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.



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