Monday, 30 December 2013

Full circle in 2013

A new BBC Two series on sacred sites has just been launched, ending a year in which holy places have enjoyed a relatively high profile on the television.

Sacred Wonders of Britain, presented by archaeologist Neil Oliver, takes a historian's perspective on the subject as one might imagine. The programme was shown on BBC Two at 8.30pm on 30 December, and is available on iPlayer for a few weeks.

Neil Oliver was certainly in his element in the first episode, which looked at Stone Age sites from across the country. Avebury, Stonehenge and Orkney's stone circles are familiar territory, icons of a mysterious past that fascinates us as much as it continues to puzzle.

Undoubtedly the greatest problem with describing the rituals, traditions and beliefs of our ancient ancestors is that we have almost no idea what these were. The first scraps of written information about Britain come from the Romans, several thousand years after many of our most evocative ancient sites were built. Neil Oliver tried a number of theories during his grand tour. A few touched on some of the eternal questions that religions try to answer, passing references that were more thought provoking than informative (review in the Daily Mirror).

Neo-pagans have made attempts in recent years to recreate or reinvent some of these beliefs, and with such a tempting and largely blank canvas to fill the creative process seems set to continue. One of the advisers to the programme is Professor Ronald Hutton, an expert and adherent of this revival movement.

Quite what Neil Oliver will make of Britain's Christian heritage in the remaining two programmes remains to be seen. It is possible the three-part series is only going to address our most recent 2,000 years of spiritual history in a single episode, and terminate the narrative at the Reformation. It is an alternative view to treat our country's many great religions as a sort of spiritual fossil, lifeless artefacts from an unfamiliar past. Our own series on Britain's Holiest Places stressed a continuity of use that is just as accessible and relevant today as it was to previous generations. Archaeologists perhaps feel most comfortable among the dead, but to my mind any truly holy place remains very much a place for the living.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Back after centuries of neglect

It has come racing back to life after aeons of neglect, delighting the faithful and drawing thousands of website hits… Alas I'm not talking about this blog - though it has indeed been shamefully neglected this autumn - but rather a spectacular medieval wall painting which is in the news this week after its breath-taking rediscovery at a church in Glamorgan.

The church is St Cadog's in the little village of Llancarfan, south Wales. I wrote about it in my book on Britain's holy places, even though the restoration work had only been fragmentary at the time of my visit in August 2010, revealing a few faces and a queen with a lamb on a leash. The painstaking cleaning work has revealed the largest known mural of the life of St George to be found anywhere in Britain, and restorers have recently removed the scaffolding to allow visitors a proper look.

It might make me sounds like a nerd, but I have to admit I did often wonder about what more was lying hidden under centuries of whitewash in this seemingly modest little church, with its short tower and sparse parish. The BBC News item linked above offers a long look at the central figure of St George on his horse attacking the mythical dragon, something that was impossible to make out when I visited from the scattered patches of brushstrokes that had then been revealed.

Some tales and some places linger in the memory. The rediscovery of such a vast work of forgotten devotional art in the past five years is without recent precedent. It was only the presence of a thin red line of paint high up on the wall that alerted the experts to the existence of this magnificent and extensive treasury of medieval art.

It is an irony perhaps that St George is likely to be one of the least popular subjects to adorn the walls of a Welsh church, given his close identification with the English monarchy, and in particular with the knights of the realm. And yet there he sits on a magnificent horse, shown in lingering detail on the BBC News piece.

We considered visiting this little church for a follow-up television series to our BBC Four series Pagans & Pilgrims. It is a building that vividly demonstrates the interplay of patriotism and religion in the medieval mind, and also possibly the finest Welsh wall paintings yet to be uncovered in any church.

So far our second series has not been commissioned, despite the success of the original. Even so BBC Four seems to have picked up a habit of making programmes about holy places and our country's amazing religious heritage, with two other series also broadcast this autumn: Cathedrals, which looked at the inspiring people who work at my own mother church in Southwark, and Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve, a new series which seems to be showing a spiritual journey from the point of view of a benevolent but disengaged non-believer. Something for everyone there perhaps.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Back on the screens, summer 2013

Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places (the TV series) is back on our screens this summer, and hence available on iPlayer for those who missed some episodes last time round. The series was first broadcast in March/April 2013 and will be showing again starting 4 August 2013. It is based on my book, which was published in 2011.

