June 22 – Alban; Thomas More

Alban (d. ca. 209 or 251 or 257 or 303 or 304 or … ?), protomartyr of Britain, was a Roman citizen (perhaps soldier) in Verulamium (now called St Albans for some reason) when the powers that be starting rounding up the Christian clergy (and not for a round of Euchre). The bold priest Amphibalus knocked on Alban’s door and said, “Hide me.” His nonstop praying impressed Alban so that he said, “Tell me about this God of yours.” Whatever Amphibalus said was enough, because Alban was soon baptized.

When soldiers came to the door to politely inquire, “Are there any Christian clergy here? Just for curiosity’s sake and all,” Alban switched clothes with Amphibalus, sent the priest out the back door, and presented himself for arrest. When the magistrate uncovered the ruse, he was furious, and demanded that Alban renounce Christianity. Alban said, “I worship and adore the true and living God who created all things.” This phrasing is still used in the prayers at St Albans Abbey, which this writer (like the third person thing? it’s an experiment) thinks is awesome. After a bit of torture, Alban was sentenced to die, but the place of execution was beyond the river (Ver or Thames, depending on whether you trust Gildas or Bede*). The bridge was solid with rubberneckers, but the saint raised his hand, and the waters parted. The appointed executioner was so impressed he resigned, and was arrested. As they climbed Holmhurst Hill, Alban grew thirsty. He was refused water, so a stream sprang up for him to drink from. Sadly St. Alban’s Well, long a pilgrimage destination, is now dry.

The arrested headsman was executed along with Alban, as was the priest Amphibalus, who tried to save Alban by turning himself in. St. Alban’s Abbey now stands at the place of his execution. His remains remain at large.

Thomas More (1478–1535) was a lawyer and the son of a lawyer, but I am willing to forgive that, for his relationship to his children—he always wrote to them whenever he was away and encouraged them to write back. What is more (no pun intended), he was a strong advocate for the education of women, and took great pride in the erudition of his eldest daughter, a Latin and Greek scholar.

At court he quickly became a favorite of Henry VIII, and when he thought he was staying too long at court and tried to increase his time at home, he found Henry popping round for visits. He was a fierce foe of the Reformation, working to prevent the importation of Lutheran books into England, spying on publishers, and confiscating especially copies of Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament.

Things were “hotting up” at the kids say, and More had to resign the Chancellorship when he was asked to sign a letter to the Pope seeking the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine. When More refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn, he was only saved by his long friendship with the king. He was finally arrested for treason when he refused to acknowledge either the annulment or Henry’s position as sole earthly head of the English church. It probably didn’t help that Boleyn’s father, brother, and uncle sat on the panel of judges that heard his case; but perhaps they were completely impartial in their deliberations[1]. More was found guilty and sentenced to drawing-and-quartering, but the king, in view of their long friendship, commuted the sentence to mere decapitation.

On the scaffold More said he was “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” He begged leave to position his beard so that the axe wouldn’t shorten it, saying that it, at least, was not guilty of any crime. You can’t make stuff like that up, or at least I can’t. He is the patron of difficult marriages, step-parents, adopted children, and large families.

[1] Details about the bridge for sale can be found on Craigslist.