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Bill Viola artwork used at Eucharist on feast day of modern martyr

Bill Viola's challenging installation, Martyrs, has been used liturgically for the first time to mark the martyrdom of a Ugandan priest killed at the hands of dictator Idi Amin.

The work, a permanent installation at St Paul's, shows four individuals, across four colour vertical plasma screens, being martyred by the classical elements of earth, air, fire and water.

To mark the Martyrdom of Janani Luwum, Archbishop of Uganda, on 17 February 1977, St Paul's daily morning Eucharist was held in front of the installation.

Luwum was a great critic of Idi Amin's brutual rule of Uganda and was arrested by the president and accused of plotting to stage a coup. A day later, the Archbishop was dead, on the face of it as part of a road accident, but when his body was released it was riddled with bullets. Some reports say he and other arrested men were brutally beaten before being killed - other accounts say the president himself had carried out the killing.

Speaking on the feast day, after the Eucharist, The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Paul's, said: "Janani Luwum served the Church of Uganda as archbishop from 1974-77 and was to pay the price of challenging the violence of the Amin regime with his life.

"Today we give thanks for that life and his witness - and we do it remembering in prayer all those in our own day whose lives are similarly being brutally taken away because of their Christian identity. We place our prayers alongside those Christian sisters and brothers living in fear across parts of the world today and remember too those of other faiths and identities who are victimised for being who they are.

"Bill Viola’s video art installation Martyrs: (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) movingly portrays four people alone with their conscience and who are resolved in their living and dying for it.”

Archbishop Luwum is recognised as a martyr by the worldwide Anglican Communion. When the calendar was revised in 1997, the 50-year rule was broken in order to include him - so significantly is he regarded as a modern martyr. He forms part of the array of 20th century martyr statues atop the entrance to Westminster Abbey.

Find out more about Bill Viola's Martyrs at St Paul's


Janani Luwum
Janani Luwum was born in 1922 at Acholi in Uganda. His childhood and youth were spent as a goatherd but he quickly showed an ability to learn and absorb knowledge when given the opportunity. Soon after he became a teacher, he was converted to Christianity and was eventually ordained in 1956, becoming Bishop of Northern Uganda in 1969 and Archbishop of Uganda in 1974. Idi Amin had come to power in Uganda in 1971 as the result of a military coup and his undemocratic and harsh rule was the subject of much criticism by the Church and others. After receiving a letter from the bishops protesting at the virtual institution of state murder, Janani and two of Amin's own government ministers were stated as having been found dead following a car accident. It emerged quickly that they had in fact died on the implicit instructions of the President. Janani's enthusiasm for the good news of Jesus, combined with his willingness to sacrifice even his own life for what he believed in, led him to his martyrdom on this day in 1977.
Information from Exciting Holiness