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E02974: Gildas, in his treatise On the Destruction of Britain, describes the martyrdom of *Albanus/Alban (martyr of Verulamium, Britain, S01364). Written in Latin in Britain, c. 480/c. 550.

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posted on 2017-06-12, 00:00 authored by dlambert
Gildas, On the Destruction of Britain 11-12

After introducing the British martyrs Alban of Verulamium and Aaron and Julius of Caerleon (E02973), Gildas describes the martyrdom of Alban:

11. Quorum prior postquam caritatis gratia confessorem persecutoribus insectatum et iam iamque comprehendendum, imitans et in hoc Christum animam pro ovibus ponentem, domo primum ac mutatis dein mutuo vestibus occuluit et se discrimini in fratris supra dicti vestimentis libenter persequendum dedit, ita deo inter sacram confessionem cruoremque coram impiis Romana tum stigmata cum horribili fantasia praeferentibus placens signorum miraculis mirabiliter adornatus est, ut oratione ferventi illi Israeliticae arenti viae minusque tritae, stante diu arca prope glareas testamenti in medio Iordanis canali, simile iter ignotum, trans Tamesis nobilis fluvii alveum, cum mille viris sicco ingrediens pede suspensis utrimque modo praeruptorum fluvialibus montium gurgitibus aperiret et priorem carnificem tanta prodigia videntem in agnum ex lupo mutaret et una secum triumphalem martyrii palmam sitire vehementius et excipere fortius faceret. ...

12. Igitur bilustro supra dicti turbinis necdum ad integrum expleto emarcescentibusque nece suorum auctorum nefariis edictis, laetis luminibus omnes Christi tirones quasi post hiemalem ac prolixam noctem temperiem lucemque serenam aurae caelestis excipiunt. renovant ecclesias ad solum usque destructas; basilicas sanctorum martyrum fundant construunt perficiunt ac velut victricia signa passim propalant, dies festos celebrant, sacra mundo corde oreque conficiunt, omnes exultant filii gremio ac si matris ecclesiae confoti.

'11. The former of these [Alban], for charity’s sake and in imitation even here of Christ, who laid down his life for his sheep, protected a confessor from his persecutors when he was on the point of arrest. Hiding him in his house and then changing clothes with him, he gladly exposed himself to danger and pursuit in the other’s habit. Between the time of his holy confession and the taking of his blood, and in the presence of wicked men who displayed the Roman standards to the most horrid effect, the pleasure that God took in him showed itself: by a miracle he was marked out by wonderful signs. Thanks to his fervent prayer, he opened up an unknown route across the channel of the great river Thames—a route resembling the untrodden way made dry for the Israelites, when the ark of the testament stood for a while on gravel in the midstream of Jordan. Accompanied by a thousand men, he crossed dryshod, while the river eddies stayed themselves on either side like precipitous mountains. In this way he changed from wolf to lamb his first executioner, when he saw such a wonder, and made him too thirst strongly for the triumphal palm of martyrdom and bravely receive it. ...

12. Before ten years of this whirlwind had wholly passed, the wicked edicts were beginning to wither away as their authors were killed. Glad-eyed, all the champions of Christ welcomed, as though after a long winter night, the calm and the serene light of the breeze of heaven. They rebuilt churches that had been razed to the ground; they founded, built and completed chapels to the holy martyrs, displaying them everywhere like holy banners. They celebrated feast days. With pure heart and mouth they carried out the holy ceremonies. And all her sons exalted, as though warmed in the bosom of mother church.

Text and translation: Winterbottom 1978; translation slightly adapted.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Alban, martyr in Britain : S01364

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Theological works


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Cult activities - Places

Place of martyrdom of a saint

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather) Miracles causing conversion

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives



Gildas wrote the tract known as On the Destruction of Britain (De excidio Britanniae - there are several variants of the title) at an unknown location in Britain, some generations after the end of Roman rule and the subsequent invasion by the Anglo-Saxons. His work was intended to admonish contemporary Britons, and especially the church, that the conquests of the Anglo-Saxons were a punishment for their sins. On the Destruction of Britain contains no information that allows it to be dated precisely, and modern estimates of its date of composition vary considerably, from as early as the 480s to as late as the 550s, though the most common opinion places it in the period around 540. For a brief account of what is known about Gildas, see Kerlouégan 2004.


Gildas' account of the passion of Albanus is derived from the earliest Passion (BHL 211a; E07536) either in its current, later 5th century, interpolated Auxerre form, or a hypothesised late 4th/early 5th century British version that lacked material related to a visit by Germanus of Auxerre. Gildas appears also to have reused sections of the Passion describing the paradisiacal setting of Albanus' death to describe Britain (De excidio 3.3-4). The De excidio provides the earliest evidence associating Albanus and Verulamium, although, confusingly, Gildas refers to a water-parting miracle during the martyrdom as taking place on the River Thames. Verulamium's river, the Ver, is a tributary of the Thames. It is possible to read the mention of Verulamium as describing Albanus' place of origin rather than the site of his death, although later tradition is unanimous in placing the death there. Gildas paraphrases his source, adding multiple biblical and classical allusions. His account focuses on the miracle of Albanus' river-crossing as representing a parallel to the Israelite crossing of the Jordan, thereby reinforcing a wider association in the De excidio of Roman Britain as a type of Israel. He omits his source's account of a miraculous spring and the divine punishment of the (second) executioner by blinding. Gildas' dating of Albanus' martyrdom to the reign of Diocletian (ch. 9) is mere conjecture as a variant reading (favouring the lectio difficilior) indicates: 'as we infer' (ut conicimus). His account of Albanus is followed by a passage derived from Eusebius' History (1.8) describing the construction of churches after the end of the empire-wide persecution. Gildas' reuse of the passage implies that within a decade a church had been built on the site of Albanus' martyrdom, but the passage cannot be taken at face value as direct evidence of actual events at the cult site. Gildas adds the observation that at the time of writing (variously ascribed to the period between the 480s and 550s) the locations of Albanus' death and those of Julius and Aaron (S01361) were no longer accessible due to some form of disruption by the Saxons.


Edition and translation: Winterbottom, M., Gildas, The Ruin of Britain and Other Works (Chichester: Phillimore, 1978). Further reading: Garcia, M., "Gildas and the 'grievous divorce from the barbarians'," Early Medieval Europe 21:3 (2013), 243-53. George, K., Gildas's De excidio Britonum and the Early British Church (Woodbridge, 2009). Kerlouégan, F., "Gildas [St Gildas] (fl. 6th-7th cent.)," in: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). Online edition (; accessed 22/08/2017. Laynesmith, M.D., The Cult of St Alban of Verulamium (forthcoming).

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