Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Enter Shikari -- "All Eyes on the Saint" (2009)

As the executioner raised his axe
I swear the saint smiled

Saint Alban -- the first British Christian martyr -- was a former pagan who lived in Verulamium (now called St. Albans), a Roman town that was located just north of current Greater London.  He was beheaded by the Romans after converting to Christianity.  

The date of Alban's martyrdom is uncertain, but probably occurred sometime in the 3rd or 4th century A.D.  (This song says the execution took place on June 22, 209 A.D., which is one of several possible dates that historians have put forth.)

St. Alban takes one for the team
According to tradition, Alban's executioner was so impressed by his faith that he converted on the spot and refused to execute Alban.  A second executioner was found, but his eyes fell out of his head when he beheaded Alban.

There are relatively few Anglican churches named for St. Alban.  Most are in England, but one is in Washington, DC.  It is situated on Mount St. Alban, just a stone's throw from the Washington National Cathedral.

St. Alban's Church (Washington, DC)
I recently had occasion to visit St. Alban's School, which is adjacent to the church.  I was there to referee at a weekend basketball tournament pitting local Greek Orthodox church school teams against one another.

There are a surprising number of Greek Orthodox churches in the Washington and its suburbs, and those churches are the focal point of the vibrant Greek-American community in the area.

Here's a photo of the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which is right across Massachusetts Avenue from St. Alban's:

St. Alban's School, by contrast, is a WASP bastion.  Slate magazine once called it a "snooty, elitist, inside-the-Beltway institution," and I don't think anyone in Washington would really argue with that description.

Many of St. Alban's graduates have gone on to become prominent members of the Washington power structure.  

St. Alban's alums include Evan Bayh (former two-term Governor of Indiana and two-term U.S. Senator from that state, and son of former Senator Birch Bayh); Al Gore (the 45th Vice President and almost the 42nd President); Donald Graham (CEO and chairman of The Washington Post Company); J.W. Marriott, Jr. (chairman of Marriott International); Gore Vidal (a prolific novelist, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, and political commentator); and John Warner (five-term Senator from Virginia and former husband of Elizabeth Taylor).

St. Alban's School
The school, which was founded in 1909, has also educated many of the sons and grandsons of rich and powerful Washington figures, including President George H.W. Bush's son (and President George W. Bush's younger brother), Secretary of State Dean Acheson's son, Jesse Jackson's son, Senator Ted Kennedy's son, Senator Jay Rockefeller's son (and oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller's great-great-grandson), Vice President Walter Mondale's son, Franklin Roosevelt's son, Teddy Roosevelt's great-great-grandson, Tim Russert's son, and Sargent Shriver's son.

Disgraced former congressman (and
St. Alban's grad) Jesse Jackson, Jr.
St. Alban's has also had a number of graduates who were successful in endeavors that had nothing to do with politics, including the current general manager of the San Diego Padres; a couple of astronauts; the leading scorer in the history of the Kansas City Chiefs; a long-time Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame; two former co-executive producers of The Simpsons; and the members of the late, lamented indie band, Jonathan Fire*Eater (three of whom went on to found The Walkmen, another highly regarded indie band).

Of the 75 members of the St. Alban's class of 2012, almost one-third attended an Ivy League school, Stanford, or MIT.  That's not unusual -- the class of 2013 produced almost as many Ivy Leaguers.

St. Alban's takes athletics as seriously as academics.  Here's a picture of the wall in the St. Alban's gym where they've hung some of the school's conference championship banners:

St. Alban's championship banners
Here's a sign recognizing Jonathan Ogden, the Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle and St. Alban's grad who was recently voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Legendary Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach got his start in basketball at St. Alban's, coaching the varsity team in 1940-41 after majoring in basketball at George Washington University.  

Red Auerbach
St. Alban's mascot is the bulldog, which was the canine breed favored by one of its former headmasters.  Bulldogs are everywhere on the St. Alban's campus:

There are certain things about St. Alban's that many people would consider just a bit old-fashioned, as this photo (taken through the window of one of the school's athletic department offices) indicates:

Enter Shikari is a heavy metal/industrial band that formed in St. Albans (the UK city, not the Washington prep school) in 2003.  The group, took its name from the name of a boat owned by an uncle of one of its members, has released three albums.  The most recent of those albums, 2012's A Flash Flood of Colour, reached #1 on the UK Rock Chart and #5 on the US Hard Rock Albums chart.

"All Eyes on the Saint" tells the story of Alban's execution.  According to the song, a large crowd gathered to view the beheading, but it "petrified them to the core" when they saw Alban's head roll down the hill.

Enter Shikari's Tribalism album cover
The song says that "fresh water sprung up from the ground" at the bottom of Holywell Hill, where Alban's head came to rest, which may represent a bit of poetic license.  Other sources say that Holywell Hill got its name because the martyr's head rolled into an already-existing well at the bottom of that hill.

"All Eyes on the Saint" is the B-side to Enter Shikari's 2009 single, "Juggernauts."  It's a little out there, so be prepared.

Here's "All Eyes on the Saint":

Click below to order the Tribalism compilation album, which includes "All Eyes on the Saint," from Amazon:

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