Saint Amphibalus baptizing converts
25 June 304|
Verulamium (St Albans), Hertfordshire
Roman Catholic Church|
Eastern Orthodox Church
|Major shrine||St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire (reconstructed medieval shrine)|
|Feast||25 June (or 24 June)|
|Attributes||Priest with cloak|
|Patronage||The Christian persecuted|
|Controversy||'Amphibalus' is almost certainly not his real name; many of the major details of his life may be medieval embellishments|
Saint Amphibalus is venerated as the early Christian priest who converted Saint Alban to Christianity. Amphibalus was fleeing from Roman religious persecution when Alban sheltered the priest in his home. Alban was so impressed with the priest's faith and teaching that Alban began to emulate him in worship and became a Christian. When Roman soldiers came to seize the priest, Alban put on the priest's clothing and cloak, and went with the soldiers in the priest's stead. After Alban's martyrdom, Amphibalus escaped, but was eventually caught and martyred.
Saint Amphibalus' real name is not recorded in any of the texts that mention him or Saint Alban. In the earliest accounts of the St. Alban story, such as the ones found in Gildas (c. 570) and Bede (c. 730), the priest is unnamed. It is not until the 12th century when he comes to be called by the name "Amphibalus" and it is very unlikely that this was the real name of the priest. He is first called "Amphibalus" by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who may have misunderstood the Latin word used for the cloak, amphibalus, that was worn by Saint Alban. However, it is also possible that Geoffrey is simply repeating a name for the priest that had come into common usage by his time.
Most of what is known of Amphibalus's life is derived from hagiographic texts centered on Saint Alban and written hundreds of years after his death. He was believed to be a citizen of Caerleon during the 3rd or 4th century. During a religious persecution, Alban sheltered Amphibalus from persecutors in his home. The priest was very pious and faithful, and while in Alban's home, he prayed and kept watch both day and night. He instructed Alban with "wholesome admonitions," influencing Alban to abandon his previous religious beliefs and follow Amphibalus in the Christian faith. Alban was so inspired by his guest that he chose to sacrifice his own life in order to save Amphibalus'.
After the martyrdom of Alban, Amphibalus was believed to have returned to Caerleon, where he converted many others to Christianity, including the Saints Julius and Aaron. It was believed that he was eventually captured by the Romans and returned to Verulamium, where he too was martyred for his faith. Where and how he was killed is unclear. Some sources say he was beheaded, others say he was stabbed. A later version of the legend says that Amphibalus and some companions, were stoned to death a few days afterwards at Redbourn, four miles from St. Albans. This adaptation further clouds the origin of this rather obscure Saint. Saint Amphibalus is remarkable for being one of four martyrs of the early Christian church in Roman Britain along with Albus, Julius and Aron. There is little known about any of the four early Saints except that they seemed to all be acquainted with each other.
In 1178, some 800 years after his traditional death date, his remains were discovered at Redbourn in Hertfordshire, England, near the town of St Albans. According to the tale, Saint Alban appeared in a vision to a monk named Robert, indicating that he wished to make known the location of the remains of Amphibalus. Robert followed the spirit of Saint Alban, and was led by the saint to the spot where the remains of Amphibalus and his companions lay. Healing miracles occurred on the spot, and the abbot ordered the site to be excavated. Several bodies were discovered, and one body seemed consistent with manner of Amphibalus' death. The body believed to belong to Saint Amphibalus was moved to Saint Alban's. It was there that a shrine was constructed for the veneration of the relics.
The first shrine in the Norman Abbey of St. Alban's stood before the Great Rood Screen, near the high altar, on the north side of the shrine of St. Alban. However, in 1323, a portion of the abbey roof collapsed, damaging the shrine. It was then moved to the north aisle of the presbytery. Eventually, around 1350, he was given a more suitable position in the center of the retrochoir, just east of St. Alban's own shrine in the 'Saint's Chapel', complete with a stone tomb, paintings, and a silver gilt plate.
During the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, the shrine was destroyed, and the pieces were used to block the eastern arches of "Saints Chapel." The relics themselves were scattered and lost. The remains of the shrine were discovered in the 19th century during renovations, and were reassembled in 1872 under the direction of Sir George Gilbert Scott. Today, the reassembled stone shrine can be seen in St. Alban's cathedral.
Traditionally, Amphibalus' feast day was held in June, with various sources saying it was held on the 22nd, the 24th, and the 26th. Winchester Cathedral was under the patronage St Amphibalus before it was dedicated to St Swithun.
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- Page, William,ed., 'Houses of Benedictine monks: Redbourn Priory', A History of the County of Hertford: Volume 4 (1971), pp. 416-419
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- The Buttercross, City of Winchester
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