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Thursday, July 9, 1998 Published at 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK


Martyrs of the modern era

Niches have been empty since Middle Ages

De Profundis: specially composed for the ceremony
Ten 20th century Christian martyrs have been commemorated with statues at Westminster Abbey in London.

The statues were unveiled before the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at Westminster Abbey.

BBC News' Emily Buchanan on the new statues taking their place at Westminster
Church officials of different religious denominations from all over the world joined them, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey, and Cardinal Basil Hume.

The martyrs chosen by the Abbey represent religious persecution and oppression in each continents.

[ image: Queen: head of the Church of England]
Queen: head of the Church of England
Among them are victims of the nazism, communism and religious prejudice in Africa.

"There has never been a time in Christian history when someone, somewhere, has not died rather than compromise with the powers of oppression, tyranny and unbelief," the Rev Dr Anthony Harvey, sub-dean of Westminster, told the congregation.

Canon Harvey: Modern Christian martyrs are motivated by faith
"But our century, which has been the most violent in recorded history, has created a roll of Christian martyrs far exceeding that of any previous period."

The 10 statues were added to the Abbey as part of its restoration programme. The niches above the west gate had been empty since the Middle Ages.

The modern martyr

BBC Religious Affairs correspondent Jane Little: A colourful pageant
The earliest definition of a martyr meant someone who had witnessed Jesus's life. But with time, the term "martyr" has come to mean someone who, for their faith and beliefs, has suffered death at the hands of a persecutor.

Among the martyrs represented in stone are: Saint Elizabeth of Russia, killed in Russia in 1918 by the Bolsheviks, Archbishop Oscar Romero, of El Salvador, and baptist preacher Martin Luther King, both of whom were assassinated.

[ image: Archbishop Romero worked for the poor]
Archbishop Romero worked for the poor
All of the modern martyrs spent their lives striving for a better world, but for some in particular, achieving this rested on total non-violence regardless of the might of their opposition.

The ideology of the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, centred around international peace and the coming together of countries through the church.

Bonhoeffer was eventually hanged in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945 for his participation in a Protestant resistance movement, but it was his work as a spiritual writer, musician and author of fiction and poetry that had been his powerful weapon.

[ image: Dr Luther King: a modern martyr]
Dr Luther King: a modern martyr
Probably the most famous of the martyrs is Dr Martin Luther King, who also took religion as the ideological platform to bring about change in America in the 1960s.

A pastor of the African-American Baptist church, he preached within a political context of creating equal voting and civil rights for the black community.

He believed fervently in passive resistance, and his assassination in 1968, made him a symbol of the struggle for social change.

[ image: Church officials from all over the world attended]
Church officials from all over the world attended
But the church itself as a religious institution has also been a target of oppression by governments and movements of the twentieth century.

Other figures represented are: Archbishop Oscar Romero, of El Salvador, Archbishop Janani Luwum, of Uganda, and Wang Zhiming, from China.

20th century martyrs

In 1918, the Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia was killed by the Bolsheviks.

Manche Masemola was a Anglican catechumen from South Africa who was killed in 1928 by her parents at the age of 16.

Maximilian Kolbe was canonised by the Roman Catholic Church after being killed by the Nazis in 1941.

In 1941, Lucian Tapiede, an Anglican from Papua New Guinea, was killed during the Japanese invasion.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian. killed by the Nazis in 1945.

Esther John, a Presbyterian evangelist from Pakistan, was allegedly killed by a Muslim fanatic in 1960.

One of the world's most famous civil rights activists, Martin Luther King, a baptist, was assassinated in 1969.

In 1972, Wang Zhiming was killed during the Chinese cultural revolution. He was a pastor and evangelist.

In 1977, Janani Luwum was assassinated during the rule of Idi Amin, in Uganda, for being an Anglican Archbishop.

Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic Archbishop in El Salvado, assassinated in 1980.

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