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St Albans, diocese of

St Albans, diocese of. Now conterminous with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, the see was founded in 1877 from parts of the Rochester diocese (Herts., Essex and north Woolwich). This was a failure, and Essex and north Woolwich were removed in 1914 to form the new see of Chelmsford; in return St Albans gained Bedfordshire from Ely, a more natural liaison. The city, well known for its early history as Verulamium, a principal Romano-British city, was where St Alban, the first British martyr, reputedly met his death. Because of this Pope Hadrian IV gave its wealthy Benedictine abbey, founded by Offa of Mercia c.794, special precedence over all other English monasteries. Its abbot headed his colleagues in 14th-cent. parliaments. Matthew Paris, the medieval chronicler, was a St Albans monk from 1217 to 1259. The cathedral is the former abbey church, which served the parish after the dissolution. Built between 1077 and 1088 to replace the original Saxon church of Offa, it is basically Norman with 13th-cent. additions. Its exterior is the second longest (521 feet) in Europe, after Winchester. Recently a new chapter house has been completed (1982) and St Alban's shrine restored (1993).

Revd Dr William M. Marshall

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