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Saturday, February 03, 2007

St Dyfan, Proto-Martyr of Britain

I had cause today to e-mail an American monastery which sells icons and icon prints. They have one of St Alban, Proto-Martyr of England, and that is how the good Saint is identified on the icon itself, but the monastery's website advertises this icon as being of St Alban, Proto-Martyr of Britain.

I e-mailed them, thanking them for offering icons of such good quality and alerting them of the error, and they have very politely replied to say that they will amend this as necessary, but it got me to thinking about just how many people realise that St Alban is not the First Martyr of Britain, and that it is misleading to refer to him as such. Indeed, there is an icon belonging to my housemate which bears this erroneous label, and which hangs in the oratory photographed in a recent post.

St Alban's death is usually dated about the year AD303, and this makes him the first Saint whose martyrdom in England is recorded. However, St Dyfan, whose Feast we celebrate on the 14th of May, was martyred in approximately AD190 in Wales, and the village still bears the name of Merthyr Dyfan. Therefore, his martyrdom is the earliest in Britain of which we know, and so it is he, and not St Alban, who is rightly and properly referred to as the Proto-Martyr of Britain.

This may seem like nothing more than a bit of pedantry on my part over the use of the word Britain, but where the honour due to a Saint is involved, I think it is rather important. The entire concept of Proto-Martyrdom shows that there were those who were being killed for the Faith before it became something for which one received honour. St Dyfan sought not glory, but rather the Truth of Christ, and received a Martyr's crown as his reward.

St Dyfan, Proto-Martyr of Britain, pray for us!


Anonymous said...

I want a fiver for every time an American has said to me, "Wow, you're Scottish! I heard you were British." I used to get that all the time in Dubai. It drove me nuts until I realised there is a longstanding national rivalry between Americans and Canadians that I could exploit. At one time I had a joke going with a colleague from Georgia who called me Brit Chick (it was the year of the Chicken Run movie) and I called him Le Canadien cos he had a funny accent ;-) Anyways, he like half of my American friends STILL thinks England is Britain and Scotland, Wales and Ireland are "Here be dragons" :-) Thank you for the info on St Dyfan too.

Michael Astley said...

Oh, I do know what you mean. I've seen examples of this, too.

Only two nights ago, a new member was welcomed to a forum that I have recently joined. One of the administrators introduced her on her own thread, stating that she lived in "Wales, England". I chuckled at the time, knowing that this wouldn't go down particularly well, but then I wondered at how this error could have been made.

Surely, in providing the information about herself (as all prospective members do before they are approved), she would not have said that Wales is in England, so the administrator in question must have just made it up. Perhaps he was trying to help, assuming that many people would not know where Wales is. If so, I think he may have proved himself right. It certainly isn't in England.

Eric John said...

Well, I think the Welsh might take objection to being lumped together with Britain, given the nasty matter of the Anglo-Norman conquest and all. St. Dryfan is the proto-martyr of Wales and St. Alban the proto-martyr of Britain or England. However, I would be surprised if there weren't martyrs in between St. Joseph of Arimathea's mission and the persecution of Diocletion. A couple days ago we had the commemoration of St. Aule, martyr of London. I don't know what year he was martyred in, however.

Michael Astley said...

If you'll forgive my saying so, that's a very idiosyncratic use of Britain, Eric John. England is only one part of Britain, the others being Wales and Scotland. It would be a bit presumptuous of us English to claim the name for ourselves.

However, I agree with you that we must be aware that these are the first Martyrs of whom we have record and that this doesn't necessarily mean that they were actually the first Martyrs of these lands.