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E07536: The Latin Martyrdom of *Albanus (martyr of Verulamium, Britain, S01364) relates the death of the saint, and describes a visit to his tomb by *Germanus (bishop of Auxerre, ob. c.448, S00455), who leaves relics (membra) of apostles and other martyrs and takes with him soil stained with the blood of Albanus. Written probably in Verulamium and possibly before 400, with an interpolation added at Auxerre (central Gaul) c. 450 or later.

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posted on 17.04.2019, 00:00 by dlambert
The Martyrdom of Saint Albanus (Passio sancti Albani, BHL 211a)

(1.) Tempore persecutionis sanctus Albanus quantum antiquitas tradidit adhuc paganus clericum persecutores fugientem hospitio recepit. Ipsiusque habitu, id est caracalla qua ipse uestiebatur indutus, pro eodem se obtulit. Statimque iudici oblatus est.

(2.) Qui cum ante christianitatis agnitionem christianum se esse in quaestione fateretur, gladio percuti iubetur.

(3.) Cumque ad uictimam duceretur, peruenit ad fluuium †qui muros et harenam ubi feriendus erat meatu rapidissimo diuidebat†. Uidit ingentem hominum multitudinem utriusque sexus condicionis et aetatis, qui sine dubio diuinitatis instinctu ad obsequium martyris uocabantur, ita occupasse pontem ut intra uesperam transire uix posset. Denique iudex sine obsequio in ciuitate substiterat.

(4.) Confert se ad torrentem cui †diu erat† ad martyrium peruenire. Et dirigenti ad caelum lumina ilico siccato alueo suis cessit immo praecessit unda uestigiis.

(5.) Cumque ad locum destinatum morti uenisset, occurrit stricto gladio carnifex precans qui martyrem percussurus erat pro martyre se puniri. Proiectoque impio ense ad sancti Albani pedes aduoluitur, repente factus ex persecutore collega.

(6.) Uerum dum iacente ferro esset inter carnifices iusta cunctatio. Montem cum turbis sanctus martyr ascendit. Qui oportune editus gratia ineffabili quingentis fere passibus ab harena situs est, uariis floribus pictus atque uestitus, in quo nihil est arduum nihil praeceps, nihil abruptum, quem lateribus longe lateque deductum, a facie aequoris natura conplanat.

(7.) Quem haut dubie martyri praeparatum. Iam prius quam sacro consecraretur cruore, sacrum similis fecerat pulchritudo. In cuius uertice dari sibi sanctus Albanus aquam rogauit. Statimque incredibili meatu ante martyris pedes fons perennis exortus est, ut omnes agnoscerent etiam torrentem martyri obsequium detulisse.

(8.) Neque enim fieri poterat ut in arduo montis cacumine aquam martyr peteret, quam utique in flumine non reliquerat, †si fluuium non uideret†. Qui denique ministerio persoluto deuotione completa officii testimonium relinquens reuersus est ad naturam. Nec illud praetereundum putaui, quod carnifici illi radicitus ad terram lumina, qui piis ceruicibus intulit impias manus cum sancti martyris capite conciderunt.

(9.) Ibique etiam carnifex ille qui sanctum Dei ferire noluerat in laude dei et ipse percussus est. Tunc iudex exanimis tanta nouitate perculsus, iniussu etiam principum iubet de persecutione cessari, referens augeri potius religionem caede sanctorum per quam eandem opinabantur aboleri.

(10.) Ad cuius basilicam cum sanctus Germanus episcopus cum omnium apostolorum diuersorumque martyrum reliquiis peruenisset, pretiosa in eodem loco munera conditurus reuelli sepulchrum iubet, ut membra sanctorum ex diuersis regionibus collecta, quos pares merito receperat caelum sepulchri unius teneret hospitium.

(11.) Quibus honorifice depositis atque sociatis, de loco ipso ubi martyris sanguis effluxerat, massam pulueris rapuit, uiolenta quidem deuotione sed pio sacrilegio, in qua apparebat cruore seruato erubuisse terram martyris caede persecutore pallente.

(12.) Quibus rebus manifestatis atque patefactis ingens hominum eadem die ad Deum turba conuersa est. Praestante Domino nostro Iesu Christo cui est honor et gloria in secula seculorum. Amen.

In two places words in the text marked with † represent emendations undertaken to rectify a textual crux.


(1.) In the time of the persecution Saint Albanus, as antiquity has passed down, whilst still a pagan took into his home a cleric who was running away from his persecutors. Dressed in the man’s own garment, that is the cloak (caracalla) that he was wearing, [Albanus] put himself forward instead of the man and immediately he was taken before the judge.

(2.) When, before the recognition of Christianity, he confessed under questioning that he was a Christian, he was ordered to be executed by the sword.

