St Albans becomes the only Cathedral in Britain to house two restored medieval pedestal shrines
- Credit: St Albans Cathedral
Visitors to St Albans Cathedral this summer will have the chance to see the medieval shrine of St Amphibalus restored to its former glory.
Located near to the shrine of St Alban, Britain's first Saint, it is the first time in centuries that the Cathedral's two medieval shrines can be appreciated together in their fully restored grandeur.
The shrine of St Amphibalus is one of Britain’s 13 medieval pedestal shrines and St Albans is the only British cathedral to house two.
As part of the Cathedral’s landmark Alban, Britain’s First Saint project, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and over 1,000 donors, the conservation and restoration project of the shrine of St Amphibalus began in June 2019.
It has been completed thanks the generous and valued support of a number of committed donors.
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Carried out by a team at Skillington Workshop, based in Lincolnshire, specialist conservation of the original pieces took place as well as the creation of hand-carved stone by skilled carvers to replace missing sections, before returning to rebuild the shrine in the Cathedral in 2021.
Dr David Carrington, director of Skillington, said: “The St Amphibalus shrine has been a really special project for our team, and it is a privilege to have been involved.
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"The preservation of the surviving 14th century carvings, the setting-out to allow restoration of missing sections and the interpretation and carving of these missing bits in the original spirit and style all presented unique challenges.”
Among the range of carvings, visitors to the historic site will be able to spot a modern addition of a face wearing a face-mask to commemorate the shrine’s restoration project taking place during the pandemic.
Remarking on the restoration project, Abi Thompson, Sub Dean, said: “The newly restored Shrine of St Amphibalus creates a fresh focus for prayer, and is a beautiful way to tell part of the story of this extraordinary place to visitors.
"The masked figure reminds us that the history of St Albans stretches forwards as well as backwards, and pilgrims will be able to mark the latest chapter in the history of this Cathedral alongside Amphibalus and Alban, who were there at the very beginning.”
To mark the return of the restored shrine, St Albans Cathedral will be launching a new pilgrimage route during the annual Alban Pilgrimage weekend in June.
Beginning at the site of the saint’s martyrdom in Redbourn, before arriving at the shrine’s new home in the Chapel of the Four Tapers in St Albans Cathedral, the new pilgrimage route will be a key feature of the Cathedral’s Medieval Summer programme.
Further information can be found online at www.stalbanscathedral.org
Who was St Amphibalus?
St Amphibalus is the priest to whom Alban gave shelter and helped to escape the Romans by exchanging cloaks.
He was later caught and executed – tradition says near Redbourn.
The name ‘Amphibalus’ was given to him in the 1100s and derives from the Greek and Latin words for a cloak.
Amphibalus’ grave was thought to have been rediscovered in nearby Redbourn in 1178 and a shrine built for his relic in the Abbey.
This shrine was destroyed after the Abbey’s dissolution in 1539, but pieces of beautifully carved stonework were uncovered when workmen unblocked a partition wall during restoration work in the 1870s.
These pieces were from the medieval shrine bases of Alban and Amphibalus. Approximately 55 per cent of the original stone from St Amphibalus’ shrine was discovered.
In the late 19th century, the roughly reconstructed and restored shrine base of St Amphibalus was placed in the retrochoir – the site where it had stood from the 1350s to the 1570s.
The shrine was moved again from the retrochoir sometime before 1905 by Lord Grimthorpe, who placed it in a gloomy corner of the North Ambulatory.
It remained there until its restoration began in 2019.
The newly restored shrine is now located in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Four Tapers, several metres south of its late medieval location.
This creates a dedicated space where it can again become a place of devotion and prayer.
The restored shrine base was rededicated and blessed on February 7, 2021.
A new canopy – being created by the Royal School of Needlework based at Hampton Court Palace – and four icons telling the story of St Amphibalus will arrive later in 2021 to complete the setting of the restored shrine.