St Albans Cathedral

Here, at last, is a gallery of gorgeous pictures from a long promised return to St Alban’s cathedral. Although I’ve visited a number of times before it is situated on the opposite side of London from Wimbledon and is well outside my usual travel routes. However, we can always count on Chris to come up with an appropriate piece of research and, on this occasion, it was an eighteenth century seashell confection called Scott’s Grotto that drew us into deepest Hertfordshire.

St Alban was our earliest Saint and martyr, losing his head some time in the third century and inspiring one of the very first centres of Christian pilgrimage in Britain. Contemporary accounts are not particularly reliable since the Romans still ruled the country at that time and they were the ones who had put him to death. Nothing changes.  The site continued to be revered throughout the Saxon period and much of the Abbey church that was built by the Normans remains as the shell of the building that we can still visit today. A thousand years later.

For more than eight hundred years it functioned as a monastery, school, hospital and parish church but did not actually become a cathedral until 1877 when, unfortunately, the Victorian make-over team in the form of the Gilbert Scott brothers rather went to town on it. Somewhat more fortunately, on the other hand, much of their alteration has now been removed or toned down and they did at least restore such of the pre-reformation shrine as could still be located.

The cathedral has such an incredibly rich history that it can only be enjoyed if you embrace all of these periods as part of its character and accept that there never was an architectural ideal. Chris and I supported its upkeep by visiting the teas rooms and gift shop (there is no admission charge) and lit our pilgrim candles for Holy week before getting some quick snaps of the Morris dancers and heading off to our next destination.

Scott’s Grotto is on the other side of the county but my trusty navigator got me there without any problems. This little curio is managed by the local council, only opened to the public on a few days of the year and staffed by some very helpful volunteers.  So helpful were they, in fact, that it proved rather embarrassing when someone took pity on Molly tied up to a bench outside. But when I tried to take her in with us she absolutely refused to enter the dark tunnels and took up the position of official greeter at the entrance.

All in all it was a lovely day out and I apologise in advance if I haven’t gone into enough historical detail about the earthquakes, miracles, wars, plagues and politics of St Albans but, after all, they do span rather a long period. We were so lucky to arrive in time to see the Morris dancing that I have rather cheekily added some of Grahame’s pictures of the St Alban’s Morris circa 1979. Yes, he is the tall one in the flowery hat.

Leave a Reply