Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Series: English Saints and Their Shrines

I linked to a story from The Catholic Herald about how English saints have been written out of English history, and many of those saints were first written out of English life during the Reformation era. Henry VIII reduced the number of saints' feast days and although he had gone on pilgrimage, as to Walsingham, he and his lay vice regent in charge of spiritual matters, Thomas Cromwell, had the great shrines of English saints destroyed.

The websites of the cathedrals reconstituted after the dissolution of the monasteries, however, often contain information about the saint or saints once honored there. The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St. Alban includes the story of England's first martyr and also this reflection on the effect of the Reformation and the Dissolution of the community and the cathedral:

The town's economy declined dramatically. No longer did a constant stream of pilgrims and royal visitors arrive at St Albans expecting food and lodging. No longer was each day marked by bells and prayers at the Abbey. The mayor and corporation bought the Abbey church from King Edward VI for £400 to be used as a parish church, but without the Abbot’s income to pay for repairs and without the teams of masons, carpenters and plumbers to care for it, the great church slowly declined into dilapidation. The Abbey church was now the largest parish church in the land, with only the population of a small market town to care for it. Local worthies left bequests for church maintenance but this money was only enough for urgent repairs, and in spite of several royal briefs raising larger sums, the following centuries show, in the paintings of many artists, a record of St Albans Abbey in romantic decay.

In 1570 the Lady Chapel was walled off from the rest of the church to contain the grammar school, as the original premises had been destroyed in the demolition of the conventual buildings, when the aspiring Tudor landowners came for building materials to enlarge the newly-purchased monastic farmhouses. In this county with no stone, valuable building materials were recycled. The shrines of Alban and Amphibalus were probably demolished at the same time, as their stones were used as rubble for the dividing walls.

It was not restored, even after greater damage in the late eighteenth century, until the middle of the nineteenth century. This is the first in a series of posts about these great shrines, their fall and their restitution after centuries of neglect.

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