Learning has flourished at St Albans since the 12th century and remains a significant part of the life of the cathedral today. Our Education team welcome thousands of children every year – both on school visits and during the school holidays to explore, learn and have fun!
Our school holiday activities in particular have gone from strength to strength over the years which is why it’s so wonderful to have funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to add new and exciting events to our existing offer. Read on to find out more about what’s coming up over the next month.
Artist in Residence
One of our brand new Heritage Lottery funded posts is an Artist in Residence, who will join us each summer for the next three years to put on new activities for a range of audiences. This month, we’re delighted to welcome this year’s Artist in Residence, Ella West, to the team.
All ages are invited to engrave a personal message for a series of wax sculptures Ella is creating. Inspired by the stunning graffiti left by visitors throughout this historic building over the centuries, the sculptures will incorporate everyone’s messages and will be on show for all to see.
We hope you’ll come along and make your mark this August at these FREE, drop-in sessions suitable for children and adults.
No booking required.
Drop-in sessions will be on:
Thursday 9th August, 10:00 – 12:30
Saturday 11th August, 13:00 – 15:00
Sunday 12th August, 10:30 – 11:00 & 12:30 – 13:00
Thursday 16th August, 10:00 – 12:30
Thursday 23rd August, 10:00 – 12:30
Artist in Residence, Ella West
Wax sculpture engraving
The results of Ella’s screen printing workshops earlier in the month
Children’s Graffiti Trail
People have been making their mark in the Cathedral for centuries and since our Artist in Residence is using our ancient graffiti as her inspiration, why not join in the fun and go looking for some of the marks people have left around the Cathedral on this special trail?
Trails can be picked up in the Cathedral Shop or from the Information Desk and are completely free of charge.
Family Discovery Mornings
Our popular Family Discovery Mornings are back this August. With brilliant themes, including Musical Mayhem and Terrific Tales, there are fun arts and crafts to participate in and take home! There will also be a very special Family Discovery Morning – Nasty Normans – which will focus on the magnificent mosaic replica of the Bayeux Tapestry, currently on display in the North Transept. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to explore the cathedral in an entirely different way.
Suitable for ages 3-11. Children must be accompanied by an adult. FREE entry.
Thursday 9th August: The Nasty Normans
Thursday 16th August: Musical Mayhem
Thursday 23rd August: Terrific Tales
All Family Discovery Mornings take place 10am until 12.30pm.
Today marks two years since the moment the cathedral was awarded funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for its game changing Alban, Britain’s First Saint project. Since then a huge amount of work has taken place, both behind the scenes and in full view; from archaeology to filming to outreach, tens, if not hundreds of people have been involved in the journey so far! A number of fascinating objects have also played their part – from things you never noticed, to brand new discoveries, here’s the project so far in 10(ish) very special objects:
1. Alban’s Angels
In 2015 the cathedral launched the public appeal Alban’s Angels to fundraise for the project. An ‘Angel Cloud’ was installed in the cathedral, and was populated with white and gold carved wooden angels, on which people could inscribe the name of a loved one they wanted to remember. The very first angel was placed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
2. Medieval Doors
As part of the project, the original Medieval doors from the Slype have been moved into the South Transept to be permanently displayed there. These 15th century doors, which were originally situated at the West End of the cathedral have powerful tracery and interesting use of wrought iron nails to enhance the tracery design, making them remarkably unusual survivals. The doors were featured in a Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition Gothic: Art for England 1400 – 1547 in 2003. They can be seen in the cathedral all year round, free of charge.
Closed at the West End c.1870
Open at the West End c.1870
At the Victoria and Albert Museum in 2003.
In the South Transept of the Cathedral in 2017.
3. Abbot John of Wheathampstead
In December 2017, an extraordinary discovery was made during an archaeological dig at the cathedral; the body of Abbot John of Wheathampstead. He was Abbot of St Albans twice, from 1420-1440 and then again from 1451 until his death in 1465.
However, there was something missing – his legs.
They had been separated from his body, probably during the Victorian era.
Fortunately, experts from Canterbury Archaeological Trust have since been able to tell apart the various bones that formed his legs, from other bones recovered from the dig, and they have been reunited with his torso. Dr Emma Pomeroy (Liverpool John Moores University) has been analysing the bones to find out more about the cathedral’s lost Abbot.
4. Papal Bullae
Lying with the body of John of Wheathampstead, archaeologists also discovered three papal bullae. An unprecedented discovery, the bullae were identified as those of Martin V, Pope from 1417 to 1431. James Clark, Professor of History at Exeter University and an expert on medieval St Albans confirmed that the bulls signify three privileges granted to St Albans Abbey by Pope Martin, allowing the Abbey to exercise greater independence in its religious life and the management of its income.
