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Palatial ceremony

16 January 2015


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 contemporary drawings.

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.

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