Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

St. Albans Abbey (St. Albans)

St. Albans Abbey is in fact a cathedral, situated in the Hertfordshire city of St. Albans. It can be seen from the M25, which encircles London, and is the higest-situated cathedral in Britain, the floor being 320 feet above sea level.

The original building is believed to have been constructed on the site of the execution of St. Alban, Britain's first Christian martyr, on a hill overlooking the important Roman town of Verulamium in 209. Later an abbey was founded here by Offa of Mercia.

The present building was started in 1077 as a Benedictine abbey, and has a long Norman nave, whose length is exceeded only by Winchester Cathedral. It contains traces of the earlier Saxon church, and the West tower, the oldest cathedal tower in England, contains Roman brick.

Some of the church collapsed in 1323, necessitating rebuilding.

The base of the shrine of St. Alban, destroyed in 1539, was moved to the retrochoir, and the rare wooden watching chamber, constructed in the 14th century, still stands. The only other still standing in an English cathedral is at St. Frideswide's shrine at Christ Church in Oxford.

Nearby is the chantry chapel of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, the son of Henry IV. He amassed a fine library, and was an early benefactor of Oxford University, before dying, probably murdered, at Bury St. Edmunds.

The magnificent rood screen is the only remaining stone one in an English cathedral, and there is a series of outstanding mediaeval wall paintings.

The abbey was elevated to cathedral status in 1878.

In 1982, Her Majesty the Queen opened the new chapter house, which contains a refectory, library and shop.

Nicholas Breakspear was the son of a monk at St. Albans Abbey. He was refused entry into the abbey as a monk, as it was felt that he did not have the necessary learning and was generally unsuitable. He later, as Adrian IV, became the only English-born Pope.

The mediaeval chroniclers Matthew Paris and Roger of Wendover were monks at St. Albans.

Magna Carta was written at the abbey, before being presented to King John in 1215.

Dr. Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury who was formerly Bishop of St. Albans, is buried in the churchyard.

Bookmark this page

Bookmark this page with

What is

Places in St. Albans...

Events in St. Albans...