The BBC's programme website has information about upcoming episodes and also links to iPlayer versions, which remain active for about six weeks after first broadcast.

The series proved a ratings and a critical hit. But alas it probably won't make a second series in its current guise: the subject has attracted the interest of other presenters, so the topic will at least live on. Celebrities are everything in the media, but I'm sure the power of holy places to tell their own stories will shine through whatever the format.

Sales of my book and the new iPad/iPhone version (available on iTunes) have helped open up our sacred landscape to a new generation of pilgrims, but it is the subject itself that generates all the enthusiasm. Holy places have lost none of their power to enlighten and enchant.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Holy heritage: a boost for Wales

Welsh Assembly member William Powell has called for his country to do more to promote its amazing spiritual heritage. Our recent television series has helped to raise the profile of an amazing legacy of landscapes and histories to be found in Wales.

It is fertile territory in every sense, a land full of Celtic mystery, grand ruins and striking landscapes to attract visitors from all over the world. And it also offers quieter places where local people can gain a sense of identity and connection, a community hub. Or both combined in one, as at St Davids Cathedral where the congregation recently restored its shrine to the patron saint of Wales in 2012 (pictured above in all its revived glory).

This article in Wales Online today (9 May 2013) refers to our recent TV series, which did indeed show off many of the more eye-catching sites and stories around the country. 'Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places' was funded jointly by BBC Four and Welsh-language channel S4C - which meant that two out of every six sites in each episode were in Wales. Finding beautiful places with exotic tales to tell proved to be very easy.

By way of example, the country is home to "the oldest site of ritual activity in the whole of Britain and western Europe", as the article quotes me saying. Which is true... but for the record I should add that the ancient site in question is so difficult to reach you would risk life and limb to get there if the tides were against you. It's unlikely to become any sort of visitor attraction soon, but the entertaining tale of its discovery shows just how much meaning we invest in our sacred sites.

Goat's Hole Cave on the Gower peninsula is where a slightly dotty 19th century academic discovered the ritual burial of a young man. We mentioned it in the caves episode of the TV series (described in the post below). The body was covered in red ochre and placed inside the cave with shell and bone ornaments. A ritual burial so ancient it involved the tusk of a woolly mammoth, dating back some 33,000 years.

All of this was of great interest to Professor Buckland of Oxford University, who arrived at the cave in a hurry in January 1823, following the cave's discovery by a local doctor and his curate friend the year before. Professor Buckland examined the remains at length before declaring this to be the burial of a woman from the Roman era, probably a witch of some sort. And so the burial is known erroneously as the Red Lady of Paviland.

In fact it remains to this day the oldest known ritual burial in western Europe, offering a tantalising glimpse into a world of forgotten devotions, seemingly a belief in the afterlife that we will never fully understand. Dealing with death is one of the founding principles in pretty much any religion, and Wales can proudly lay claim to the earliest such evidence in this region.

The reason for Professor Buckland's wildly inaccurate dating is also of religious origins: as a devout Creationist he believed the world to be no older than a few thousand years. An interesting handicap for a Professor of Geology.

It is a timely reminder there is much to inspire in our sacred past, and also much to learn from.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

New app launched as TV series ends

Not content with just a book and a TV series, we've now launched an app version of Britain's Holiest Places, available on Apple devices. It contains all the listings in my book Britain's Holiest Places: 500 of the country's most beautiful, interesting and unexpected sacred sites. It has been launched at the conclusion of the BBC Four series 'Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places'.

The final episode on 11 April at 8.30pm looks at what happens when religion goes underground. Crypts and caves may seem at first glance like the least promising environments in which to gain any sort of spiritual enlightenment. And yet they are where pivotal moments in many different faiths have taken place: the Prophet Mohammed received his first revelation in a cave, and Buddha lived in one for a time. And as the TV programme explores, they are resonant throughout the life of Christ and Christians who came after.

The earliest known ritual activity in Britain, presumably of religious purpose, is a cave burial on the Gower peninsula, at Goat's Hole Cave near Paviland. A young man's body was covered in red ochre and a mammoth's tusk placed alongside, dating back around 33,000 years ago. In the TV programme we visit a similar burial of about 14,000 years ago, its grave goods providing some of the earliest art in Britain: Kendrick's Cave in Llandudno.

