New statues installed in St Albans Cathedral

Sculpture Rory Young in St Albans Abbey and his new sculptures

Sculpture Rory Young in St Albans Abbey and his new sculptures - Credit: Archant

Visitors to the Abbey will notice a colourful addition with seven new statues greeting worshippers.

The polychrome statues depict different martyrs - Alban, Britain’s first Christian martyr, Amphibalus, the priest who Alban sheltered and helped to escape, George Tankerfield, a Protestant martyr burned in Queen Mary’s reign on Romeland, Alban Roe, a Catholic priest imprisoned in the Abbey gatehouse, plus Elizabeth of Russia, Oscar Romero and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

They now take pride of place in the church’s nave screen – possibly the first time statues of this type have been restored to a medieval screen since the Reformation.

Cirencester-based sculptor Rory Young, who has been toiling over the statues for the last five years after winning a competition to design them, said: “For me the exciting part was the filling of medieval niches, carving and painting statues and then making them full of religious meaning.

“I tried to refurnish them as a spiritual reminder, they’re not idols to be worshipped per se but aides.

“Before only around 0.01 per cent of the population would have got spiritual nourishment from empty niches but now 10 per cent of them will get something, they will enquire and they will ask.

“Someone said to me, no offence but they look like they’ve always been here, which to me is the biggest compliment!

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“The idea was to put back what was intended, not to do it in a genteel, distressed antique look or a heavy-handed way the Victorians did, but to follow the medieval precedent through modern acrylic paint and colour.

“I wanted to add a layer of meaning and beauty to the building.”

Despite huge opposition from national antiques committees, which didn’t see the project approved until January 2012, Rory remained keen to do it but admits he did lose sight of it.

He said: “There tends to be this reaction with putting new or controversial work into a medieval context.

“As a conservateur of old buildings I understand how these things can offend modern archealogical etiquette but we had a temporary exhibition that proved the public wanted it.”

The statues are the gift of two longstanding supporters of the Cathedral, Richard Walduck, a former High Sheriff of Hertfordshire and Alderman of the City of London, and Susan Walduck, a lay Canon of the Cathedral since 2003.