Tourists in London were confused at first by the unveiled imagery - they usually know what they're looking at from their travel guidebooks.
Behind a blue screen, accompanied by a slightly clumsy royal ceremony that included Prince Philip and Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, Queen Elizabeth unveiled the statues. Even then, it wasn't clear what the occasion was.
"I think they restored them," one visitor said.
When the martyrs were identified, onlookers expressed surprise, especially that Martin Luther King Jr. was among those depicted. King, assassinated in 1969, was a Baptist preacher and American civil rights leader.
"It's about time, you know, that a black man of such prominence can get some recognition in that sense internationally," a woman told CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton.
The ten statues stand in niches above the Great West Door that have been empty for 35 years. No one knows why they were never filled, but once the decision was made to put statues in them, the difficult part was selecting the right martyrs.
The men and women were chosen, after wide consultation, to represent major areas of persecution and oppression in the 20th century, the abbey said.
The statue of King stands beside two Catholics - El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in 1980, and Maximilian Kobe of Poland, a Fransiscan friar who was killed by the Nazis in 1941.
Prince Philip is a great-nephew of one of those honored - Grand Duchess Elizabeth of Russia, a saint of the Orthodox Church, who was killed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
Anglicans honored were Manche Masemola, a 16-year-old convert in South Africa who was killed by her animist parents in 1928; Lucian Tapiedi, killed in 1942 during the Japanese invasion of Papua New Guinea, and Janani Luwum, a Ugandan archbishop assassinated during the rule of Idi Amin in 1977.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian, was killed in 1945 by the Nazis; Wang Zhiming, a Chinese pastor and evangelist, was killed in 1972 during the Cultural Revolution, and Esther John, a Presbyterian evangelist in Pakistan, was killed in 1960.
Relatives of those honored, and state and church representatives from many countries, were present for the unveiling at the 900-year-old abbey church.