(3.) And, as he was being led to the place of sacrifice, he came to a river, which separated the walls and the arena where he was to be executed with its very rapid flow. He saw that a vast multitude of people of both sexes and every situation and age, who were summoned without doubt by divine prompting to offer deference to the martyr, had occupied the bridge so that he could scarcely cross before the evening. Indeed, the judge had remained without any deference in the city.

(4.) He directed himself towards the rushing stream by which he was still [?] to come to his martyrdom. And, raising his eyes to heaven, the channel having immediately been drained, the flood yielded to, or rather paved the way for, his footsteps.

(5.) And, when he had come to the place appointed for his death, the executioner with sword drawn approached him, begging that he who was to execute the martyr be himself punished in the martyr’s place. Throwing away the impious sword, he prostrated himself at the feet of Saint Albanus, suddenly changed from a persecutor to a partner.

(6.) In truth, while the weapon was lying idle, there was an understandable delay among the executioners. The holy martyr together with the crowds climbed the mountain. This, favourably elevated with indescribable grace, was situated about five hundred paces from the arena, painted, or even clothed, with many coloured flowers, on which nothing is arduous, nothing steep, nothing precipitous. Nature smoothes [it] out on its sides, far and wide, stretched out after the appearance of a plain.

(7.) Without doubt [the mountain] was prepared for the martyr. Already, before it was consecrated by his holy blood, a similar beauty had made it holy. On its summit Saint Albanus asked for water to be given to him and, straightaway in an extraordinary manner, before the martyr’s feet a continual spring sprang up, so that everyone might acknowledge that even the rushing stream rendered deference to the martyr.

(8.) Neither, indeed, could it be that on the lofty peak of the mountain the martyr might have sought water, which in any case he had not left in the river, if he had not seen [?] the river. Finally, its duty complete, it reverted to its natural course, leaving behind the witness of service discharged with devotion. Nor did I believe that it should be omitted that, from that executioner who thrust his impious hands on those pious necks, his eyes entirely dropped to the ground at the same time as the head of the holy martyr.

(9.) And there too that executioner, who had been unwilling to slay the holy man of God, to the praise of God was himself also executed. Then the terrified judge, struck down by so great a novelty, even without the command of the rulers, gave the order for the persecution to be stopped, reporting back that the religion was instead being increased by the slaughter of the saints—the same means by which they were thinking it was being destroyed.

(10.) When the holy Bishop Germanus had arrived at [Albanus’] basilica with relics of all the apostles and diverse other martyrs, intending to deposit these precious gifts in that same place, he ordered the tomb to be opened, so that the limbs (membra) of saints brought together from different regions, whom heaven had received as equal in merit, the hospitality of a single tomb might [also] keep.

(11.) When these had been both deposited and united with due honour, from the very spot where the blood of the martyr had poured out, he seized a clod of soil with violent devotion but pious sacrilege, in which it was apparent that the earth, preserving the blood, blushed from the slaughter of the martyr whilst the persecutor paled.

(12.) When these things were disclosed and made public that same day, a huge crowd of people turned to God. With our Lord Jesus Christ prevailing, to whom be honour and glory for evermore. Amen.

Text and translation: Mark Laynesmith.

History

Evidence ID

E07536

Saint Name

Albanus/Alban, martyr of Verulamium (Britain) : S01364 Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, ob. c. 448 : S00455

Saint Name in Source

Albanus Germanus

Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Language

Latin

Evidence not before

350

Evidence not after

450

Activity not before

300

Activity not after

430

Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland Gaul and Frankish kingdoms

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

St Albans Auxerre

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

St Albans St Albans St Albans Verulamium Auxerre Tours Tours Toronica urbs Prisciniacensim vicus Pressigny Turonorum civitas Ceratensis vicus Céré

Cult activities - Places

Place of martyrdom of a saint

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at martyrdom and death Punishing miracle Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Unbaptized Christians Officials Torturers/Executioners Ecclesiastics - bishops

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified Bodily relic - corporeal ashes/dust Bodily relic - blood Discovering, finding, invention and gathering of relics Transfer, translation and deposition of relics

