How did the Reformation change St Albans Abbey?
On the 25th of May 2023 the two Year 12 history classes completed a trip to St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire.
Upon arrival at the cathedral, we were greeted by the magnificent sight of the towering medieval structure; we were given freedom to roam the building and were in awe of the stunning stained-glass windows, intricately carved stone pillars and the surrounding grounds. Led by knowledgeable guides, we then embarked on a comprehensive tour delving into the rich history and architectural beauty of the cathedral. We learned about the cathedral’s origins dating back to the Roman era, its transformation during the Norman Period and its significance as the burial of St Alban, Britain’s first Christian Martyr.
As we progressed through history, our guides discussed how the Cathedral was directly affected by the changes during the Reformation (the shift from Catholicism to Protestantism) as it transitioned from an Abbey to a Cathedral. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, initiated by Henry VIII, St Albans Abbey was desolated, monastic life ceased, and the abbey’s land and possessions were confiscated by the crown in 1539. The shrines of the saints were demolished, the relics of Saint Alban lost and the only standing window was that marked with the royal crown. Continuing through history, we learnt that the cathedral became a centre for the establishment of Protestant practices and teachings during the reign of King Edward VI and underwent changes in its liturgy, religious artwork, and practices, aligning with the emerging Protestant faith. The tour further highlighted the significance of St Albans Cathedral during the reign of Queen Mary I, known as “Bloody Mary”; she aimed to restore Catholicism and suppress Protestantism in England. St Albans Cathedral experienced a temporary reversion to Catholic practices during this period.
The tour continued as we explored Shrines of Saint Alban and Amphibalus ;we were told of the stories it held within old and new. Following the Reformation, the church had to be replenished and this process began in the Victorian Era and is still continuing to modern day – the architecture included tributes to Covid and personal family stories of modern-day church users. We learned the role of the cathedral in the community and how this has changed overtime from a medical facility, place of pilgrimage and the place of residence for monks to now being multipurpose, having everything from live gigs to Roman Catholic Mass. Bishop’s Hatfield Girls’ School’ choir has been singing there around Christmas time for many years as part of the Willow Foundation Christmas Carol Concert.
The trip provided us with a first-hand experience of the abbey’s historical significance and its connection to the Reformation. We gained a deeper appreciation for the transformative impact of the Tudor period on religious beliefs and practices. We left the cathedral not only enriched in knowledge of the cathedral’s architectural beauty and cultural importance but also a broadened awareness of the historical events that unfolded within its walls.