Various saints appeared in recent Twelve Mile Circle articles, most recently On the Feast Day. I didn’t intent to fixate on them. The names of saints, both notable and obscure, kept coming to my attention as I researched other articles. I couldn’t simply ignore them. Take Saint Alban, for instance. Perhaps if I lived in England I might have known something about him. That’s the place where his story began. English explorers, colonists and settlers took his name and spread it wherever they migrated. I saw a town by that name in the United States and I naturally wondered, who was this Saint Alban?
The Saint’s Story
Martyrdom of Saint Alban. Photo by Lawrence OP on Flickr (cc)
Saint Alban figured prominently in the cast of revered characters of England’s Christians. Many considered him the English protomartyr, the original Christian martyr for the nation. The Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban later rose near the site of his martyrdom in Hertfordshire (map). The surrounding town took his name too. However, during the Roman period, somewhere around the third century, they called it Verulamium and they did not tolerate Christians.
Alban sheltered a stranger who happened to be a Christian priest, the legend said. The priest practiced a forbidden faith, an act punishable by death. Alban learned more about the priest’s religion as he hid him from capture, leading to Alban’s conversion to Christianity. Meanwhile the authorities continued searching for the priest so Alban swapped clothes with him so he could escape. This angered the local magistrate who decided to punish Alban the same way he intended to punish the priest. He ordered Alban’s beheading on a hillside just outside of town. Alban became an instant martyr. Even now, 1,700 years later, pilgrims return to the site of St. Alban’s martyrdom, especially on his feast day, June 22.
The story evolved over the centuries, and in reality St. Alban may or may not have actually existed. Nonetheless, that didn’t matter. He meant a lot to Christians in England and his name spread as they sailed around the globe.
St. Albans, West Virginia, USA
St. Albans, WV Station. Photo by Bunny & Norm Lenburg on Flickr (cc)
Actually, I first noticed the name in West Virginia. St. Albans sat just a few miles west of Charleston on the southern bank of the Kanawha River (map). The town began as Coalsmouth in the late eighteenth century at a place where the Coal River joined the Kanawha, thus at the mouth of Coal. I guess that sounded like an odd name for a town. Coalsmouth got a new name when it incorporated in 1872; "named by the chief counsel of the C&O railroad and close friend and railroad builder Collis P. Huntington, H. C. Parsons, in honor of his hometown in Vermont."
St. Alban’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
St. Alban made it over to Canada too. There it retained a possessive apostrophe, the Town of St. Alban’s on the island of Newfoundland (map). The original settlers arrived at this spot on the Bay d’Espoir sometime around the middle of the nineteenth century. They called it Ship Cove. However, that caused problems.
… the community’s name was changed in 1915 at the suggestion of parish priest Father Stanislaus St. Croix, in order to avoid confusion with numerous other Ship Coves. The present name of the community honours an English martyr and was chosen to reflect the fact that St. Alban’s is one of the few predominately Roman Catholic communities in Newfoundland where the majority of inhabitants are of English (rather than Irish or French) origin.
Logging once generated most of the jobs in St. Alban’s. Today aquaculture and hydroelectricity fuel its economy.
St. Albans, Victoria, Australia
St.Albans, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Photo by s2art on Flickr (cc)
Surprisingly for a neighbourhood as old and as big as St Albans, there is very little written about its particular history, i.e. its own history as a neighbourhood. This is because it developed across the boundary between Sunshine and Keilor and was thus divided between these two municipalities.
First came a railway station named St. Albans in 1887. The town grew around it after land speculators purchased small farms nearby. One gentleman, Alfred Padley, actively subdivided many of the plots and resold them. His wife, according to the website, had a family link back to the St. Albans in Hertfordshire. Thus the name transferred to the station and to the town.
One publication called St. Albans "the homicide capital of Victoria." It experienced sixteen homicides in two years. There are cities in the United States that probably experience that many homicides in a week. Sixteen — while certainly tragic for those involved — didn’t seem extreme enough to warrant such an onerous label.
St. Albans, New Zealand
I figured I might as well finish my virtual world tour by taking a look at New Zealand. Yes, a St. Albans grew there too, as a suburb of Christchurch. Look at its splendid border. The jagged edge made it appear like somebody tore it from a sheet of paper. I wondered what led to such an unusual shape, seemingly skipping or included houses and businesses at random. Alas, I never found out. However I did discover how it got its name. Apparently, before the town existed, St. Albans was the name of a local farm. The owner, George Dickinson, named it for a cousin. She was Harriet Mellon, the Duchess of St Albans.