Source

The earliest Martyrdom of Albanus (BHL 211a), the text given and discussed here, is found in six manuscripts dating from the 9th to 14th centuries, which ultimately depend on a text probably created in the mid 5th century at Auxerre, in the circle of Germanus of Auxerre: Archives départementales du Jura, MS 12 F 8, fols. 150v–151r Autun, Séminaire, MS S38 (34), fols. 70r–70v Einsiedeln, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 248, fols. 26r–26v Lincoln, Cathedral Library, MS 149, fols. 154r–154v London, British Library, MS Addit. 11880, fols. 155r–156v London, Grey’s Inn, MS 3, fols. 141v–142r There are two later dependent versions of the Martyrdom both surviving in single manuscripts: BHL 210d is a late 8th/early 9th century manuscript probably copied in Soissons (Turin, Biblioteca Nazionale, MS D.V.3, fols. 254r–257v). It preserves a text expanding the BHL 211a version and was likely created in southern Burgundy (perhaps Vienne or Lyon). BHL 210d shares much vocabulary with the Martyrdom of Ireneus, Benignus, Andochius, Thyrsus and Felix (E06532). The latter is believed to have been created during the episcopacy of Gregory, bishop of Langres (505/6-539/40) (S00038). Meyer argued that BHL 210d was dependent on the Martyrdom of Ireneus, suggesting that an early to mid 6th century date for BHL 201d is conceivable. BHL 211, another independently expanded version of BHL 211a, was probably created in the later 6th or 7th centuries in central/northern Burgundy (perhaps Lyon or Autun). It is preserved in a single 9th/10th century manuscript perhaps copied in Lyon (Paris, Bibliotheque nationale, MS lat. 11748, fol. 134r-134v). This edition became one of Bede’s two primary sources on Albanus for the Historia Ecclesiastica (1.7) and his Martyrology.

Discussion

The cult of Albanus is well documented in texts of the 5th and 6th centuries. The Life of Germanus, bishop of Auxerre, written in c. 460-c. 480, testifies independently to the visit of Germanus to Verulamium described in our Martyrdom (see E05846), while two 6th century sources also refer to his cult: Gildas’ De excidio (E02974), written in Britain and perhaps derived from BHL 211a, and Venantius Fortunatus’ hymn De virginitate (E06245), written in Gaul. The clear dependence of BHL 210d and 211 on BHL 211a indicates that the text of the Martyrdom depends on a single line of transmission. BHL 210d In its current form this latter text appears to be a creation of the church of Auxerre, since (in §§ 10-11) it includes a description of the visit by Germanus of Auxerre to Albanus’ shrine (a visit that can be dated to 429 by reference to Prosper of Aquitaine’s Chronicle). The Martyrdom describes Germanus depositing relics in the grave of Albanus, as well as removing red-tinged blood-soaked earth from the site of Albanus’ execution. 9th century sources recount that these relics were considered to have been deposited by Germanus in Auxerre in a church dedicated to Albanus (probably Auxerre’s former cathedral). It is likely that the Martyrdom was produced to support this Auxerre cult and perhaps also a nascent devotion to Germanus himself. The Auxerre text’s production must postdate Germanus’ visit, and most probably predates the composition of Constantius’ Life of Germanus since the Life assumes its audience already had knowledge of the martyr’s identity and story (E05846). A date of c. 450 would seem credible or, at the latest, by the start of the 6th century given reuse of the text by BHL 210d. Nevertheless, the word used to describe the relics of saints that Germanus deposited in Albanus’ grave, membra, is puzzling, since it most readily translates as ‘limbs’, in other words substantial body-parts; but there is no good evidence from Gaul or Britain of saintly bodies being broken up, and their different parts scattered, from the 5th, or indeed 6th century. BHL 211a shows obvious signs of interpolation. The account of Germanus’ visit (§§ 10–11) interrupts the narrative and is stylistically atypical with its sophisticated juxtaposition of diverse saints of equal merit, now in a single tomb, and its paradoxical ‘violent devotion’ and ‘pious sacrilege’. Once excised, the remaining text functions perfectly in its own right, suggesting that it originally existed in this form, and was the form used at Verulamium at the time of Germanus’ visit (and copied for him there). This early text may well have been in existence by the end of the 4th century, since Albanus’ miracle of drying up the riverbed so that he could proceed to his martyrdom seems to be alluded to in Victricius of Rouen’s De laude sanctorum, written in around 397, though the martyr concerned is not named: '…this one, in the hands of the executioners, told rivers to turn back, lest he should be delayed in his haste’ (… ille inter manus carnificum, nequa mora fieret properanti, iussit redire fluminibus). Archaeological research appears to confirm the cult’s vitality in this period. Excavation of a late Roman cemetery in the grounds of St Albans Cathedral has found possible evidence of mass ritual activity: a gravelled surface covered with significant glass, pottery, and coin deposits, the latter dating from the 390s. The interpolated Germanus section of the Auxerre Martyrdom refers to an extramural ‘basilica’, suggesting that by at least 429 there was a shrine at Verulamium, though clear archaeological evidence of this structure has not so far been identified. Bede, too (Historia Ecclesiastica 1.7), makes reference to an apparently impressive building on the site – 'a church of wonderful workmanship' (ecclesia … mirandi operis). The location of Albanus’ cult site at Verulamium (modern St Albans) is not recorded before Gildas, though the aforementioned archaeological discoveries in the Cathedral grounds make this identification plausible. Topographical details in the Martyrdom are sparse: description of a bridge, a river, walls, and a hillside execution site are partially obscured by a textual crux. Nevertheless, these are broadly consonant with the layout of Verulamium and may reflect local knowledge. Reference to an extramural arena, however, finds no archaeological support and the expression may be used loosely. Other details (the size of the river, and the height and pre-lapsarian beauty of the execution site) clearly represent stylistic exaggeration. The identity, age, and occupation of Albanus are not mentioned in the text. Later traditions making him a soldier find no place in any early source. Similarly, the identity of the fleeing cleric whose place Albanus takes is unknown (by the 12th century he came to be called Amphibalus). Our early Martyrdom describes Albanus acting to save the cleric ‘whilst still a pagan’ (adhuc paganus), suggesting that he might bear some resemblance to that category of pagan bystander-martyrs (often soldiers) who convert after witnessing the martyrdom of a Christian (indeed, Albanus’ anonymous first executioner is just such a case). The adhuc paganus detail appears to have become a source of later controversy. It was eclipsed in both the BHL 211 version of the passion and in Bede, by the invention of a period of catechesis and an implied baptism before Albanus chose to turn himself over to the authorities. By contrast, the BHL 210 version appears to celebrate Albanus’ pre-conversion merit. Bede (E05561), late 8th century copies of the Martyrologium Hieronymianum (E04858 and E04859), and most copies of his Martyrdom place Albanus’ death, and feast, on 22 June. Whilst not providing any biographical details, the main focus of the Martyrdom is the account of Albanus’ death. This takes the form of a miraculous exodus narrative. The Martyrdom describes several miracles: a parting of the river (which convinces his first executioner to convert), the eruption of a hilltop spring, and the instant divine punishment by blinding of a second executioner. Stylistically, the water miracles may reflect biblical traditions associated with Moses. Verulamium’s cult appears to have been disrupted within the British Isles by the Anglo-Saxon settlement, Gildas describing it as inaccessible. Evidence of Insular interest in Albanus resumes in the time of Bede. By contrast, there is considerable evidence of devotion to Albanus in Gaul from the mid 5th century onwards. This is reflected by the creation there of all three of the early Martyrdoms and by Albanus’ appearance in Venantius Fortunatus’ De virginitate. The latter work, composed in the decade before 576 for use in Poitiers, placed Albanus alongside other prominent martyrs (Cyprian of Carthage, Quirinus of Sescia, and Vincentius of Saragossa), probably taking Albanus to represent one of the four cardinal points of the compass. The late 6th century Life of Bishop Maximus of Riez (ob. c. 460) by Dynamius of Provence (BHL 5853; E00852) claimed that Maximus founded a church dedicated to Albanus in Riez. Albanus churches of possible antiquity are associated with several major settlements, including Auxerre, Lyon, Trier, and Cologne. The cult was especially promoted in the dioceses of Vienne and Lyon. A cult of an Albanus of Mainz (21 June) has been suggested to be an 8th century reworking of an earlier devotion to the British martyr.

