Bill Viola - Martyrs

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5:30pm Cathedral closes

Bill Viola - Martyrs

Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) - the first of two large-scale permanent video installations created by internationally acclaimed artist Bill Viola.

Created by Bill Viola and Kira Perov and opened in May 2014, Martyrs shows four individuals, across four colour vertical plasma screens, being martyred by the four classical elements. The work has no sound. It lasts for seven minutes.

Martyrs was joined in 2016 by a second piece entitled Mary. The installations have been gifted to Tate, and are on long-term loan to St Paul’s Cathedral.

Special art tours to view the Viola art works and other contemporary art in St Paul's are being run in February and March this year - more information here.  

Bill Viola's commission for St Paul’s Cathedral follows the great historical tradition of commissions for spiritual centres that has resulted in a priceless heritage of art around the world. 

The result of this commission sees St Paul’s Cathedral, which has always spearheaded the engagement of great artists, house a resonant work of art for our times. Martyrs (and later Mary), will play an important role in connecting contemporary issues with the timeless themes embodied in the cathedral.

Through the relationship between St Paul’s and Tate Modern, visitors to both sites will become aware of the possibilities available on either site and it is hoped that this will lead to new audiences for both. With the symbolic link of the Millennium Bridge, two great institutions will be connected through art.

Bill Viola says:
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.

Martyrs in context - The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley.
Good art, like good religion, questions our answers more than answering our questions and with a form and language that resist cheap paraphrase. 

Our visitors are able to encounter the universal spiritual questions of life and death that this extraordinary work lays before us. A contemporary medium that so often controls mass culture is slowed and shaped to unravel that control, allowing us to face ourselves alone in our fragility and potential. The rumour of God is very loud in the work, as enigmatic as it is profound, and I have no doubt the work will be a spiritual encouragement to those who spend time with it.

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.

Visiting Martyrs and Mary

All visitors coming to the Cathedral during regular opening hours, will be able to view Martyrs and Mary based on the usual Cathedral admission prices.

Monday - Saturday 8.30am - 4pm
Sunday No viewing
Please check the cathedral calendar for special closures

Owing to weddings and baptisms, some sections of the Cathedral are closed for short periods on Saturdays, including where Martyrs and Mary are situated. Please do ask a member of staff for information on your arrival or once inside.

Offer for Art Fund and Tate members
Art Fund - National Art Pass and Tate members can receive 50% off day admission tickets bought on arrival at the Cathedral. 

Free short viewings
Every day (Monday - Friday) short visits to view the installations are possible at 11.30am and 2.15pm for those not visiting as regular sightseers. Please arrive at the main west entrance and request this.

Press & Media
Members of the press are advised to view the work during one of the short viewings, detailed above. No photography of filming will be permitted. No special access will be granted unless pre-arranged through Bolton & Quinn - please contact Jess Baggaley on 0207 221 5000.

Parental guidance
There is no age restriction on viewing Martyrs or Mary