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Reconstruction of fragments of medieval shrine of Amphibalus, St Alban’s Abbey

Amphibalus gets his own scene in Cavalieri’s Ecclesiae Anglicanae Trophaea and doesn’t have to share with St Alban. Alban was Britain’s first Christian martyr (c.209 CE) and he was executed for protecting Amphibalus, a Christian priest. Amphibalus was killed a few days later in a particularly brutal execution that left only his tongue and his heart.

Amphibalus was probably included in the English College frescoes because his very existence had been challenged by Protestants: Alban, it was argued, wore a priest’s cloak, “caracalla”, to confuse the soldiers, later translated into Latinized Greek as “amphibalus”. So amphibalus the cloak hides Alban, when the story was probably the other way around. Alban hid Amphibalus.

You can imagine how a bad translation might end up with that version of events!

But Amphibalus was a cult figure in his own right in the fifteenth century. John Lydgate (1370–1451) wrote a poem about the two, at the request of John Whethamstede, Abbot of St Albans, who was a member of the intellectual circle of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester. Lydgate’s text was among the very last books to be written and printed by a monastic printer and the only vernacular life of a saint printed between 1534 and Mary’s Tudor’s accession.

Amphibalus is being resurrected today. At St Alban’s Abbey, fragments of his shrine reassembled from garden walls and back yards are being restored and will be set up in a prominent location, just to the east of Alban’s shrine, work that should be completed by 2021.

I would have never known about the shrine if it hadn’t been for the kind patience of the vergers and priests at the Abbey. Thank you!




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