In honor of the day

Jan 17, 2011 by

Since it’s Martin Luther King Day here in the US, I thought I’d share a photo I took two years ago when I was in London. I was running about doing the usual tourist thing and paid a visit to Westminster Abbey since I’d just managed a rather successful visit to the archives of Parliament. (I was researching a private act from the 16th century and got to see the act itself, with Henry’s signature. I also have a very lovely facsimile courtesy of the folks in the archive who were most gracious and helpful.)

Over the West Entrance of the abbey, the one used for weddings and funerals, there are ten niches that were clearly designed for statues when the facade was built in the 15th century, though the niches themselves were never filled. Once restoration work on the western towers was complete in 1995, the decision was made to have statues created honoring 20th Century martyrs from around the world. Here’s a full shot of the facade with all then statues.

I love how the modern statues maintain the medieval styling, yet feel contemporary. The fith niche, just to the left of center is of Martin Luther King.

It wasn’t until I was actually standing before the doors of the West Entrance (having just visited the gift shop) that I realized the statues were there. You can imagine my surprise when I discovered Dr. King among them and it wasn’t until I ducked back into the gift shop to ask that I learned why they were there. It was not uncommon for medieval churches to include to statues of the Nine Worthies, figures from history and mythology that were held up as examples of virtue. Most likely something like this was behind the original intent of the niches, even if it took some 600 years to actually fill them.

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