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STATUES of ten 20th‑century saints and martyrs are to be placed in niches above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey, the abbey authorities announced yesterday.
But the decision provoked criticism that not one of the ten is British. They include Martin Luther King, the American Baptist civil rights campaigner murdered in 1969, and Oscar Romero, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, shot while saying Mass in 1980. The Ven George Austin, Archdeacon of York, said: “I have no objection to Westminster Abbey featuring people from all over the world, but it would have been good to have included a British person because we have our own martyrs as well. They could have included Father Vivian Redlitch, for example, a British Anglican who was beheaded by the Japanese.”
John Wilkins, Editor of The Tablet, the Catholic weekly, also said he would have liked to see one British martyr included. The closest to an English representative is the German‑born Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria who married into the Romanov family and was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
Because the abbey is a Royal Peculiar, coming directly under the personal jurisdiction of the monarch, the Queen was kept fully informed throughout about the project.
None of the country’s great medieval churches and cathedrals has so far installed statues of modern saints in the distinctive external niches that are a feature of Gothic church architecture, although Canterbury Cathedral has commemorated modern martyrs in two books placed in a chapel. Unlike niches at Lichfield and Wells, those on the west front of the Abbey have stood empty since it was built in the late 13th century.
The ten new figures were chosen by an abbey committee chaired by Canon Anthony Harvey, the Sub‑Dean, which met over two years. As well as well‑known figures such as the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, murdered by the Nazis in 1945, they include martyrs who have until now achieved little recognition outside their own country, such as Esther John, of Pakistan, a Presbyterian evangelist killed by her Muslim brother in 1960.
Others are Manche Masmeola, of South Africa, a 16‑year‑old Anglican catechist killed by her mother in 1928; Lucian Tapiedi, of New Guinea, killed by Japanese invaders in 1942; Maximillian Kolbe, of Poland, a Franciscan canonised by the Roman Catholic Church, who was killed by the Nazis in 1943; Wang Zhiming, of China, a Miao Christian pastor killed in 1972 in the Cultural Revolution; and Archbishop Janani Luwum, of Uganda, assassinated in 1977 during the rule of Idi Amin.
The statues will be unveiled next summer in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and world church leaders, who will be assembling in Britain for the Lambeth Conference. The statues are being carved by Tim Crawley, head carver with the Cambridge stonemasons Rattee and Kett who restored the Abbey.