England's first Christian martyr
Alban was a pagan living in the Roman city of Verulamium, where St Albans is now, in Hertfordshire, England, about twenty miles from London along Watling Street. In A.D. 209, when the local Christians were being persecuted by the Romans, Alban sheltered their priest in his home and was converted to the Christian faith by him. When the soldiers came to Alban's house looking for the priest, Alban exchanged cloaks with the priest and let himself be arrested in his stead. Alban was taken before the magistrate, where he avowed his new Christian faith and was condemned for it. He was beheaded on the spot where the cathedral named for him now stands.
The abbey & cathedral
Offa of Mercia, who ruled in the 8th century, is said to have founded the abbey at St Albans. The existing church was built by the first Norman abbot, Paul of Caen, the 14th abbot. Work started in 1077 and was completed in 1089. The original abbey was 106 m long with a tower and seven apses; in the current structure the Norman arches under the central tower and on the north side of the nave are the original ones, although the arches in the rest of the building are now Gothic. The tower is made of bricks recycled from Roman buildings, because there is no source of stone in the vicinity suitable for building. The abbey was extended by John de Cella in the 1190s, and again between 1257 and 1320 but financial constraints limited the effectiveness of these later additions. An nunnery was founded nearby in 1140.
Matthew Paris, a monk at St Albans from 1217, kept its chronicles; he died in about 1259. Eighteen of his manuscripts survive and are a rich source of contemporary information for historians. Nicholas Breakspeare was born in St Albans and applied to be admitted to the abbey as a novice, but he was turned down. He eventually managed to get accepted into an abbey in France. In 1154 he was elected Pope Adrian IV, the only English pope there has ever been. The head of the abbey was confirmed as the premier abbot in England also in 1154.
In 1877 the abbey church was made the cathedral for the diocese of St Albans, which comprises about 300 churches in the counties of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. The building was however rather delapidated and in the 1880s Lord Grimthorpe financed a £130,000 renovation and rebuilding program, this is most apparent in the Victorian rebuild of the west front.
Among the persons buried at St Albans are Thomas de la Mare, who died at the age of 87 in 1396, having been abbot for 47 years, and Sir Anthony (or Antony) Grey, who died in 1480 and was the brother-in-law of Elizabeth Woodville, the queen consort of Edward IV of England. The brasses are still on their tombs, all the others in the church having been destroyed at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
See also: History of St Albans, England