VERULAM, in Hertfordshire, was the most important town of southern England during the days of the Romans. After their departure, it fell to ruins and was never rebuilt, being replaced in the eighth century by St. Albans, on the opposite bank of the river Ver. Spenser describes Verulam in his Ruines of Time, but in Blake’s day it was so unimportant that it was not represented in Cary’s Atlas of 1787, nor does the name appear in the index of the 1906 Baedeker.
Verulam never contained a cathedral, nor did St. Albans until 1877, when the famous Abbey Church was elevated to that dignity. Blake, however, made Verulam one of his four chief Cathedral Cities, which he placed South under Urizen (J 46:24; 74:3). He chose the name doubtless because Francis Bacon, who “put an End to Faith” (On Bacon, K 398), was created Baron Verulam and Viscount St. Albans; furthermore, Bacon was buried in St. Michael’s, which was within the site of Verulam and was partly constructed out of its ruins. Verulam is in the ecclesiastical province of Canterbury. Blake identified Verulam with Canterbury (J 38:45), which was also spiritually in ruins (Mil 39:41), and elsewhere substituted “Verulam” for “Canterbury” (J 46:24). His words about Verulam therefore are a criticism of the Anglican Church, which he believed to have become materialistic.
The invented temple at Verulam is described in Europe as a druidic serpent temple, “image of infinite, shut up in finite revolutions” (10:21). It is “golden”—Urizen’s metal (10:5; J 38:46). It stands in an oak grove. Its pillars are “plac’d in the order of the stars, when the five senses whelm’d in deluge o’er the earth-born man” (10:7, 10). It contains the Stone of Night, “image of that sweet south once open to the heavens, and elevated on the human neck, now overgrown with hair and cover’d with a stony roof. Downward ’tis sunk beneath th’ attractive north” (10:26–30)—i.e., man is now upside down. Thus “man became an Angel, Heaven a mighty circle turning, God a tyrant crown’d” (10:22).
In its eternal state, Verulam-Canterbury is the “venerable parent of men, generous immortal Guardian, golden clad!” (J 38:45); but after its decay, it became the brain and heart of druidic materialism. “In Verulam the Polypus’s Head, winding around his bulk,” passes through the Cathedral Cities to Bristol, “ & his Heart beat strong on Salisbury Plain, shooting out Fibres round the Earth” (J 67:35–38).
Although it is sixteen miles away, Spenser located Verulam on the Thames ( Ruines 2), and so did Blake (Eur 10:5).