Puslapio vaizdai

studies of character rather than in a rich vein of humanity. That is not what we asked about the Brutus of Shakespeare's play. But we felt with him, with his strife of one self within him against the other, we feel his strange idealism, the pathos of his love and of his friendship. It may not be the Brutus of historians; and Shakespeare's play may not fairly discuss the imperialism of Caesar, and the inevitable change from the later republic, as that may appear before us now. But it is among the magic verses.

To have, however, a discussion of a great crisis at the turning point in the world's history, as in such form in Ben Jonson's Catiline, is a treasure of literature in its way, and too much a treasure that is hidden.


Woodside, Tivoli, Cork.



HE circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of St.


artificially induced, is yet sufficiently deep to tax the powers of modern investigators. It arises not so much from dearth of information as from the labours of those who have erected upon a meagre basis of fact an imposing structure of detail for the most part imaginary. The gradual evolution of the St. Albans legend from its humble beginnings in the lost Acta of early days to the stately story which may be found in the Bollandist collection' constitutes a study in hagiology which is not devoid of interest. To the historian, the process may serve as a useful warning. Here we have a succession of writers dealing with the same subject who, in their singleminded intention of working ad majorem Dei gloriam violate all the canons of historic truth. Art, folk-lore, archæology as they understood it, were all pressed into employment, and forced to subserve the need of the moment. Accurately to classify the ingredients, or even to detect the anachronisms of any one given account thus becomes a matter of the utmost difficulty, and until this has been done, the historical value of the story is nil. Nor is it possible to base conjectures, as to the ideas current at the time, upon an examination of such a story, for the importation of antiquarian elements may conceal, wholly or in part, the mental processes of the writer. When the development ab ovo of a legend like that of St. Alban is known to us, we can see the danger of relying in any degree upon the evidence of a saint-story of which the growth has not been subjected to searching scrutiny.

There seems no reason for questioning the tradition that a man named Albanus died for the Christian faith at the end of the third or the beginning of the fourth century of our era. It is certain that as early as the fifth century St. Germanus, Bishop of Auxerre (418-448) dedicated a church to him; and

1 Acta SS. Boll (Jun..) IV, 149-159
2Bouquet. Rec. des Hist. X, 172.

this one fact is sufficient answer to those who would consign the Protomartyr of Britain to the realm of myth. A tradition which can be traced so far back as the sixth century places the passion of Albanus at the Roman municipium of Verulamium, and connects it with the persecution ordered by Diocletian, who ruled from September 284 to May 305. High authority has indeed doubted whether that persecution extended to Britain. Space forbids us to enter upon the discussion, but on the whole it may be stated with confidence that the probabilities, when carefully weighed, incline towards the traditional view. It is none the less impossible to determine with precision the year of the martyrdom. The Laudian MS. of the Chronicles indeed gives under the year 286 the entry:

Her prowade Scs Albanus mr,

but it may be said without hesitation that the date is too early in the reign of Diocletian to deserve serious consideration. At this time Britain was ruled in defiance of Rome first by Carausius, and afterwards by Allectus. Not until 296 was the island once more brought within the effective sway of the Emperor. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that the years 296 to 305 constitute the only period of Diocletian's rule during which a persecution could have taken place in Britain under imperial authority. And if we may venture to connect this persecution with the edicts promulgated against the Christians in 303, we arrive at the further limitation of the years 303-305 for St. Alban's martyrdom.

The earliest surviving account of the tragedy dates only from the middle of the sixth century, and is to be found in the De Excidio Britanniae. In view of the disturbed condition of the country consequent upon the struggle between Brythons and Teutons during the fifth century, the absence of earlier accounts of St. Alban is hardly surprising: but it is unfortunate that we have no better guide than Gildas to direct our

3Haddan and Stubbs. Councils, i. 6.

*See this discussion on p. 26 of Vol. I of Hugh Williams' edition of Gildas De Excidio Britanniae.