Quite what the Ice Age inhabitants of Wales believed about the afterlife is unknowable after so many millennia have passed. But we have been using caves as sacred places ever since. As we demonstrate in the evocative crypt of Ripon Cathedral, the tomb of Christ himself is a place of subterranean worship that has been instrumental in shaping the design of our worship spaces.

I spent five years travelling around Britain to seek out our most evocative and sometimes most remote holy places in order to write my book, and we spent four months doing the same with the TV crew to make this series. Cursing my way through nettles, creeping along hedgerows, criss-crossing barren moors and trespassing more times than I care to admit, an app guide to holy places would so often have been the answer to all my prayers. Our oldest human narratives are now available on the most modern of devices.

I once spent half a day trying to locate the bizarre, other-worldly chasm known as Lud's Church in Staffordshire (pictured above). Lud's Church also appears in the final episode of the BBC series. Its green dripping walls were the scene of both spiritual fiction, in the shape of a reference in the medieval saga Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and also the place where an early Lollard meeting of Christian reformers was lethally broken up in the 15th century by soldiers.

It makes a pretty convincing hiding place even today, evading me for hours on end. I practically fell through its hidden opening on to my knees in gratitude when I finally tracked it down. Now thanks to our new app it appears on a map at the touch of a screen, alongside my own location notes written to prevent any more wasted journeys. From grand city-centre cathedrals to obscure hermit caves miles from anywhere, Britain's religious heritage has never been so accessible as it is today.

The app is published by S4C, the Welsh-language TV station which has been hugely supportive of the project, no doubt inspired by the amazing spiritual landscape in Wales. A free Welsh-language mini-version of the app is also available, covering just the 38 or so locations in the TV series, which was filmed in both English and Welsh language versions.

The app costs £5.49, and has been developed by the TV production company Cwmni Da, where the TV presenter Ifor ap Glyn works. They and S4C have done the project proud, with an app and a TV series that open up this amazing landscape to anyone looking for life-changing encounters with the past.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

No man is an island

In the landscapes of the Old Testament, God is to be found in the wilderness. On mountains and in the desert, He is encountered where people are not. “They looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared,” as the writer of Exodus puts it.

Here in Britain our green and mostly pleasant land lacks the parched earth and waste places that make the Holy Land so special. But we do have rather a lot of islands, and the fifth part of the BBC Four series Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain’s Holiest Places sets sail to explore the insular devotions that have marked so many as special. The episode was broadcast on Thursday 4 April at 8.30pm, and will be available on iPlayer for a month or so afterwards. It is based on my guide book Britain's Holiest Places.

My book includes 20 islands that have seen significant spiritual activity, five of which appear in the TV programme. Many remain active today, including the famous Holy Island of Lindisfarne. More surprising is the reinvented spiritual continuity to be found at Holy Isle off Arran. During our visit there we speak to a Buddhist community leader called Choden about the latest incarnation of this very special holy place, now called the World Centre for Peace and Health.

Other beautiful and evocative places of retreat include St Herbert’s Isle on Derwentwater, which graces the cover of my book (pictured at the top of the page). Alas on the day we visited with the film crew it was grey and raining, yet the natural beauty which inspired St Herbert here in the 7th century remains. Presenter Ifor ap Glyn can be seen in the picture above, wisely opting to be towed back from the island as the storm gathered strength. The two images show St Herbert's Isle in very different moods.

And being a proudly Welsh-leaning programme, we also visit two evocative islands in the west of Britain. Llanddwyn, off Anglesey, is where a princess fled from a failed marriage, nursing her broken heart to become a devout hermit.

And finally there is Bardsey Island, or Ynys Enlli in the native tongue, the island in the currents with a treacherous sea crossing and a sacred pedigree like no other. So many great church leaders and their faithful followers chose to be buried on Bardsey it gained the name ‘Island of 20,000 Saints’. Although fewer than a dozen are formally recognised as saints, it was declared in the 12th century by the Pope himself that three pilgrimages there were of equivalent penitential value to one trip to Jerusalem. Alas another storm blew up during our attempted visit, and instead we watched the sun set over the sea behind this magical island from a striking windswept headland (pictured below).

A previous episode showed how water was seen as a place of rebirth, so perhaps it is logical that paradise should be located on an island across the sea, a journey that the soul alone makes when freed from earthly constraints. An illuminating interview with Canon Chris Pullin at Hereford Cathedral literally maps out the theology of such a poetic concept, as he describes the cosmology encoded into Britain’s largest medieval map, the Hereford Mappa Mundi.

