My Herts Life: Jeffrey John
PUBLISHED: 13:03 02 June 2015 | UPDATED: 13:10 02 June 2015
The Dean of St Albans shares his vision for doubling visitors to Britain’s oldest Christian site. Interview by Carrie Bone
The 800th anniversary of Magna Carta is this month. You have lots of events to mark it. What’s the connection? In 1213 the bishops and barons who ultimately drew up Magna Carta held a preliminary meeting with the king’s representative at St Albans Abbey. They demanded the restoration of various properties, rights and privileges which the king had removed or tried to remove from them. This meeting at St Albans was therefore, you might say, the first ‘drafting session’ for the agreements, which were finally codified in 1215 at Runnymede.
This year, we are celebrating the completion of the agreement at Runnymede with an exhibition, a children’s trail, a special peal of bells, and our café will be serving – ahem – ‘Liberteas’.
You want to raise £7m for the cathedral in the next couple of years – what’s the aim of the project? Our overriding aim is to make St Albans Cathedral much better known nationally and internationally as the oldest Christian site in Britain. Alban was martyred and buried here, probably in 303 AD, and there has been a church of some kind here ever since. Canterbury is a young upstart of a cathedral by comparison with St Albans!
The project will provide us with a new welcome building with much better facilities, a new exhibition area and a new visiting scheme which will present the cathedral’s history and treasures in a much more exciting way. For example, we will illuminate our medieval wall paintings with laser light to show their dazzling original colours; and we will restore the shrine of St Amphibalus (a priest rescued by Alban, who was later also martyred) to its original glory. We will also re-house and re-equip our Education Centre, which welcomes thousands of schoolchildren to the cathedral each year, and our Adult Study Centre, which offers all kinds of courses to the wider public. We expect to double our visitor numbers, give them a far more enriching experience and raise the profile of Alban and St Albans considerably.
How can people help? We need to raise £3m as match-funding for the £4.2m which the Heritage Lottery Fund is giving us. So far we have raised about half the amount. So if any kind readers can help us find the rest, or can persuade someone else, we shall be extremely grateful…
What makes St Albans Cathedral special to you? It is the holiest place I know. I don’t just mean that it is very ancient, though it is. I mean it is a place where God and the transcendent come very close. It is as if Alban’s sacrifice and the prayers of over 1,700 years have opened a door into eternity. People come instinctively in times of trouble or joy and even if they have no faith they feel a warm presence and find themselves praying. It is also special because of the kind of Christian faith that has long been practised here, which is traditional but very inclusive and accepting of all kinds of people.
What’s your vision for the Church of England? I want it to be more like St Albans Cathedral!
Full details of the cathedral’s Magna Carta events can be found at stalbanscathedral.org/whatson/celebrate-magna-carta-800