Above the Abbey's Great West Door stand ten statues to modern martyrs - Christians who gave up their lives for their beliefs.
The martyrs are drawn from every continent and many Christian denominations and represent all who have been oppressed or persecuted for their faith. Among them are victims of Nazism, communism and religious prejudice in the 20th century. They are, from left to right:
- St Maximilian Kolbe from Poland
- Manche Masemola from South Africa
- Janani Luwum from Uganda
- Grand Duchess Elizabeth from Russia
- Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a civil rights leader who was assassinated
- St Oscar Romero, Archbishop in El Salvador who was assassinated
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from Germany, killed by the Nazis in 1945
- Esther John from Pakistan
- Lucian Tapiedi from Papua New Guinea
- Wang Zhiming, a pastor killed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
The lower part of this facade was completed in the 15th century and the niches were evidently intended for statues but they were never filled. The major restoration of the west front, completed in 1995, provided the opportunity for their original purpose to be fulfilled. It was decided to use the ten niches not just to commemorate saints or worthy figures from the past (as is the case with most of the Abbey's exterior statuary) but to proclaim a message of which too few people are aware: the 20th century was a century of Christian martyrdom. Although the statues are of individual martyrs they are intended to represent all those others who have died (and continue to die) in similar circumstances of oppression and persecution. Those represented were chosen by a Committee headed by the Sub Dean of the Abbey.
Designing and unveiling
Models for the statues were carefully designed by Tim Crawley (of the firm Rattee & Kett of Cambridge) from records and photographs as exist of each martyr. Under his direction he and three other sculptors carried out the work. The statues, carved from French Richemont limestone, were unveiled on 9th July 1998 by the Archbishop of Canterbury at a service attended by relatives, many church leaders and representatives of different faiths. The Duke of Edinburgh, grand nephew of Grand Duchess Elizabeth, attended with HM Queen Elizabeth II.