Bibliography

Editions: Meyer, W., Die Legende des h. Albanus des Protomartyr Angliae in Texten vor Beda (Abhandlungen Der Königlichen Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Philogisch-historische Klasse, neue Folge, 8/1; 1904). Winterbottom, M., “The Earliest Passion of St Alban,” Invigilata Lucernis 37 (2015), 113-27 (with English translation). Further Reading: Biddle, M., and Kjølbye-Biddle, B., "The Origins of St Albans Abbey: Romano-British Cemetery and Anglo-Saxon Monastery," in: M. Henig and P. Lindley (eds.), Alban and St Albans: Roman and Medieval Architecture, Art and Archaeology (British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions 24; Leeds, 2001), 45-77. Laynesmith, M.D., “Translating St Alban: Romano-British, Merovingian and Anglo-Saxon Cults,” Studies in Church History 53 (2017), 51–70. Laynesmith, M.D., The Cult of St Alban of Verulamium (forthcoming). Sharpe, R., “Martyrs and Local Saints in Late Antique Britain,” in: R. Sharpe and A. Thacker (eds.), Local Saints and Local Churches in the Early Medieval West (Oxford, 2002), 75-154. Wood, I.N., “Germanus, Alban and Auxerre,” Bulletin du Centre d’Études Médievales d’Auxerre 13 (2009), 123–129. Wood, I.N., “Levison and St Alban,” in: M. Becher and Y. Hen (eds.), Wilhelm Levison (1876–1947). Ein jüdisches Forscherleben zwischen wissenschaftlicher Anerkennung und politischem Exil (Siegburg, 2010), 171–185.

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