The Garden of Eden was once believed to be a real, earthly paradise that acted as a sort of stepping stone between this world and heaven, where souls gathered to await the Last Judgement. It appears as an island in Hereford's 13th-century map, on the eastern most extremity of the world: a pleasant surprise for Japanese tourists, no doubt, since it sits roughly where their homeland is located.

It is no mere spiritual accident or even a purely Christian innovation to place the afterlife beyond the shores: Norse warriors would send their dead out to sea in a funeral boat, a great pyre set over the water in the tale of Beowulf, or simply bury them on land in a complete boat, such as the Sutton Hoo ship burials. In New Zealand the Maori legends record how souls depart from the northern tip of the islands on their final journey. In India cremated remains must be placed in the Ganges which carries them out to sea.

This is perhaps one of the things that draws us all to contemplate the sea’s horizon, the vast openness: infinity and eternity stretching before us.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The consolation of a shrine

What is a shrine? English is one of the few languages that has a term for this specific kind of holy place. In other languages you need to describe it by using a general word such as tomb, sanctuary, chapel or church and elaborate from there.

Our language gives us a head start when it comes to marking out somewhere special. In this week’s episode of Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain’s Holiest Places we take a tour round some of the most surprising examples of shrines to be found in this country. The programme is broadcast at 8.30pm on BBC Four, and will be available on iPlayer for some weeks after.

Our somewhat unexpected starting point is the roadside shrine to Marc Bolan, the musician killed in a road crash in Barnes in 1977. I went to school near this colourful memorial, which continues to attract flowers, messages and visitors in great number, honouring the memory of a modern-day star.

It may seem a far cry from the scenes of medieval devotion that shaped this country’s landscape, centres of pilgrimage that dominated our spiritual and cultural life for centuries. And yet our programme contains interviews with two of the country’s leading churchmen, who both describe the witness of saints and their shrines in strikingly human terms.

The Very Reverend Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans Cathedral (pictured above), gives an eloquent explanation of the desire to remember a loved one, an instinct that anyone can understand. “The main thing is that it’s a physical connection with the saint. We do this kind of thing in ordinary life… people sometimes keep a piece of jewellery from a loved one who has departed, or even a lock of hair.”

The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales (pictured above), also describes shrines as a testimony to human love for the departed. “There’s if you like not just a memory of the relationship but a living relationship with saints. I think it is sometimes a misunderstanding that we worship saints. We don’t. We offer them our love and we ask for their prayers.”

Archbishop Nichols goes on to describe the public outpouring of grief for Princess Diana after her death in 1997 as an authentic example of such reverence. This moment, he suggests, makes a return by the English to older ways of thinking about loved ones who have died, an end to the Reformation. It's a thought-provoking comment, as the Daily Telegraph has picked up among other commentators, but one that helps explain the restoration of shrines in British cathedrals and churches in the past two decades. 

Our programme ends at a place as far removed from the mighty cathedrals and grand shrines of Britain as it is possible to be. The remote church at Pennant Melangell in north-east Wales was filmed on a bright winter’s day, golden sunshine on freshly fallen snow that looks a vision more of heaven than earth. It contains the shrine of someone whose witness is mainly remembered as nothing more complicated than a love for the land and the wildlife that kept St Melganell company as a hermit in the 7th century.

She is often shown in the company of hares, in memory of the time she saved an animal from a hunter’s dogs. There is no city-centre cathedral to honour her memory: the valley remains as unspoiled as it was when she called it home. It is a place to commune with the elements. St Melganell’s emotional connection to the natural world somehow endures unaltered.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

A pagan and a pilgrim

This week BBC Four is showing a beautifully filmed programme looking at the lingering holiness to be found amid trees and mountains, the third part in the TV series based on my book. It contains some surprises and fascinating insights into the way Britain became a Christian country, as presenter Ifor ap Glyn (pictured above at Roche chapel in Cornwall) continues his journey.

The BBC decided to call its series Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain’s Holiest Places, and this week we do actually get to meet a pagan at last, Philip Carr-Gomm. He is a druid and author whose extensive list of books bears an uncanny similarity to my own smaller list of works. Philip’s input proves worthy of being honoured in the programme’s title, an intelligent and sympathetic account of the way Christianity adapted itself to Britain’s sacred landscape.

