I haven’t wandered too far today. I live close to the ancient city of St Albans, and a recent visit to the cathedral had me considering what it had once been like.
The cathedral itself is mainly Norman, but is built from the bricks of Roman Verulamiam, once one of the most important Roman cities in the UK and the place where St Alban met his martyred end. I wonder how it must have been for the Normans to wander the ruins, nearly a thousand years old at the time, and whether they looked at the ancient walls with any curiosity beyond a source of building materials.
St Albans has a long history, being a tribal settlement before the Romans came, then growing into a city of such importance that it was sacked and burned by Boudicca of the Iceni, on her way to Londinium. Much of the Roman city still remains unexcavated, though there are bits and pieces to be seen, including a section of the old city wall and a wonderful mosaic floor with hypocaust heating, unearthed in the local park and left in situ.
The Norman cathedral was part of a prosperous abbey until the dissolution, after which time it fell into such disrepair that there was talk, in the eighteenth century, of having it demolished and replaced with a smaller church. It was saved, thank goodness, and eventually restored.
Today you can visit the cathedral grounds and walk the circuit inside, under soaring arches and painted ceilings. There is even a bit of St Alban there, enshrined, though it is a fairly recent acquisition, and the centuries old graffiti carved into the stone pillars is well worth seeing.
The cathedral still holds regular services, and has an excellent gift shop and cafe. It also hosts a well-known Christmas Market every year, while the streets of St Albans bustle with shoppers just a few metres away.
And yet, when mist falls over the hill and the land is deserted, it is possible to just glimpse the ghosts of St Albans’ Roman past, built into the very walls.
Thank you for joining me on another Wednesday Wander – see you next week 🙂