Pilgrims flock to St Albans Abbey, despite weather: With Gallery

RAIN showers and floods failed to dampen the spirits of those that took part in the pilgrimage to celebrate the patron of the city and the country’s first martyr at the weekend.

The Alban Pilgrimage included Roman chariots, 12-foot tall puppets as well as hundreds of local children dressed as roses, soldiers, stained glass windows, angels and monks and involved a colourful re-enactment of the story behind Saint Alban.

He lived in Roman Verulamium more than 1,700 years ago and gave shelter to a Christian priest fleeing persecution by the Romans. Moved by the priest’s faith, Alban became a Christian, and the two men swapped cloaks, enabling the priest to escape. Alban was arrested instead, brought to trial and beheaded on the hill where St Albans Cathedral now stands.

Despite the showery weather many onlookers turned out to watch the spectacle but part of the procession had to be diverted away from the normal route of Abbey Mill Lane due to flood water running down the hill.

In the afternoon the St Albans Festival was launched with the free Festival for All event which included a series of activities and performances from musical and theatre acts throughout the course of the day.

The opening event culminated in Periplum’s performance of The Bell in the park which saw aerial performances, stilts, promenade action, exciting pyrotechnics and soaring music came together to present a “sensory extravaganza”.

But the torrential downpours throughout the day did affect guest numbers. Gordon Jackson, of Eskdale, London Colney, said a security guard at the event estimated that the biggest number of people at any one time was 160.

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He said: “That must have been disappointing for the event organisers and the various groups who had been booked. I would have thought it would have cost up to �50,000 to stage this event. The weather was not great, though to justify a rerun we as a community would need to suggest why it didn’t work.”

However, the district council insisted that the event drew in crowds of up to 2,000 at key points throughout the day. Richard Shwe, head of community services, said: “In the afternoon, the frequent bouts of torrential rain, lasting up to 30 minutes at a time, as well as a 10 to 15 minute downpour of hail stones understandably led to people vacating Verulamium Park when the rain came down to find shelter elsewhere.

“Despite the terrible weather, crowds came back in between the heavy downpours to watch performances in the park throughout the afternoon. We know from past experience had the opening day been dry crowds in the park would have built up throughout the day.”

Cllr Beric Read, portfolio holder for community engagement and localism, said: “It was a wonderful day, despite the weather, with over 20 performances on the two stages alone. As the weather cleared, the moody sky proved a perfect backdrop to a stunning finale performance.”