All three cleaned Bullae
Bulla half cleaned
Bulla cleaning in progress
5. Roman Chariot
Earlier this year, Education Centre staff and volunteers were delighted to welcome Supported Learning students from Oaklands College for a workshop with a twist. As one of the first activities of the Alban Britain’s First Saint project, students worked with carnival specialists Mahogany to create a magnificent new chariot for the 2018 Alban Pilgrimage. Check out the video below to see how they got on:
6. Wall Painting Projector
Digital technology will help to recreate the original effects of our 13th century medieval wall paintings for visitor and pilgrim, bringing to life their original colours. This digital illumination of the wall paintings promises to be a very significant technical innovation, the first of its kind on this level at an English Cathedral. State of the art projectors will be installed in the Nave of the cathedral next year to bring the paintings to life.
As part of our Alban, Britain’s First Saint Activity Plan, our award winning Education Centre has acquired an amazing Labyrinth for schools to use. The labyrinth can be seen as a metaphor for life’s journey or pilgrimage and pupils will be able to use it to explore many different ideas, primarily from a PSHE or citizenship perspective, as well as ideas of change and transition within their school lives. Our labyrinth, which has been hand painted by the Labyrinth Builders, is based on the Damascus Water Labyrinth and can also be found built into the floor of Chislehurst Methodist Church.
8. Amphibalus Shrine Mock Up
The cathedral’s shrines of Alban and Amphibalus are two of only a handful of surviving pedestal shrines in England. The shrine of Amphibalus is currently in desperate need of repair in a dark corner of the building. However, its restoration is on the horizon and an amazing mock-up shrine was recently created to show its size and ultimate position in the Mother’s Union Chapel at the East End of the cathedral. It was created by cathedral volunteer John Robinson.
9. Alban Psalter Facsimile
The Alban Psalter Facsimile is one of only 1,125 copies in the world. It is believed that the original Alban Psalter was gifted to Christina of Markyate around 1135 by then Abbot of St Albans, Geoffrey de Gorham. This stunning book has survived the Reformation, Napoleonic secularisation and the Second World War and now resides in Hildesheim, Germany. To copy such a masterpiece, would have taken months as the original had to be unbound, copied onto vellum and rebound by a skilled master binder. The Alban Psalter Facsimile will go back on display in the cathedral in 2019 when our new exhibition area is completed. 10. New Welcome Centre Foundations
Our final object is the cement foundation of the Welcome Centre, which was recently laid. Check out a time lapse video of the event here:
The past two years have been full of exciting developments but there is certainly more to come. Don’t forget to keep an eye on our website, social media and blog for all the latest news.
With thanks to: Canterbury Archaeological Trust, Professor James Clark, Jane Kelsall, Claire Frearson, Julia Low.
Oaklands’ Supported Learning Work Placement Officer Rhys Wynne said: “For our students this project has benefited them in ways beyond just creating the puppets. It has boosted their confidence and skillsets and given them the opportunity to play a significant part in creating something that the entire city of St Albans will celebrate and enjoy later this summer. We can’t wait to see their creations come to life in the Alban Pilgrimage this June.”
Check out the video below to see how the puppet was created:
Don’t forget you can see the magnificent new chariot in action on Saturday 23rd June as part of the Cathedral’s annual Alban Pilgrimage. All are encouraged to line the streets of the city and to follow the procession as it makes its way through the streets to St Albans Cathedral.
Following the archaeological excavation undertaken by Canterbury Archaeological Trust in advance of the new Visitor’s Centre between July 2016 and February 2017, work on the findings is now taking place.
One of the major discoveries of the excavation was the tomb of Abbot John Wheathampstead (c 1390-1465), whose well-preserved skeleton was accompanied by three lead papal bullae. John was Abbot of St Albans twice, from 1420-1440 and then again from 1451 until his death in 1465.
The bones of the abbot, so carefully recorded and removed during the excavation, are presently being studied by Dr Emma Pomeroy at John Moores University, Liverpool.
Her work has demonstrated that the skeleton is that of an aged male, and she has detected ossification of cartilage particularly apparent around the ribs and tendons. The abbot had lost many of his teeth during life, perhaps not unusual for an individual of such advanced years. We hope that a digital reconstruction of the Abbot’s face will be possible, but this awaits further analysis.
