Albans' heart stays forever strong at St Albans Cathedral
PUBLISHED: 17:13 13 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:13 20 February 2013
Marie Hardingham takes a look at what makes the Cathedral and Abbey Church of Saint Alban more than just its namesake
THE Abbey, as it is known locally, commands the St Albans city skyline with its unrivalled majestic beauty. Not only is it a truly magnificent building, it is also home to the shrine of Britain's first Christian martyr, Saint Alban, a Roman who lived in the city of Verulamium where the town of St Albans now stands. This scheduled ancient monument has been given preservation priority over other land uses by the Secretary of State for culture, media and sport, thus assuring its future.
Its architecture is a melting pot of styles from many different eras; in fact, the great Norman Tower itself comprises Roman bricks salvaged from the ruins of Verulamium. This cathedral is steeped in a wealth of history and much more besides - there's more to this landmark than meets the eye. It has the longest nave of any cathedral in England and has been an infamous filming location for many movies. The nave was used as a substitute for Westminster Abbey in Rowan Atkinson's hilarious caper Johnny English, while the wedding scene from First Knight starring Sean Connery was shot in The Lady Chapel, and most recently it appeared in the ITV thriller Fallen Angel with Emilia Fox and Charles Dance.
Today, the cathedral is a busy centre for church, cultural and civic events, but right at the heart of this impressive blend of architecture are the people and the community. At 6.30am every day the vergers open up this amazing building to make preparations for the day ahead. The smooth running of the building every day relies entirely on 55 full and part-time staff and more than 1,000 volunteers all working together on a variety of jobs from bell ringing to clearing tables in the refectory caf.
Each day there are at least four services taking place beginning at 7am, however on some days there are many more as the cathedral is also a parish church and there are lots of weddings, baptisms and funerals held here. Ultimately the cathedral is a place of worship and ecumenical mission, catering for an array of religions, but it is also a friend and compatriot to its surrounding neighbourhood with strong connections to local schools and businesses.
During term-time the abbey plays host to its community by holding an assortment of activities to entertain mums and toddlers, Brownies and Guides and the youth of the area.
Music is a huge part of life at the cathedral and with a vibrant musical reputation it is ranked among the best that English cathedrals can offer. If you happen to be in the nave early on most weekday mornings you will hear the very dedicated choristers practising their lyrical talents. Since the abbey took on its cathedral status in 1877 the music tradition has continued with a choir made up of boys and men and in 1996 the abbey girls' choir was born. There is also a parish choir which sings weekly at the Parish Eucharist.
St Albans Cathedral choir is one of the finest cathedral choirs in the country boasting international status which is an amazing achievement as the choristers have no special choir school to attend and come from diverse and varied backgrounds.
An award-winning Education Centre was launched in the early 80s. Since 1988 it has been managed by an independent educational trust, a separately registered charity providing learning opportunities for around 15,000 children each year from all over the county. A variety of trails and practical workshops are on offer from maths to history, and through the use of story, costume and role-play teachers educate children to have a greater knowledge of all topics covered.
The St Albans Cathedral Music Trust is another separately registered charity, established to support the Dean and the Cathedral Chapter in boosting the cathedral's low budget, so enabling centuries of choral worship to continue.
There are major works planned in the nave during 2008. The project commenced work in January when an archaeological excavation got underway to install a platform lift for disability access at the West End south steps. In order to raise money for the conservation and enhancement of the cathedral a DVD entitled simply 'The Abbey' has been made.
Julian Hopkins, development officer of the cathedral explains, 'The film was made to raise much needed funds for the cathedral, in particular for the refurbishment of the nave and the restoration of our Harrison & Harrision organ. Members of the abbey congregations, the wider abbey community, abbey visitors and many others, now have the opportunity to buy a documentary record of the multi-faceted life of St Albans Abbey.
'It captures inspiring footage of the worship and musical life of the abbey, and shows the work of the clergy, its award-winning Education Centre and many hundreds of volunteers as they go about their daily lives.'
To The Manor Born star Penelope Keith took part in the making of the DVD by doing the voice-over. She explains why she wanted to be a part of the DVD and urges people to buy a copy, 'This lovingly produced 50-minute documentary film is a moving testimony for all those who want to know more about this very special place and for those who have already visited and would like to have a record of its work.
'As is the case with so many other English cathedrals and ancient monuments, St Albans Cathedral is worthy of our generous support. We must treasure it and our heritage for future generations. Please help by buying this DVD.'
To buy a copy of the
DVD, send orders to:
Cathedral Enterprises Ltd, Cathedral
and Abbey Church of Saint Alban,
Sumpter Yard, St Albans AL1 1BY
or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Price 12.99 (plus 1.50 P&P)
Cheques should be made payable to
the Cathedral and Abbey Church of
The DVD is also be available to buy
from the cathedral shop and other outlets. You can receive a free copy
for a donation of 75 or above.
Please send donations to St Albans Cathedral at the above address,
attention of the Development Office.