Martyrs Statues Installed At St Albans Cathedral by Cirencester Sculptor Rory Young

Seven new painted stone statues have been installed in the medieval niches in the nave screen at St Albans Cathedral.  This is a rare occurrence of a scheme of painted figures being placed in a church screen since the desecration of the Reformation and the English Civil War. 

Designed, carved, painted and installed by Cirencester sculptor Rory Young, the seven statues have been developed over a period of five years.  Rory has worked closely with the Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey John, who expressed his delight that this unique and long-awaited project had now reached fruition, “Rory Young’s research has been meticulous and his workmanship of tremendous quality. The statues are a fine contemporary reworking of a medieval tradition.  The installation was only completed on 24th April, but the statues fit and blend in so well; it feels as if they have been here for centuries. The recent saints remind us that there are Christian martyrs in every age – probably more now than there have been for many years – and inspire us to be braver ourselves in standing up for what we believe.”

Rory Young said, “It was a huge privilege to win this commission and to actually work on the fabric of the building in preparation for installing the statues.  It has been incredibly humbling to attempt to portray these Christian heroes.”

Four of the seven martyrs were chosen because of their connection to St Albans and the seven together reflect the ecumenical co-operation that the Cathedral has pioneered over the last thirty years. The seven are:

St Alban - Britain’s first saint, a citizen of Roman Verulamium, martyred by the Romans on the site of the present day Cathedral;

St Amphibalus - the Christian priest to whom Alban gave shelter in the third century AD when Christianity was still proscribed;

George Tankerfield - a Protestant, burnt to death in Romeland, overlooking St Albans Abbey, in 1555 because of his refusal to accept the doctrine of transubstantiation; 

St Alban Roe - a Roman Catholic, imprisoned for a time in St Albans Abbey Gatehouse and hanged in London in 1642 having been found guilty of treason for being a Roman Catholic priest;

St Elisabeth Romanova – granddaughter of Queen Victoria who married into the Russian Royal Family and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church, who in her widowhood became a nun and Abbess, and was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918;

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Lutheran pastor and theologian, imprisoned in a concentration camp for his opposition to the Nazis, tried without witnesses or defence and executed by hanging in April 1945;

Oscar Romero – Roman Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador, who spoke out against poverty, social injustice and torture of the totalitarian regime in his country, and was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating Mass.  The beatification for Oscar Romero will be held in San Salvador on 23 May 2015.

The Seven Martyrs are a gift to the Cathedral from Richard and Susan Walduck, long-time friends of the Cathedral.

The statues will be formally dedicated later in the year but are on view at St Albans Cathedral – entry free – check for opening times and directions. 


Notes for editors

Biography of Rory Young

Rory Young painting Alban statueRory Young graduated in Fine Art (Painting) at Camberwell in 1976. A painting tour of the North of England led to specialising in the traditional building arts: stone carving, lettering, masonry and plaster work. He was involved in the Lime Revival, teaching and lecturing on the aesthetics and use of lime in building conservation. He has been an advisor and practitioner restoring authentic surfaces and colours to historic buildings.

Designing the new Genesis cycle for the Great West Door of York Minster led to commissions for statuary. He has sculptural work in Gloucester Cathedral, Southwell Minster and churches in the Cotswolds.  His lettering can be seen in Westminster Abbey, the Guards Chapel, Carlisle Cathedral and in churches and churchyards throughout the UK.

The Seven Martyrs commission at St Albans has brought together all his interests: adding to historic buildings, designing sculpture, stone carving, portraiture, the use of colour and paint techniques, hagiography and the history of the Church.

St Albans & St Albans Cathedral

St Albans city is named after Britain’s first saint, Alban. Before that, its Roman name was Verulamium. Alban’s place of burial quickly became a national place of pilgrimage and thousands of people continue to visit the Shrine of St Alban each year.

St Albans Cathedral stands on the site of St Alban’s burial. It is the oldest place of continuous Christian worship in the country. The building itself includes an eclectic mix of architectural styles spanning a millennium and contains recycled Roman bricks from Verulamium.

As well as the new statues, of special interest are the 13th century wall paintings, a rare ‘watching loft’ and the medieval shrines of St Alban and St Amphibalus, the priest who converted Alban to Christianity. The Cathedral also boasts the longest nave in England.

