THE Bishop of St Albans bade farewell to his diocese at the weekend as he stepped down from his post during a huge ceremony at the Abbey.

The Right Reverend Christopher Herbert has headed the St Albans diocese for 13 years, but on Saturday his retirement was marked by a special service, attended by hundreds.

Among the congregation, which filled the Cathedral to the brim, was St Albans Mayor Bert Pawle, St Albans MP Anne Main, local councillors, representatives from the fire service and hospices as well as visitors from churches across Europe.

During the Bishop's farewell sermon he recalled his earliest memories of the diocese. He said: "Coming to the Abbey Gatehouse for the very first time and walking down what seemed an endless corridor knowing that behind the door lurked a senior staff team - people I had never met before but who rapidly became my close colleagues and friends."

Reflecting on his retirement, he added: "Whilst there's a sense of relief at being able to lay down the burdens of office, the sense of sadnesss and loss is immense."

Paying tribute to the Bishop's service and his contribution to the public he served, dean of St Albans Jeffrey John said: "We're saying goodbye to the best bishop anybody could have hoped for.

"Bishop Christopher has been for us what bishops are supposed to be - brave and heroic, strong and firm when necessary, but always kind and fair, big-hearted, generous in judgement, warm and wise and fun."

The service was followed by an informal presentation of gifts to the bishop and his wife, Jan. The couple were presented with a cedar wood carving of The Madonna and Child by the Cathedral Trust.

The Friends of the Cathedral also commissioned a new musical setting for the Alban Prayer - perfomed by the choir at the service.

Speaking after the ceremony, St Albans Mayor Bert Pawle said: "It was inspiring. It was a great way to finish the Bishop's term in office - that was brought out by the appreciation of the congregation. They broke into applause at the end - it was fantastic.

"We all wish him well for a long and happy retirement for himself and family."

St Albans MP Anne Main added: "I thought it was a touching service with humour in there as well. It had exactly the right tone to it. I wish him so much wealth and happiness in his next beginnings."