of verulamium, romans and saints

Once upon a time, a long time ago, 1959 years ago to be exact, there was a Roman town by the name of Verulamium. It was the third largest town in Roman Britain and had been granted the rank of municipium which meant that it could collect its own taxes and administer itself.

It was complete with all the trappings of Roman civilized life—a theatre, temples, an arch, roman baths, basilica, and a forum for its population of nearly 15,000. Trade flourished and its people lived in fine town houses equipped with underfloor heating systems. This town was my stop for today.

There is something very comforting about archaeological ruins. They seem to echo with the laughter and voices of people who once lived in them. As I walked through the Roman Theatre, its stone walls sunk deep in green fields, it was easy to envision Romans mesmerised by perhaps a classical play or wide-eyed and animated at a sword fight, each thrust of the blade drawing forth screams and exclamations from the crowds.

A group of children from the local primary school walked into the deserted arena, breaking into my musings, and started rehearsing for their school play. It was wonderful. The sheer sense of continuity it expressed. Their young voices and stilted dialogues perfectly in place within the circle of time.

The serene ruins of the Roman Theatre (140 AD) where plays and sword fights once enthralled and excited crowds
Roman mosaics at the Verulamium Museum; The shell mosaic on the wall has to be one of the most splendid floor mosaics I have ever come across

Verulamium’s other claim to fame is St. Alban. Now, for all us non-Christians, he was the first British Christian martyr executed by the Romans in 304 AD. The present day Abbey was built by King Offa of Mercia in 793 AD with Roman bricks on the site of the saint’s martyrdom. Over the years the shrine has been rebuilt and renovated to become the eclectic mix of styles that it is now, and a site of national pilgrimage and working church with children in choir practice and men and women stopping by for a heart-to-heart chat with God.

Much of the town of St. Albans, which is what followed Verulamium chronologically, is built around the Abbey with its townsfolk living in what were once Tudor Inns lining medieval carriageways or cottages with dwarfed doorways. Memorial plaques to its war heroes dot the streets. The graceful colonnaded colonial town hall in the main square has been converted into a tea house.

I was merely 20 minutes away from Greater London, yet I felt I was in another world, where modern day people lived, completely at ease, with 2,000 years of their own history.

St. Albans Cathedral: Norman architecture, 900-year-old soaring roofs, glass angels titled ‘acceptance’ and a bunch of impish school boys at choir practice


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