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St. Albans National Pilgrimage - 2010

On an unseasonably cold June day, a small group of pilgrims left St. Mary's church for the relatively short trip round the M25 to the city of St. Alban's. An early start for what would turn out to be a day of many surprises and blessings for all of us.

We arrived at the site of the Roman city of Verulamium and our first surprise was the sight of giant carnival puppets in the form of Roman chariots and horses, a bishop and Alban himself, as well as hundreds of children dressed as Roman soldiers, angels, monks, lions and even the executioner's eyeballs.

Roman Soldiers costume Roman Chariot

This was the start of a procession through the park and the streets of the city, stopping at various points to re-enact and reflect on the story of St. Alban, before ascending the hill to the cathedral and abbey church, the site of Alban's trial and beheading.

In around 250 AD, Saint Alban gave shelter to a Christian priest fleeing persecution. Moved by the priest's faith, Alban became a Christian, and the two men swapped cloaks, enabling the priest to escape. Alban was arrested instead, brought to trial and beheaded on the hill where the Cathedral now stands. The story goes that the executioner's eyeballs fell out when he did the deed!

The Bishop costume The Execution of Alban

After the re-enactment of the execution, the head of Alban (puppet, not real!) was taken by the Dean of the Cathedral, Jeffrey John, into the abbey as hundreds of people filed in for a special festival eucharist. The preacher was Canon Lucy Winkett, Precentor of St. Paul's Cathedral, who reminded us that a martyr is literally a witness, and for all of us, it is given that we are witnesses - that we sing of what we have found of the presence of God in the world.

After the service there were many activities in the abbey grounds, including chariot racing, a steel band, face painting, coconut shy, jesters, balloon modelling and a drumming workshop. However, as it was rather cold some of us followed Father Duncan's lead and retired to a pub for lunch and a pint. Another surprise for me was that St. Alban's is actually a very attractive city - I suppose being in commuter land close to the M25 it had never occurred to me to go there before.

I know that we all thoroughly enjoyed the pilgrimage to St. Alban's and I think it would be great for a larger group of us to return in the future. It does make a great family day out: children will love the puppets and there are activities throughout the day, including children's activities during the Festival Eucharist. It is a wonderful celebration of the life of England's first martyr.

From St. Albans we went on to visit Father Duncan's previous church at Redbourn and below are pictures of Duncan in the sanctuary, and some of our Pilgrims.

Reported by Martin Dollery

Father Duncan in his old church Group of Pilgrims

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