centuries, but the exact dates are debated among scholars. Some believed he died during the time of Diocletian while others believe that he died during the reign of Septimus Severus (a full century earlier) who would have been in England around this likely time of death of St. Alban. Other scholars have given a date between 251 and 259 AD as another possibility.
According to legend, Alban was a pagan Roman soldier who gave refuge to a Christian priest named Amphibalus who was fleeing persecutors. It is said that while hiding this priest he converted to Christianity as it is said he was impressed by the faith and piety of the Priest. When his house was to be searched, he donned the priest’s robes to take his place and allow the Priest to escape. When the Roman magistrate discovered Alban was not the priest, Alban was given a choice: comply with the pagan rites or be executed. Alban responded with:
"I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things."
Alban was then whipped, but Alban endured it. The Judge then ordered Alban to be taken to the top of a hill and beheaded. To get to the hill they had to cross a swift-running river (thought to be the “River Ver”) and the closest bridge was impassible due to protestors condemning Alban’s punishments. Alban looked to the heavens and a part of the river dried up to allow safe passage across. Such a show of power caused one of the executioners to throw down his weapons and ask to be executed alongside St. Alban. They were taken to the hill and before he was killed, Alban prayed for water to slake his thirst whereupon water sprang from the hill at his feet. It was here that he was beheaded. It is believed he was killed at the top of a hill near Verulamium (now known as St. Albans). This hill is now called Holywell Hill which was said to be a beautiful place.
Immediately after striking the fatal blow, the executioner’s eyes popped out of his head. It is believed that God so punished him so he could not rejoice over St. Alban’s death. Some legends state that the spring of water sprouted from where his head rolled to.
Some documents state that the Priest learned of Alban’s arrest and turned himself in, and was subsequently executed. Other legends state that the Judge ceased all persecutions in the region after learning of the miracles stemming from St. Alban’s torture and execution.
A Cathedral now stands where it is thought that he was executed and a well is at the bottom of Holywell Hill. The town of St. Alban’s (then Verulamium) became a cult center for the veneration of St. Alban
St. Alban’s in England is a popular pilgrimage for Christians and the name “Alban” was brought across to the US where many cities are named after him (i.e. Albany, NY). Such is his influence in England that many have considered him as a replacement for the Patron Saint of England as St. George never lived in England. In Switzerland, the largest annual festival is “Albanifest”. The Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC is located on Mount St. Alban.
As a Christian martyr, St. Alban demonstrated the power of faith in the face of persecution as well as the power of charity and hospitality, even to strangers and refugees.
In Masonic lore, a document called the Matthew Cooke Manuscript mentions a St. Alban who “loved well masons, and he gave them first their charges and manners first in England.” This manuscript is the oldest of a class of about one hundred early documents known as Freemasonry's Gothic Constitutions, and the second oldest known manuscript in Masonic history. The Cooke manuscript then goes on to discuss the legend of King Athelstan and Freemasonry. This legend was preserved in all the succeeding manuscript Constitutions until they were still further altered and enlarged by Anderson, Preston, and other Masonic historians of the last century.
The Regius Poem is one of the most famous manuscripts about early Freemasonry in medieval England, but does not mention St. Alban. The Krause Manuscript (c.a 18th century) where St. Amphibalus (the priest St. Alban helped) is described as a teacher to St. Alban; it is thought that the St. Adhabell mentioned in Cooke is a bastardization of St. Amphibalus. Some legends concerning these two state that St. Alban was in Rome to serve in the Army, but returned to England after his tour was complete. On his return home, he was accompanied by St. Amphibalus. In this story, Amphibalus fled from persecution to Alban not out of chance, but because they were already friends. During their friendship, Amphibalus is said to have converted him to Christianity, and where Alban created his regulations of the Craft. The story would evolve from the Cooke Manuscript to the Krause Manuscript and Dowland Manuscript.
Another Masonic source states that St. Alban was employed by the household of Carausius who revolted against the Roman Emperor Maximilian and declared themselves Emperors in England. Carausius is said to have put Alban in charge of building the walls and serving as Superintendent of the Craft. Some have declared him to be the Founder of Freemasonry in England and that St. Alban was made Grand Master. Whether this legend is true or not, the art of Masonry was introduced to England through the Romans and their artificers which may have included St. Alban. This legend of St. Alban with Masonry was perpetuated by Dr. Anderson in the second edition of his Constitutions of Freemasonry. The fog of time has clouded the research into St. Alban and his relationship to the Craft, but it does merit further research.
Today, there are about two dozen Masonic lodges around the world named for St. Alban.
1. Dawkins, P. (n.d.). The Two St. Albans. Francis Bacon Research Trust.
2. Feast of St. Alban. (n.d.). Retrieved from Episcopal Church of St. Alban: http://www.albanyoregonepiscopal.church/special-services/feast-of-st-alban/
3. Haywood, H. L. (n.d.). Matthew Cooke Manuscript. Retrieved from Grand Lodge of British Columbia & Yukon: https://freemasonry.bcy.ca/texts/cooke.html
4. Mackey, A. (n.d.). The Legend of St. Alban. In The History of Freemasonry.
5. Saint Alban. (n.d.). Retrieved from Encyclopaedia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Alban
6. Saint Alban. (n.d.). Retrieved from New World Encyclopedia: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Saint_Alban
7. St. Alban. (n.d.). Retrieved from Catholic News Agency: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/saint/st-alban-511
8. The Legend of St. Alban. (n.d.). Retrieved from St. Alban's Lodge No. 1455: https://stalbanslodge1455.yolasite.com/legend-of-st-alban.php