Tag Archives: St Albans

Marking the Magna Carta

Magna CartaThe original Magna Carta, or the Great Charter of the Liberties of England, was sealed (but not signed) under oath by King John in 1215 on the bank of the River Thames at Runnymede in Surrey. It limited the powers of the king and accepted that no-one could be punished except through the law of the land; this is a right that still exists. The themes of the Magna Carta have led to just laws in countries throughout the world.

Plans for this great charter were made at St Albans two years beforehand when a Council met in the Abbey on 4th August 1213. To commemorate this event, 800 years later, a new ‘Charter’ has been created in St Albans.

A whole skin of parchment was donated by William Cowley Parchment Works, and the work began. Fairness, Justice, Equality and Human Rights are the essence of the first Magna Carta and these words head the 2013 version.

mayor signingThe 1215 great charter was witnessed by a wide representation of the Barons of England. The new 2013 charter has been witnessed by a representation of the citizens of St Albans and its surrounds as was possible. The Lord-Lieutenant of Hertfordshire with her husband head the columns of signatures, followed by Lord and Lady Salisbury. The High Sherriff of the county also signed, as did the Mayor, Annie Brewster (right).




Cecil ParkinsonThe former Cabinet Minister, Cecil Parkinson was a signatory.







Police chief signingThe Chief Inspector of Police of St Albans, right, also added his signature.







St Albans Street sweeperThe street sweeper made his contribution too. Here he is with his cart.






photo copy 8And the person who donated the skin from William Cowley also added his signature.





photo copy 12Representatives of the Anglican Church and of the Abbey – including the Ringing Master and members of the Choir – of Parliament, the City and District Council have signed.

This huge administrative task was masterminded by Rosemary Stevens.

Included too are a butcher, miller and baker, plumber, electrician, goldsmith, tailor, market stallholder, rugmaker, landscape gardener, a street sweeper (see above) and a street musician. A local garden centre, newspaper and radio are represented, also local socities. Judges from the Crown Court, an architect, archaeologists, sports representative, a famous pub, St Albans School, a bank manager, supermarket manager and the manager of a shop selling the latest technological gadgets – which today may seem rather futuristic, but no doubt by 2114 will seem very quaint – are all represented.

Bowman James RoseSignatures and occupations on their own may have looked a little boring, so colour was added starting with the joining of the signatures of the Bowman James Rose and his wife Liz (right) by an arrow with regal red fletching. Others were linked with suitable symbols and illustrations, including the street sweeper’s cart (see above right), making the document very lively and vibrant.


This is a terrific and significant document and all credit must go to everyone involved in such a wonderful enterprise.

St Albans’ Psalter

Christina of MarkyateChristina of Markyate (c1096–1155, and probably on the right, closest to Christ), first called Theodora and born in Huntingdon, was clearly a stunner, as it is recorded that various men were attracted to her. The story is that she fled from Burhred, her husband, on their wedding night, having, after a visit to St Albans in her teens, promised to remain a virgin and devote her life to God. It is unlikely, and records suggest, that Christina didn’t actually leave the night of her wedding, though. When she did finally go, she was sheltered by various hermits on the way until she reached Roger, who was a hermit at Markyate, which is close to St Albans. She stayed with Roger until he died, and then took over his cell. Christina attracted other women to her, including her sister Margaret, and eventually the land around Markyate was given to the foundation by Canterbury Cathedral, the previous owners.

St Alban's PsalterChristina was protected by and became friendly with Abbot Geoffrey (1119–1146) of St Albans, who was French and originally from the abbey at near Le Mans. Geoffrey made great changes at the abbey when he took office, commissioning various items for the church including jewelled copes, a silver candlestick, three ampullas, and he also had the shrine of St Albans rebuilt. In addition, Geoffrey commissioned a vita (life) of Christina which has now sadly been lost, but there is a fourteenth century version now in the British Library.

Annunc-CropThe relationship between Christina and Geoffery is an interesting one. Christina called Geoffery ‘my beloved’ and Geoffery called her ‘my girl and beloved maiden’. Christina had visions and she advised Geoffery as a result of these; it was said that she was ‘sensibly reproving him when his actions were not quite right’. However, Geoffrey’s regular visits to Christina did set the tongues of the gossips wagging and it was written ‘the abbot was slandered as a seducer and the maiden as a loose woman’. Perhaps her making him some underwear for his trip to Rome ‘not for pleasure but to mitigate the discomfort of the journey’ didn’t help either of their reputations!
_54632303_psalter-davidIt is likely that the St Alban’s Psalter was made especially for Christina at the instigation of Abbott Geoffrey. The illuminations are simply stunning, particularly those painted by the Alexis Master. The Psalter (Book of Psalms) was made at St Albans Abbey and no doubt kept at the priory at Markyate. Dates in the calendar relate to Christina with the dedication of her priory, and the deaths of her, and family members, are also recorded. In addition there are dates for female saints and virgins in the calendar which does suggest a female owner.



St Albans Psalter

The Psalter has been being re-bound at the Getty Museum, and there has also been an exhibition of all the unbound pages alongside beautiful stained glass from Canterbury Cathedral.






St Albans PsalterWhilst at the Getty, there have been major studies on the manuscript and, as part of this, they have been able to identify the face of the devil scratched out and tiny pin pricks in the eyes of demons. A knowledge of the mind-set of the mediaeval has explained these. People believed that to see, rays of light left the eyes, ‘saw’ and then returned. The pin pricks were only in the eyes of the demons. These then ‘prevented’ a potentially dangerous event of the demons’ eyes being able to ‘look’.

It is a wonderful manuscript, and ideal for copying to learn manuscript painting techniques.