Westminster Abbey’s beginnings date back to 960 AD when Benedictine monks built the first sanctuary on what was then known as Thorney Island. Since then it has undergone several periods of reconstruction, modification and addition, its most recent one being the 10 statues above the Western entrance.
Often overlooked as they so nicely fit into the overall composition of the neo-Gothic façade, the statues unveiled in 1998 are dedicated to the memory of 20th century Christian martyrs.
These martyrs represent different denominations, nationalities and ethnic groups but have all one thing in common: they died for their faith or for what their faith led them to do.
But who are they? The following is only a brief introduction, each of them has had of course a greater impact and done more than what I summarised here.
Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan friar of German-Polish descent. He died in 1941 in Auschwitz after taking the place of another prisoner who had been randomly selected to be starved to death.
Manche Masemola, a South African, left her family’s traditional religion and became a Christian. As she was preparing for baptism, she was murdered in 1928 by her parents. She was only 14 years old. Decades after her murder, Masemola’s mother too became a Christian.
Janani Luwum, Archbishop of the Church of Uganda, was an outspoken critic of Idi Amin, his country’s infamous dictator. He was arrested and shot at Amin’s orders in 1977.
Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia was a German-born princess and granddaughter of Queen Victoria. After her husband’s death she became a nun of the Orthodox Church and served the poor of Moscow. She was murdered by Bolsheviks during the Russian revolution in 1918.
Martin Luther King Jr., the famous Baptist minister and civil rights leader inspired people around the world with his nonviolent approach to end racial segregation and discrimination in the United States. At the time of his assassination in 1968, King was 39 years old.
Oscar Romero, Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador and social activist was murdered in 1980 during the Salvadoran Civil War. He was shot while celebrating Mass.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, pacifist and leader of the underground Confessing Church. He was executed by hanging in 1945 for his connections to the German resistance, after its unsuccessful plot to overthrow Hitler.
Esther John, born into a Muslim Pakistani family converted to Christ as a teenager after reading the 53th chapter of the book of Isaiah. She subsequently worked as a nurse, teacher and missionary until she was murdered in 1960 aged 30.
Lucian Tapiedi, an Anglican teacher and missionary in Papua New Guinea was murdered along with other missionaries during the Japanese invasion in World War II in 1942. His murderer later on converted to Christianity.
Wang Zhiming was a Church leader in Southwestern China. He was publicly executed at a mass rally during the Cultural Revolution in 1973.
If you would like to visit these statues and other inspiring places, join me on my Westminster walking tour.