WWI Memorial Window
The WWI Memorial window is dedicated to St Martin and St Alban
The window shows two saints; Saint Martin, patron saint of soldiers, the homeless and poor - and of France - and St Alban the first British Christian martyr; a pagan Romano-Briton who died to save a Christian hiding from the authorities.
The choice of these two saints would have been particularly significant for the villagers of Oldbury still reeling from the loss of their sons, brothers and fathers in the Great War.
The Armistice fell at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month – the 11th November which is St Martin's Day. Amongst the millions of sacrifices made between 1914 and 1918 were over 4,000 French army chaplains killed whilst ministering to the troops in the trenches and elsewhere. Many French people felt that Saint Martin had intervened personally to save France from more bloodshed and that it was no accident that the Armistice fell on his feast day.
Those chaplains lived Jesus’ commandment recorded in the Gospel of John 15:13 that, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends,” but so too did so very many other ordinary soldiers of all nations who lost their lives.
The parishioners of Oldbury felt that alongside Saint Martin should go Saint Alban – perhaps not just because he was truly British (unlike Saint George) but because he too laid down his life to save a friend – even though he wasn’t himself a Christian.
Unlike Saint Martin who is a well documented historical figure, Saint Alban is a saint of legend.
Saint Alban lived in Verulanium during the third century when Christians were suffering extreme persecution – especially from the Roman Emperor Diocletian. The Romans worshipped and sacrificed to a pantheon of gods and insisted that everyone throughout their empire follow the state religion. Alban gave shelter to – some say a Christian priest, some say a Christian friend – who was on the run from the Roman authorities. When soldiers came to arrest the fugitive, Alban allowed his guest to escape by disguising himself in the Christian’s cloak. Brought before the governor of Verulanium who was incensed by the deception, he refused to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods and declared, “ I am Alban and I worship the true and living God”. He had been converted by the man he was sheltering. The governor ordered him to be beheaded.
Alban was taken out of Verulanium to be executed on what is now called Holywell Hill. Crowds prevented his execution party crossing the bridge over the River Ver so Alban miraculously parted the waters of the river so that he could cross on dry ground. Reaching the place of execution, his would-be executioner was so impressed by Alban’s evident holiness that he refused to carry out orders. He became Britain’s second Christian martyr.