HOW calendrically acute of BBC2 to mark the eve of the Sunday on
which we celebrate the baptism of Christ with a programme showing
how the sacrament ought to be administered - although, as
Britain's Tudor Treasure: A night at Hampton Court
(Saturday) was built around a reconstruction of the christening of
Henry VIII's son, Prince Edward, it was not exactly Common Worship,
in either the technical or everyday usage of that term.
It fulfilled two requirements: first, it celebrated the palace's
500th anniversary; and, second, it was an appetite-whetter for the
fast-approaching TV realisation of Hilary Mantel's Wolf
Hall (no doubt effecting by this partnership thrifty savings
in the costume department).
Our guides were Lucy Worsley and David Starkey, who between them
cast an irritating efflorescence of arch jokiness over the affair -
but there was much to admire. Starkey showed how little true
Reformation principles had affected worship at this level: it still
looked very much like a medieval Roman Catholic rite, and Cranmer -
whatever they might say in Geneva - wore a cope and mitre.
No rationalist demur compromised the significance of baptism: by
this action, Edward became a Christian, and therefore a prince; so
the trumpets could sound and the candles be lighted. For liturgical
wonks like me, many things could be savoured, and the
reconstruction brought to life items and actions that look odd in
Worsley emphasised that the huge formal procession of more than
100 members of the household and courtiers which wound its way
through the palace to the Chapel Royal and back again was perfectly
everyday: for royalty and aristocracy such processions were
standard, and every basic act was public and ritualised. But our
presenters missed out the crucial fact that one of the
participating groups still functions, daily, in exactly the same
way as it did then: the choir of the Chapel Royal.
Water as a destructive force rather than an effector of
salvation was the theme of Somerset: After the floods
(BBC2, Thursday of last week), a documentary on the aftermath of
last year's inundation of the village of Moorlands. I suspect that
most of those filmed will consider this to be not exactly a true
picture of what they lived through, but what we saw highlighted a
range of moral issues.
On the one hand, we saw resilience, determination, and good
humour: long-distance neighbours travelled across the country to
help those whose plight they knew about only from news on the TV.
Volunteers helped to repair houses where insurance companies found
a technical get-out absolving them from doing so.
On the other hand, some of the residents harboured a burning
sense that they were deliberately victimised. No doubt more money
should have been spent on anti-flooding measures; but, surely, the
most extreme weather will overwhelm whatever provision we might
make? And perhaps the concept of a dream home should be questioned.
Remember, the Tudor court was entirely peripatetic, moving on as
soon as it had picked the neighbourhood clean.