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The Albans

ALBA, ALBAINN, ALBANN, from the Greek, Alba, which identified all of Britain in the eyes of the classical writers. "the white land"; Latin albus, white, OHG, albis, a swan. May correspond with alp and the ON elf. EIr. Alban, Lat., albus, the white unisexual, long-sleeved, high-necked tunic of white linen worn by the Celts of old Britain. Thus, any "white-land", perhaps making double reference to the land-fall at Dover. OHG. albis, a swan. The southern Irish were the first to limit this description to present day Scotland. Tradition says that the Milesians arrived in Ireland about the year 1000 B.C. Before this time the entire population, male and female, rich and poor, wore the high-necked, long-sleeved garment which the Romans termed an albus. They selected this word, which means "white," because this belted shift was made of linen, which is naturally brown in colour but bleaches in the sun to dazzling whiteness. From this, the Latin Albion, a name for all of Britain, and from it the Gaelic Alba , which now applies to Scotland alone. In some parts the chieftains distinguished themselves by wearing the orange kilts, which are still seen in parades of modern Irishmen. In later times wool supplanted linen as the material of choice for the nobility. The Tuatha daoine, who were in power when the Milesians arrived in Ireland never surrendered the traditional white linen albus and this was also true of the conservative druidic class that managed religious rites.

When Christian missionaries came to Britain they had the smarts to make themselves indistinguishable from the vates by wearing white linen, and many Christian priests still wear this basic uniform beneath their black surplice. The "white men" of Hvitrtamanalande, the mythic North American landfall, also known as "White-man's land," may have been named for their wearing apparel rather than their complexions. The Christian missionaries to Britain wore the albus as a symbol of their "rebirth" or regeneration following baptism. At one time, the faithful were required to wear this white costume for a week following their initiation and lay-preachers often wore this symbol of their humility and power when they travelled as missionaries. The costume was taken up by many of the Christian cults including the Knights Templar, who decorated the white uniform with a blood red cross as a symbol of their "rebirth" or regeneration following baptism.

The text on this page is courtesy of Rod C. Mackay.


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