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TV review: Pilgrimage: The road to Rome, and Britain’s Easter Story

26 April 2019


Lesley Joseph, Dana Scallon, Katie Brand in Pilgrimage: The Road to Rome, BBC1

Lesley Joseph, Dana Scallon, Katie Brand in Pilgrimage: The Road to Rome, BBC1

“ALL roads lead to Rome” — well, perhaps: but certainly not for the reason constantly reiterated by the ill-informed narrator of Pilgrimage: The road to Rome (three episodes, ending on Good Friday), the nearest BBC1 came to marking Lent (News, 5 April).

Christians have made their way to Rome not because it is “the home of the Roman Catholic Church”, but so that they might pray at the tombs of the martyrs St Peter and St Paul: to get as close as possible to the bones of the greatest Apostles, so that their lives and deaths might mark our own.

Such theological profundity — indeed, any theological profundity — was entirely lacking in the super­ficial conversations recorded along the route by the motley collection of “celebrities” (remember, this term means a person in the public eye whom your reviewer has never heard of) as they walked the final stages of the Via Francigena. All them were, we were told, in their different ways, “looking for faith”.

Surely they needed a guide: someone versed in the ways of God and humankind to help them understand their inchoate feelings and ideas, to explain what they were looking at and experiencing, as old religious disappointments and incomprehensions rose to the surface. Instead, they were left to themselves and, when they reached journey’s end — such is the pulling power of the BBC — to attend a private audience with the Pope.

And, entirely to confound my cynical superiority, it worked. The sheer physical effort transformed them: they became purposeful, more open. When the Pope, instead of (as they seemed to expect) laying down the law, requested humbly that they should pray for him, one at least said: “I have found what I was searching for.”

The Northern Cross Pilgrims, tra­versing the causeway leading to Holy Island, were one of the groups encountered in Britain’s Easter Story (BBC1, Good Friday and Easter Day). Gareth Malone and Karen Gib­son led us up and down the country, finding ancient and modern ways in which we mark the death and resurrection of Jesus, and focus­ing especially on music.

Most of what they uncovered, although it seemed to surprise them, will feel like old news to readers of this journal, but it was done with grace, enthusiasm, and engagement. I was entirely won over — until the very climax.

Why on earth, after a couple of hours devoted to material that was focused on, and confined to, the infinite mysteries proper to the Triduum, should they consider it appropriate to gather in the Bishop of Bath & Wells’s private chapel to perform “To God be the glory, great things he has done” — a hymn entirely unrelated to Easter? For me, the entire project was undermined. Then my wife said: “But did you see the light in their eyes as they sang?”

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