History of St Albans

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St Albans is in southern Hertfordshire, England, around 22 miles (35km) north of London, beside the site of a Catuvellauni settlement and the Roman town of Verulamium and on the River Ver. St Albans is Hertfordshire's oldest town, a modern city shaped by over 2000 years of continuous human occupation.


Pre-Roman times

The town is first recorded as Verlamion, a Celtic British Iron Age settlement whose name means 'the settlement above the marsh'. After the Roman conquest of Britain in AD 43, it developed as Verulamium and became one of the largest towns in Roman Britain. Built mainly of wood, it was destroyed during the revolt of Boudica in AD 60-61, but was rebuilt and grew to feature many impressive town houses and public buildings. It was encircled by gated walls in AD 275.

The Romans leave

The Roman City of Verulamium slowly declined and fell into decay after the departure of the Roman Army in AD 410. However, its ruined buildings provided building materials to build the new monastic and market settlement of St Albans which was growing on the hill above, close to the site of Saint Alban's execution. In the Norman Abbey tower, you can still see the Roman bricks removed from Verulamium.

Much of the post-Roman development of St Albans was in memorial to Saint Alban, the earliest known British Christian martyr, executed in AD 250 (the exact date is unknown, with scholars suggesting dates of 209, 254 and 304). The town itself was known for some time by the Saxon name 'Verlamchester'. A shrine was built on the site of his death following Emperor Constantine's adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire. In the 5th century a Benedictine monastic church was constructed.

The Abbey is founded

Another abbey was founded by King Offa of Mercia in 793. The settlement grew up around the precincts of another Benedictine monastery, founded in AD 900-950 by Abbot Ulsinus (also known as Wulsin). According to Matthew Paris, the 13th century chronicler of St Albans Abbey, Abbot Ulsinus (Wulsin) founded three churches in 948, reputedly to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the growing number of pilgrims to Alban's shrine: St Peter's, St Stephen's and St Michael's. Each church was equidistant from the Abbey and on one of the main approaches to the town.

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