Historic documents, previously examined by Prof. James Clark of The University of Exeter, indicates that the bullae which accompanied his body were granted to St Albans Abbey by Pope Martin V in 1423, at the Council of Siena-Pavia. The documents suggest that these may be replicas, commissioned at the same time by Abbot John himself for personal use. This may explain why the bullae accompanied him to the grave, instead of remaining in the Abbey archives with the documents to which they were attached. Further study of associated documents later in the project may be able to tell us more about the history of these artefacts.
As excavated, the bullae were covered with soil and corrosion, but the objects have now been carefully cleaned and stabilised by conservator Dana Goodburn-Brown.
Bulla cleaning in progress
Bulla half cleaned
The cleaning process has revealed the inscription Martinus V (Martin V) PP Pastor Pastorum – ‘Shepherd of Shepherds’.
On the reverse are the letters SPESPA, an abbreviation of Sanctus Petrus (St Peter) and Sanctus Paulus (St Paul). The head of St Peter (left) and of St Paul (right) can now be clearly seen facing each other on the bullae.
Further information on the archaeological investigations will be posted as post-excavation work progresses.
As the Cathedral approaches one year to the opening of a new welcome centre and learning facilities as part of our Heritage Lottery funded project, work is underway to develop how we will communicate the remarkable story of Britain’s first saint to our visitors.
Plans are being finalised for a new timeline in the welcome centre, giving our visitors historical context before they step into the building. Films and interactive displays will tell the story of the living, working building. Audio visual projectors will be installed to illuminate in colour our magnificent set of medieval wall paintings; this technical innovation is the first of its kind in an English Cathedral and will recreate the original effect of the paintings. Visitors will see the paintings as pilgrims would have seen them centuries ago.
The story of Alban is a remarkable account of bravery and standing up for what you believe in. This is the story we want people to know and be inspired by when they visit. There will be many ways to learn the story of Britain’s first saint as you travel through the building – and what a story it is to tell.
Alban lived around the year 300 in the Roman city of Verulamium, in the valley below the present Cathedral. One day he gave shelter to a stranger, who turned out to be a Christian priest. At this time Roman citizens were still forbidden to become Christians, so Alban was taking a risk by welcoming the priest into his home.
Alban was so moved by the priest’s faith and courage that he asked to be become a Christian too. Before long the authorities came to arrest the fugitive priest. Alban, inspired by his new-found faith, enabled the priest to escape. The Roman soldiers arrested Alban and brought him before the city magistrate. Alban refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods, and declared: ‘I am Alban and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things’.
The magistrate ordered that Alban should receive the punishment that the escaped priest should have suffered. Alban was brought out of the town and up a hill to the site of execution. He is honoured as the first British saint and martyr, and his burial place on this hillside quickly became a place of pilgrimage. When Christians were finally permitted to worship freely they built a church here.
That first church was probably a simple structure over Alban’s grave, making this the oldest continuous site of Christian worship in Britain. In 429 a European bishop called Germanus recorded his visit to St Alban’s church – he is the first pilgrim for whom we have a name and a date. In the early eighth century the historian Bede told the story of St Alban and described ‘a beautiful church, worthy of his martyrdom’.
The Anglo-Saxon King Offa founded an abbey of monks here in 793. They followed rules for life set out by St Benedict, who had said they should welcome every stranger as though that person was Christ himself. People came on pilgrimage in large numbers to Alban’s shrine.
When the Normans arrived in England a new Abbot called Paul of Caen was appointed in 1077 – he built much of what you see today including the huge, strong tower. The church was enlarged several times by later generations. After the monks were sent away by Henry VIII in 1539, the townspeople bought the enormous building to use as their parish church. In 1877 it was chosen to become the cathedral and the spiritual home of the bishop for the new diocese of St Albans.
Alban’s welcome to a persecuted stranger was a powerful example of courage, compassion and hospitality. He is an inspiration to people of many faiths and none and his story is commemorated annually by the city as part of the Alban Pilgrimage. Every day pilgrims still visit his shrine and, in time, the surviving pieces of the historic shrine of Amphibalus, the priest who Alban saved, will be cleaned and re-built so that we can tell his story too.
A wonderful part of the Alban, Britain’s First Saint project to date, has been welcoming new people to the team of staff that work behind the scenes of the Cathedral.
Two recent additions to the team have been for our two remaining Heritage Lottery funded posts; the Visitor Services Officer and the Community Engagement Officer. Volunteers continue to be at the heart of everything that goes on at the Cathedral and these two roles will ensure that this remains the case for years to come. They will also enhance our community outreach, ensuring that the Cathedral remains a welcoming place for everyone.
Here, they introduce themselves and give us an overview of what their roles will involve.