When 6th century missionaries arrived in England from Rome, there were pagan temples across the country, with henges, sacred trees, mountain crags and holy springs that had long been revered by the people of Britain. The word ‘pagan’ was originally a term used to describe country people, rustic believers rather than sophisticated thinkers from the cities. Another term for paganism would be ‘folk religion’.

Such local spiritual expression found a rather more sympathetic hearing from the new religion of Christianity than one might expect. The most striking example I encountered while researching my book is one we visit in the programme, a mysterious henge church at Knowlton in Dorset. Philip and I are pictured at Knowlton above.

Some beautiful aerial shots – beyond my means as a humble guidebook writer – demonstrate the spiritual continuity of this alluring sacred site. Knowlton is a pre-Christian earthwork henge with the remnants of a grove of ancient yew trees at one end, just visible beside my left ear in the photo above. This is a sacred site from pagan times where unknown ceremonies were conducted.

And in the middle of the sweeping henge circle stands a church, now fallen into ruin. Two of our country's main religions have been and gone here, yet a sense of them still lingers strongly, a story of continuity etched rather deeper in the landscape than we might credit.

At the end of our programme, presenter Ifor ap Glyn visits Pendle Hill, where the inspirational Christian leader George Fox had a founding vision of the Quaker movement in the 17th century. Ifor reflects on the sometimes troubled relationship between Christianity and the remnants of pagan spirituality to be found in our landscape.

George Fox’s antipathy towards traces of pagan superstition is now commonplace in Christian thinking. Yet it wasn’t always like this.

Rather than abandon our pagan holy places, Britain’s early missionaries were instructed on no less an authority than the Pope himself to assimilate them into Christian places of worship, destroying only the idols contained within. Such a deeply held sense of belonging, of place, of community and of continuity with the past are the cornerstones of any religion. They satisfy a human need and remain almost universally appealing to people of any faith and none.

Yet such witness is almost never heard in the language expressed by the church today. Are we richer or poorer for withdrawing from Britain’s outdoor holy places, abandoning these spaces to the National Trust and English Heritage to interpret?

As always, I would encourage people to look, to visit, to experience… and make up their own minds. Our landscape is broad enough and old enough to provoke any number of opinions and reactions.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Time to take a dip: 14 March on BBC Four

Some nice comments on Twitter about the first episode of Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places, the new BBC Four series based in part on my book. I was a bit surprised the programme lingered so long over Dracula and the Twilight series at Whitby, but I am still fairly certain the remaining five episodes will have even more food for thought. And more spiritual content too... We live in hope!

The viewing figures were excellent, double the usual BBC Four numbers, following an extensive PR campaign in advance of transmission.

Anyway next week's episode is already in the diary and a preview clip is online at the programme website. It shows the presenter Ifor ap Glyn taking a sacred dip in the freezing waters at Holywell in North Wales. He was game enough to give it a go in November, though with most holy wells the water emerges from the ground at the same temperature all year round.

I appear earlier in the same episode at a holy well in Northumberland, at a place called Holystone. We were planning to perform a full-on Roman baptism ritual there but a health and safety notice from the National Trust thwarted our plans! The pool itself is an amazing place, set in a grove amid open fields, with a curious apse shape at one end that seems to reflect conventional Roman design for ceremonial architecture. There was once a Roman road that ran directly alongside the pool edge too, now lost in fields but confirmed recently by archaeologists.

Holystone is an evocative place to contemplate the experience of joining the early church, an elemental rite that would greatly surprise most modern Christians if seen in all its glory. I have written about the early ritual in a previous blog. Holystone might have seen use as just such a baptismal pool in this early church era, making it a rare artefact of early devotion not only in British terms but around the world. Ifor and I sat up the night before filming attempting to track down Latin text of the Roman baptismal creed, and ended up cobbling together our own notes. Even the internet has its limits.

In addition to such early immersion rituals, the programme more generally investigates our ongoing attachment to water as an aid for healing and health. Christian immersion itself is now very limited, yet we still buy natural spring water in great quantities, continue to visit spas and pools, and when we get our few weeks of annual holiday each year most of us head to the sea. When it comes to rest, recuperation and revival, water has no equal.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Standing amid the ruins

Where more evocative to start our BBC Four series than among the country's most magnificent ruins? These are icons of the British landscape, fixed in our collective imagination and capable of reaching out and inspiring anybody with the slightest interest in our island's history and heritage.

'Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's Holiest Places' begins on Thursday 7 March at 8.30pm on BBC Four. We visit six of our grandest and most thought-provoking ruins in episode one, which are:

• Wimpole Hall's folly, Cambridgeshire
• Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire
• Caerwent Roman town remains, Monmouthshire
• St Andrews Cathedral, Fife
• Coventry Cathedral, Warwickshire
• Strata Florida Abbey, Ceredigion

Neglect, wind and the rain, and the hammers of angry reformers alike have failed to eradicate these beautiful and thought-provoking places from our affections. It is ironic that these buildings are at the same time our most ruinous and also our most carefully preserved. Legal protection for historic monuments is the nation's way of saying that their history matters to us.

The first episode looks at how this apparently modern interest in heritage is part of a long story: even our nostalgia is nothing new. We visit the amazing Roman ruins at Caerwent, among the most substantial in northern Europe, and hear how the earliest Christian missionaries sought out such relics from a bygone empire as a building site for their humbler churches. Presenter Ifor ap Glyn is pictured above beside the remains of Caerwent's defensive walls.

And at Whitby Abbey the power of ruins to haunt our imagination is graphically illustrated by the tale of a writer who came in the 19th century and generated an entirely new genre of literature: Bram Stoker and his book Dracula.

While Coventry Cathedral's innovative combination of modern architecture with the shell of its medieval predecessor demonstrates that devotional use of a holy site can survive even the second world war's most intensive bombing raids.

Ruins might also feel to some like a particularly apt place to reflect on some of the current difficulties facing the churches in Britain. Consolation that the story continues despite modern-day controversies, and a reminder that decline and renewal are part of the lifecycle.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Holy places now starring in six-part TV series

BBC Four and S4C have teamed up to produce a visually stunning six-part TV series based on Britain's Holiest Places, my book published in 2011. It will show our extraordinary Christian landscape in a completely new light, a surprising heritage of mixed devotional activity handed down over the past 2,000 years. The first episode goes out during the week starting 9 March.

The series includes contributions from some of the country's best-known church figureheads, including Archbishop Vincent Nichols, talking about shrines, and Dean Jeffrey John, introducing the story of Britain's first martyr St Alban. A rather less newsworthy contribution sees me showing the series presenter Ifor ap Glyn round an ancient sacred pool lost in the Northumberland countryside, and discussing the eye-catching Roman-era baptismal ritual that may have been practised there. Ifor and I are pictured above at Whitby Abbey.

I was signed up to work on the whole series, so we have spent the past few months with the team tearing across the country to film 38 of the most intriguing and appealing holy sites. We were blessed by good weather at several of the most dramatic landscape settings, defying some record-breaking downpours and snowstorms along the way. Combined with much aerial footage, the series should give anyone something to marvel at and think over at the same time.

The BBC series will be called Britain's Holiest Places, no less, and all the main sites feature in my book. It has been divided up into six episodes and I will aim to write here about each one as it comes on screen each week. A Welsh-language version produced by S4C was broadcast from mid January onwards, Llefydd Sanctaidd.

The episodes are mostly shaped around the natural world, explaining how devotion was written across the landscape itself, a powerful and thought-provoking fusion of the worldly and the divine. For example we examine how Britain's many holy islands were a convenient place to build a hermitage or a monastery and yet developed deeper into a metaphor for the journey from this world to the next.

In this vein, the six episodes will look in turn at:

• Ruins
• Islands
• Water rituals
• Caves and crypts
• Trees and mountains
• Shrines

As in my book, most of the sites arise from our long and productive Christian past. But a few are based on even older holy places, such as the mysterious ruined church built at the heart of a huge Iron Age henge at Knowlton in Dorset - a site where both pagan and Christian ritual have been and gone, as we discuss with expert author Philip Carr-Gomm. And we even had access to a peaceful Buddhist community living on an island made holy by a 7th century Christian hermit off the coast of Scotland.

We meet nuns, priests, bishops, deans, authors, critics and artists in our journey to unravel the complex emotions that lie sleeping beneath our feet. So many eye-catching locations... it was a huge joy for me to lead the film crew down overgrown paths or up windswept hills and find that at every single site they found as much to marvel at as I did during my solitary wanderings.

My book began as a labour of love, and I was delighted to see the presenter Ifor develop his own thoughtful and sensitive response to the subject as our work progressed, an amiable companion on a journey of endless revelation.