Last year was spectacular. The solemnity of the traditional Albantide Pilgrimage was shattered with the aid of giant puppets and colourful costumes. A procession which was a fusion of traditional church liturgy and the colour of carnival retraced the last steps of Alban from Verulamium to his execution at the top of the hill.
This year was even better. The puppets and costumes from last year were brought out again. But added to the procession this time were two lions and two brilliant chariots complete with horses and riders.
|The young soldiers were new this year.|
A whole Roman legion of children wearing costumes they made themselves looked very effective, while the angels had gained new wings made the Guild of Silk Painters.
Last year the Bishop of St. Albans was slightly disappointed by the number of pilgrims. This year he could have no complaints. Thousands of people, many from churches named after Alban across the country swelled the ranks, so much so that the procession passed on both sides of the lake. The costumes and colour reflected beautifully in the still water.
|Ian Pearce speaks to Doctor Williams|
The smell of incense filled the air as the clergy brought up the rear of the procession. This year the very last place was taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor Rowan Williams.
One ingredient remained from last year . They still couldn't detach Alban's head, but as legend has it, this year the executioners eyes popped out.The eyes were also in the procession - two giant eyeballs on sticks.
The pilgrims then made their way into the Cathedral for a solemn Eucharist. It was a chance to see the superb statues made by the young people of the Cathedral. They reflect Martyrs through the ages and replace statues destroyed over for hundred years ago when Alban's shrine was also smashed to pieces.
|Will Alban lose his head this year?|
The congregation nearly lifted the roof singing special hymns telling the story of "Alban - England's Rose".
After lunch the entertainment continued in the "circus minimus" in the orchard. Here the lions were duly tamed and the chariot racing began. Teams of four "horses" pulled three special racing chariots around the course. The site of the clergy in their cassocks charging around the track pulling chariots was a site to behold.
Then it was back to the Cathedral for Evensong where the Archbishop of Canterbury was the preacher.
|The ceremonial chariots were brilliant.|
Last year was good - this year was brilliant. Well done to everybody involved in an event which combines the tradition of the church with the sheer enjoyment of carnival.
As the country vanishes under a sea of St Georges flags, this was a great way of raising the profile of Alban the first Christian Martyr.
Next year will be even better. Just be part of it.