5 Bodleian Laud MS., 636
Gildas De Excidio Britanniae, cc. 10, 11.

steps at the outset of the enquiry. The prejudiced ignorance of this partisan of the Brythons adds much to the difficulty of sifting fact from fiction. As might be expected, the original facts of the martyrdom have by this time become interwoven with imaginary detail, and embellished with a touch of the miraculous. The account may be summarized as follows:

Alban, a Roman legionary stationed at Verulamium in the time of Diocletian, sheltered a Christian confessor fleeing from the persecution ordered by that Emperor. The soldier was converted by his guest, embraced his faith, and went forth to suffer death in his stead. As he was proceeding to the place of execution, St. Alban came to a stream over which was a bridge, crowded with eager spectators. Impatient of delay, and burning to win the crown of passion, he plunged into the river — Gildas, it is to be noted, calls it the Thames — which dried up before his feet. The waters stood in an heap on either side until the holy man had passed over. When at length St. Alban reached the fatal spot, the dignity of his bearing wrought so powerfully upon the headsman that he refused, even under threat of death, to perform his office. Another executioner being found, St. Alban and his convert suffered together.

The general character of the narrative seems to show that Gildas had before him some very early Acta S. Albani which he used as his source. As an illustration, let us consider for a moment his account of the miraculous crossing of the river. A visit to the scene of the martyrdom affords a not improbable explanation of the whole affair. The Ver, which separates the place of execution from the ruins of the Roman municipium has ever been, within historic times, a poor, shallow little stream, nowhere unfordable, and in summer reduced to the merest trickle.? The account from which Gildas worked probably spoke of the martyr as walking across the bed of the stream on the way to execution, because the narrow Roman bridge which spanned the trickle of water was so thronged with spectators as to be impassable. Now Gildas had certainly never visited the place itself, which in his day had long been

"In the middle ages, its feeble current and summer shrinkage were sources of frequent complaint on the part of the Convent of the Abbey. subjected to the power of the Saxons he loathed and feared. Hence, with the display of pseudo-accuracy characteristic of his work, Gildas identified the anonymous stream mentioned in the early Acta with the one river which he knew to exist in the neighbourhood—the Thames. He was thus driven to assume a miraculous explanation of events which had, in effect, been the result of mere topography. How much of the remaining embellishments of the story are due to Gildas, and how much to his source, it is impossible to determine with accuracy. But considering first, the weakness of Gildas for ornamentation, and secondly, the condition of the story as we have it from his pen, it may well be argued that he must have had a reasonably straightforward account upon which to work. Otherwise the miraculous element would have been more prominent than it actually is. However this may be, the St. Albans legend is now fairly started upon its course, and the fame of the martyr is steadily growing.

Nor is that fame confined to Britain alone. The next mention of St. Alban occurs only some 30 years after the work of Gildas, in the writings of Venantius Fortunatus. who was Bishop of Poitiers from about 600 to his death in 6099. In the course of a long, and, it must be admitted, uninspiring poem in praise of virginity, occurs the following line:

Egregium Albanum fecunda Britannia profert.10 The context shows that St. Alban is being enumerated along with such famous martyrs as St. Cyprian, St. Vincent and St. Victor. We have seen reason for believing that St. Alban was known on the Continent early in the fifth century-St. Germanus is not likely to have dedicated a church to an unknown saint. But here and now in the early seventh century St.

8It is possible that in this early occupation by the Teutons of the country associated with St. Alban, we have an explanation of the application of the title “Protomartyr Anglorum' to the Saint: see the Lives catalogued by Hardy I, i, 6-12, 14-16, 27. 30. Note also (op. cit. p. 22) the words of a writer who says confidenter dico nostrum (Albanum] calumnias Britonum non formidans. This annexation of St. Alban by the English has puzzled many modern writers.

'Migne. Patrol, 88.
10 Venantii Fortunati Carmina VIII, 6, 155.

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