Lindsay Wong, Community Engagement Officer
I am very excited to be joining the Cathedral as the Community Engagement Officer working on the Alban, Britain’s First Saint project. Originally from Toronto, Canada, I first came to the UK almost 5 years ago to complete my Masters in Cultural Heritage Studies at UCL and quickly fell in love with the history and museums in England. Since then, I have enjoyed working at the Jewish Museum London as part of their Education Team, looking at how religion, history, and heritage intersect.
As the job title suggests, I am looking at how the Cathedral can make further links with the community and welcome groups that have never been before through outreach activities and new events at the Cathedral. I will also be working closely with our new Visitor Services Officer to ensure that we become a place that is accessible to all. I am thrilled to be joining the Cathedral during this new phase of its history and am looking forward to working with the rest of the team.
Laura Bloom, Visitor Services Officer
I am looking forward to beginning work as the Visitor Services Officer during the ABFS project. I moved to England in 2013 after completing my master’s degree in Medieval History, doing much of my research on St Albans. I then worked in the Tower of London sharing England’s rich history with visitors from all over the world before taking a job at the Cathedral 2 and a half years ago as Development Administrator and Diary Manager. I am delighted to be able to continue sharing the amazing history that surrounds us and most importantly, the story of Alban with our many visitors.
As VSO, I will work with volunteer groups and staff on the Cathedral floor to ensure visitors have the best possible experience while they are here. Lindsay and I will be recruiting more volunteers and looking into bringing different audiences into the Cathedral through new events, tours, and activities. I am looking forward to the completion of the new Welcome Centre and developing this into a warm, welcoming, and informative introduction to our incredible Cathedral.
Caroline Godden, our Adult Learning Officer, gives us a taster of some of the new activities coming up in Adult Learning as part of the project.
Well over a thousand years ago, one of my favourite historical figures, the Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great, wrote that ‘very often it has come into my mind what people of learning there were formerly throughout England’. Alfred drew inspiration from scholars from history to encourage learning throughout his kingdom with a passion which enthused his subjects and has inspired historians ever since.
It’s something that I often think about when I consider the history of learning at St Albans Cathedral – we can learn so much from those who went before us, and they can inspire and engage us even hundreds of years later. That’s one of the reasons that our project, Alban, Britain’s First Saint, offers so many exciting opportunities for learning today. We are drawing on our own rich history from the time of Saint Alban up to the present day to offer a whole series of engaging events, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
We’re fortunate to have a varied historical culture here – a thriving musical tradition, an abundant literary heritage, stunning artistic decoration, and a scholarly practice which since medieval times has encompassed not only theology but also other subjects, such as philosophy, poetry, history and science. Our Study Centre, the core of our Adult Learning programme, will be drawing on all of these aspects in an exciting new range of activities coming up, specifically designed as part of the Alban Britain’s First Saint project.
Over the summer we’re looking forward to welcoming the first of three Artists in Residence, who will be working with us to explore the historical graffiti hidden around the Cathedral, some of which dates back to the sixteenth century. You may not even have noticed these personal, and sometimes quite charming, traces of individuals who have, throughout history, made their mark on the Cathedral walls. This is our opportunity to show some of these fascinating strands of history in a new light, and engage the community in these tiny but remarkable traces of the past.
We’ll also be celebrating the incredible works scratched (perhaps more conventionally) onto vellum in the scriptorium at the medieval abbey. While little remains of the renowned medieval library in our Cathedral Archives, we nevertheless can lay claim to an enviable literary heritage. Working with the New Museum and Gallery in St Albans, we’re looking forward to reuniting some of the most significant manuscripts which were written in St Albans in a joint exhibition in the summer of 2020. Taking inspiration from local characters such as Matthew Paris, Roger of Wendover, and Thomas Walsingham, this cross-site exhibition will explore the people who dedicated their lives to learning, the beautiful works of art which they produced, and the fascinating and painstaking process of the creation of a manuscript. To complement this exhibition, we’re also going to be running workshops in calligraphy and palaeography (the study of writing) so that you can have some hands-on experience of the work of the monks who created these manuscripts.
There will also be a fabulous opportunity for the whole community to engage in a contemporary expression of the fine musical tradition at the Cathedral. Working with local musician Pete Letanka, we’ll be holding a ‘Big Sing Festival’ in Spring 2019 which celebrates the communities and cultures around the world which have connections to St Albans and the Cathedral, and incorporates music and song from these different places into a musical mélange rehearsed in a day and performed in the Cathedral itself.
There’s all this and more to look forward to as part of the ABFS project, and we are grateful to all those who join us as we continue to be inspired by the amazing heritage of this building and the history of the people who lived and worked here in St Albans before us.
You can keep up to date with progress of the project, by visiting our website or following this blog.