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.