Modelling the Cathedral

Modelling the Cathedral

The team behind the Cathedral’s new interpretation scheme have been working hard to bring its different areas to life and the start of 2019 has seen a variety of new developments. In the pipeline are stunning audio visuals and descriptive panels which will be dotted around the Cathedral. However, it is not only the inside of the Cathedral which is undergoing change. The team have also been working on the visitor journey from the outside, too. One particularly fascinating element currently in development is the metal models which will be located immediately outside the Cathedral.

The models are designed to introduce our visitors to the huge size and scale of St Albans Cathedral. Made from cast-metal, the two models will help visitors to orientate themselves when they visit the Cathedral and its surroundings. Laura Bloom our Visitors Services Officer, and Stephen De Silva, volunteer chair of the Interpretation Committee, visited the workshops of RAE Models Inc. in Chertsey to see the models in production.

Sumpter Yard will be the location of a beautifully crafted model showing the proportions and spread of the modern-day cathedral. It will direct visitors to the new Welcome Centre where they can begin their visit by discovering a Cathedral Timeline. This will introduce them to the story of Alban, Britain’s First Saint and this glorious church built in his honour.

The second model, outside  the west end of the Cathedral, will be a re-creation of the large medieval Abbey of St Alban as it may have looked in 1539 before it was closed on the orders of Henry VIII. Today the only church, which became the cathedral in 1877, and the great abbey gateway survive. Visitors will be able to see the many buildings of the “lost abbey”, re-created to scale based on archaeological discoveries and ancient maps.

During their visit Laura and Stephen were able to check the maker’s progress, supply additional details and get a better sense of how these models will improve our visitors’ experience. We can’t wait for the models to be completed and brought onsite this summer!


What’s it like to be the Artist in Residence at St Albans Cathedral?

What’s it like to be the Artist in Residence at St Albans Cathedral?

One of our new Heritage Lottery Fund funded posts is an Artist in Residence, who will join us each summer for three years to put on new activities for a range of audiences. Last month, we were delighted to welcome the first of the three artists, Ella West, who put on creative workshops and drop in sessions over the summer holidays. She explains more about her art, and what it was like to work in St Albans Cathedral.

Working in collaboration with St Albans Cathedral this August has given me an excellent opportunity to deepen my art practice through community engagement, dialogue and the sharing of ideas. It’s impossible to escape the overwhelming sense of time bounded into the very walls of the Cathedral, making it an inspiring place to work.

In my work, I study rocks to gain perspective on our environment, landscape and the material of the earth. They allow me to grab onto concepts of existing in a complex and transitional world through seeing and holding them. From humbly small stones to mammoth land formations, rocks physically embed and squash time, light and space.

In my prints and paintings, I create biomorphic forms that illuminate and replicate the power of nature. My work grows organically through the process of making. I begin with an image/stone/colour palette and reproduce them into abstracted shapes, working to build interactions between the forms. Exploration during recent years has expanded my practice and allowed me to introduce inquisitive experimentation in a variety of mediums including video, photography and sculpture.

The artist residency at St Albans Cathedral has been a fascinating project in many ways. Learning about the history of the site sparked immediate curiosities for me as an artist. Set with the task of exploring the hundreds of years of graffiti – carved by local parishioners and visitors alike – I wanted to find a way to honour the presence of the various communities of today. Delivering introductory screen-printing workshops enabled different groups of people to create contemporary images as a way of reinterpreting the marks of the past.

Through inviting people to take part in marking their mark onto the surface of six wax sculptures, I aimed to provide a surface in which visitors of all ages and backgrounds could experiment with the message they would leave behind. Within the wax tablets and on the walls of the cathedral, it is interesting to observe the variety of names, drawings and moments etched on the surface – I wanted the tablets to work in harmony with the space. The very idea that humanity’s desire to be remembered is as old as time itself felt important. We will continue to create monuments to ourselves out of stone.

Ella’s wax sculptures, The Cerae Tablets, are on display in the Cathedral until Sunday 30th September. To find out more, please visit

For more information about Ella’s work, please visit

Project provides brand new activities for kids this summer

Project provides brand new activities for kids this summer

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

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.

Swan Graffiti
A swan, which can be seen in the Nave of the cathedral!

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.

IMG_1318 WEB

For more information about any of the activities taking place this summer holiday, please visit


Alban Britain’s First Saint: The Project So Far in 10 Objects

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

DSCN3771In 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.


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.

Plate 1 - Osteological analysis of JW
Dr Emma Pomeroy analysing Abbot John of Wheathampstead’s bones.

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.


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

Wall Painting Projector testing
The projectors were tested earlier in the year.

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.


7. LabyrinthLabyrinth

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

Alban Psalter execution
A depiction of the martydom of St Alban in the Psalter.

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.


Students from Oaklands College create Roman Chariot to join the Alban Pilgrimage

Students from Oaklands College create Roman Chariot to join the Alban Pilgrimage

Earlier this year, staff and volunteers from St Albans Cathedral’s Education Centre were delighted to welcome Supported Learning students from Oaklands College for a workshop with a twist. As part of the Cathedral’s Heritage Lottery funded project, Alban, Britain’s First Saint: Telling the Whole Story, the students worked alongside the Cathedral’s education team and carnival specialists, Mahogany, to create a new roman chariot to add to the spectacular procession.

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.

For more information visit

With thanks to the Media students from Oaklands College’s Welwyn Garden City campus, who shot this footage. Directed and edited by Jheryl Stewart.

Abbot John of Wheathampstead: Where Is He Now?

Abbot John of Wheathampstead: Where Is He Now?

Following the archaeological excavation undertaken by Canterbury Archaeological Trust[1]  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.[2]

Plate 1 - Osteological analysis of JW
Osteological analysis of John of Wheathampstead

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[3], 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.

The cleaning process has revealed the inscription Martinus V (Martin V) PP Pastor Pastorum – ‘Shepherd of Shepherds’.

Plate 5 - Cleaned bullae 1.jpg
Cleaned bullae

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.

Plate 6 - Cleaned bullae 2.jpg
Cleaned bullae

Further information on the archaeological investigations will be posted as post-excavation work progresses.




With thanks to James Holman, Project Manager, and the team at Canterbury Archaeological Trust.

Interpreting the Story of Britain’s First Saint

Interpreting the Story of Britain’s First Saint

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’.

Alban is put to trial Pilgrimage 2017.jpg
St Alban’s trial is re-enacted at the Alban Pilgrimage in 2017

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.

Shrine (c) Arun Kataria BANNER
The Shrine of St Alban is still visited by pilgrims today

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.