The Nave Screen

Sometimes known as the Pulpitum or Rood screen, it dates back to the 14th century, the period when the Abbey of St Alban was recognised as the leading Benedictine Abbey in the country. It was designed to separate the monks’ quire from the nave and physical evidence indicates it was erected in a hurry in 1349 or 1350 during the Black Death.  Its purpose was to protect the monks from the terrible plague that was sweeping the country and might have been brought in by the many pilgrims visiting the place of martyrdom of St Alban.

Rory Young and his team painstakingly repaired the interior of the niches using a lime mortar made from some of the Caen stone which had been extracted from the statues during carving and hollowing, and burnt in a specially designed kiln. The niches were cleaned and repaired and then painted using ‘casein distemper’ made especially for the niches to the colour agreed during the design phase of the project.

The Statues

Carved from Caen stone which has a long history of use in southern English Cathedrals. It was ordered and imported from France for the purpose in January 2013. The colour palette was chosen to relate to the now faded colour scheme of the wall paintings in the nave, but with an appropriate intensity of colour.  The statues are painted with high quality acrylic paints over layers of sealer and primer. Rory developed a special finishing technique for the Seven Martyrs project to allow the texture of the stone to show through, the tooling of the stone being critical as it needs to hold the paint. Each area is a combination of two contrasting hues, the acrylic paint being applied then partially removed to create a visual ‘stain’ of colour.Prototype of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is fitted for glasses

Fascinating Facts

The project took 5 years. The painting alone took 5½ months.

Each niche is a slightly different size and shape so the statues had to be carefully made to measure.

Each statue was hollowed out from behind to save weight and speed up drying out:  7 stone, 2 pounds (46Kg) came out of Alban; approximately 14 stone (90 Kg) came out of Bonhoeffer.

The attention to detail included making metal spectacles in the right style for Romero and Bonhoeffer.  This involved taking the full scale model of Bonhoeffer to an optician to be measured for his frames.

Alban Roe’s playing cards were obtained from America from a specialist supplier of reproduction historical playing cards. A Benedictine monk of the same monastic order as Alban Roe's posed for his attire which has not changed in 350 years.

Amphibalus and Alban have authentic Roman footwear carved from archaeological drawings.

The flowers around Alban reflect those on the hillside at the time (3rd century) and were mentioned by the Venerable Bede in the account of his martyrdom.

Just as Rory had finished carving the eyes of Elisabeth of Russia a Large Emerald moth flew into the workshop and settled on the statue like a lapel broach, refusing to move.  He later found photographs of Elisabeth wearing a jewelled butterfly shaped pin.

On a visit to the UK from El Salvador in 2013, Gaspar Romero, younger brother of Oscar Romero, was brought to Rory's workshop to see work in progress.

A martyr holding a palm frond or wearing a laurel crown symbolises victory over death and belief in everlasting life.  The Christians adopted this from the pagan custom of carrying palms and wearing crowns in victory processions. 

The hands of each statue were modelled from life and took as long to carve as the faces!

Tankerfield’s bible title page is a recreation in paint from a real bible printed in 1550.


Chronology of the Project

December 2009 – Competition for a sculptor to produce seven statues - won by Rory Young.

2010-2015 – Ongoing design and realisation discussions with Rory Young, the Dean and Chapter and the Cathedral Fabric Commission for England.

2010 – Colour samples matched against the nave wall paintings and the colour selected for the Niche Interiors.

May 2011 – Presentation of 1:6 scale models roughed out in clay.

July 2011 – Public Exhibition of plaster models at 1:6 scale, plaster models of Alban Roe and Elisabeth at 1:3 scale and 1:1 in polystyrene.

Autumn 2011 – first full colour scheme - crayon on a pale copy of the pencil drawing.

March 2012 – 1:6 model presented in full detailing and polychrome.

March 2012 – presentation to the CFCE of St Elisabeth  1:1 scale in polystyrene in niches, demonstrating scale, form, colour and facial detail; also a prototype, oil painted, carved stone portrait bust in full colour.

May 2012 – First full fitting of 1:1 scale polystyrene models in niches.

July 2012 – Full Scale models presented to CFCE with niches mocked up with red colour and figures painted.

Nov 2012 – Formal application to CFCE for permission to proceed.

Dec 2012 – CFCE permission granted.

2013-2014 – Carving, design, painting.

2014 – Repair and painting of the niches.

April 2015 – Installation in Cathedral.

The statues will be formally dedicated at a service later in 2015.

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