The Martyrs in St. Paul's Cathedral

From Londonhua WIKI

The Martyrs in St. Paul's Cathedral

Martyrs in St. Paul's Cathedral
Article Image
Martyrs in St. Paul's Cathedral
Water from Martyrs
Artist Bill Viola
Year 2014
Location St. Paul's Cathedral, London


The Martyrs is a modern slow motion TV picture done on 4 screens. The 4 characters in the picture show martyrs by 4 elements fire, water, earth and air. The picture was composed by Bill Viola.


Bill Viola was commissioned by St. Paul's Cathedral to make a piece that would incorporate modern technology with deep meaning. According to Bill Viola himself and Kira Perov “As the work opens, four individuals are shown in stasis, a pause from their suffering. Gradually there is movement in each scene as an element of nature begins to disturb their stillness. Flames rain down, winds begin to lash, water cascades, and earth flies up. As the elements rage, each martyr’s resolve remains unchanged. In their most violent assault, the elements represent the darkest hour of the martyr’s passage through death into the light". — Bill Viola and Kira Perov. [1] The picture has no sound and is 7 minutes long.

The Meaning

Bill Viola is quoted saying that “The Greek word for martyr originally meant ‘witness’. In today’s world, the mass media turns us all into witnesses to the suffering of others. The martyrs’ past lives of action can help illuminate our modern lives of inaction. They also exemplify the human capacity to bear pain, hardship, and even death in order to remain faithful to their values, beliefs, and principles. This piece represents ideas of action, fortitude, perseverance, endurance, and sacrifice.” — Bill Viola. [1] This piece of art not only gives a sense of suffering to the viewer but also gives a sense of hope.

As Viola states martyr means witness. Martyrs are thought of as people who giving their lives up for a cause or person. Marytr though though the slow speed of the picture shows the of the four who are dying. They have the face of no fear and purpose to their fate. The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley explains this meaning a little more by saying "Today martyrdom is often spoken of in terms of what people kill themselves for and others with them. It is more authentically a word that focuses on what a human being might be willing to die for – faith, conscience, justice, love of others. This work deepens our perceptions by slowing them down. We see the courage and resilience of the human in the face of all that would destroy what is true and good. We each have been given the gift of being. The gift we have to offer in return is who we become and how our lives, and deaths, might transform the world." [2] This piece is something that is out of this world.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Martyrs. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2017, from
  2. Bill Viola - Martyrs. (n.d.). Retrieved May 10, 2017, from

Image Gallery