Beds, Herts & Bucks

New statues mark St Albans Cathedral's 900th anniversary

New statues, St Albans Chathedral
Image caption The statues took a year to carve from stone and five months to paint in acrylics

Seven statues have been installed to complete work that started more than 665 years ago as part of a cathedral's 900th anniversary celebrations.

The sculptures of the martyrs stand in the medieval nave screen in St Albans Cathedral, which is thought to have been put up "quickly" in 1350.

It is believed to be the first time painted statues have been restored to a such a screen since the Reformation.

Sculptor Rory Young said working in the building had been a "huge privilege".

Image copyright St Albans Cathedral
Image caption Rory Young won the commission in 2010 and spent two years researching the martyrs

Niches in the nave screen were left empty and Mr Young believes this was because of the Black Death.

"I think the abbot probably said, 'Just get it done quickly' to keep [the clergy] separated from the people," he said.

"You can see the workmanship getting more and more hurried the further up you look."

The new statues were gifted to the cathedral by a former High Sheriff of Hertfordshire Richard Waldock, OBE, and lay canon Susan Walduck.

Image caption The church was dedicated in 1115 and is built on the spot St Alban was buried more than 1,700 years ago
Image copyright St Albans Cathedral
Image caption "Painstaking" research included asking an optician to fit Bonhoeffer's statue with glasses

Four are martyrs with local connections - St Alban, Amphibalus, the priest he sheltered, Catholic priest Alban Roe, who was imprisoned in the Abbey Gatehouse, and Protestant George Tankerfield, who was burned at the stake near the cathedral.

Three lived in the 20th Century and represent the cathedral's ecumenical congregations - Russian Orthodox St Elisabeth Romanova, German Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero.

Mr Young said: "Statues in churches are not normally painted and St Albans cathedral has more colour in it than any other in these islands in my opinion.

"If you can't do it here, you never will."

Cathedral Dean, the Very Revd Dr Jeffrey John said: "The presence of all these saints together... is a powerful statement that sanctity is not the possession of any one faith or denomination."

Image caption All the martyrs except St Alban carry Roman palms of victory "to symbolise Christian victory over death"

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