Sunday, September 19, 2010

Churches How to Read Them, an ongoing BBC4 series on religious architecture

video topic: religious architecture
entry type: Documentary series
entry no:

video title: Churches How to Read Them: Dark Beginning

                Churches How to Read Them: Medieval Life

video series:
Churches How to Read Them
architect featured:
presentor: Richard Taylor
producer: BBC
run time: 30 mins each
size: 300 mb each
release date: 2010

official website:

description and preview:
(click "read more" below)

The BBC will start airing a new six-part series, Churches: How to Read Them, on September 1st on BBC Four. Presented by author Richard Taylor, it will examine how imagery, symbols and architecture of English parish churches have inspired, moved and enraged people down the centuries.
Churches: How to Read Them is about understanding just what we see in a British church – how the different styles of churches throughout the country reflect changing ideas of God, salvation, living and dying. Visiting some of England’s finest parish churches, Richard’s journey will be full of stories and contemporary accounts, touched with his insight, humour and sense of wonder at what he sees and interprets.
The series has been commissioned by Aaqil Ahmed, Head of Religion and Ethics, Commissioning Editor for Television, who says: “Britain has a huge range of eclectic parish churches. Uniquely, what this series does is put these different style of churches into a historical and religious context. By examining the symbolism in these churches we can see how Christian worship and social attitudes has changed throughout the ages.”
The first episode, Dark Beginnings, explains how churches were originally simple buildings intended to protect the altar and the most important Christian rite of all, the Eucharist. Richard visits Britain’s finest early medieval churches to untangle the mystery of why the Anglo-Saxons and Normans seem to have been unwilling to shake off their pre-Christian past and to have continued to fill their sacred buildings with mysterious pagan images.
BBC Two has also announced that next year they will be showing Filthy Cities, an immersive new series that will bring to life the stinking histories of London, New York and Paris. Hosted by Dan Snow, it shows how these modern capitals were forged in the dirt of the past, emerging from filthy cities to become the iconic modern metropolises we know today.
Taking the travelogue in a new direction, Dan will excavate the murky past in gruesome detail during defining periods in history. Using state-of-the-art CGI, he will go back in time to medieval London, revolutionary Paris and 19th-century New York, revealing that the story of our epic battle against filth through the ages is also the story of the birth of the modern metropolis.
Dan will step into the shoes of professionals such as the medieval muck-raker responsible for clearing tonnes of excrement from London streets; the pig handler helping to clear the New York streets of waste; and the Parisian undertaker, battling to cope with the human cost of a bloody revolution.
He will meet experts, asking them the questions that never make it into the history books, and put the past to the test by mounting a series of imaginative experiments and thought-provoking stunts to demonstrate the key moments in the fight against filth.
Marrying historical accounts with modern science, and combining ambitious reconstructions with CGI, Dan will build up a picture in deliciously dirty detail of the making of three great capital cities during a pivotal period of the past, and reveal the hidden history behind the modern metropolis.


Exuberance is a surprisingly difficult thing to put across on television – one of the reasons why so many presenters make identically exaggerated gestures as if their hands are all following the same flightplan.
So too is erudition. You might have guessed from his frequent smile and his tweedy, swottish exterior that Richard Taylor, presenter of Churches: How to Read Them (Wednesday, BBC Four) might have both – but not that he would turn out to possess them in quite such abundance.

It is, of course, customary, even mandatory, to kick off a series with a shrill blast of hyperbole, and Taylor didn’t disappoint here: ‘In this series I’m going to explain 100 years of British Christian art and symbolism, giving a fresh perspective on the hopes, fears and beliefs of our ancestors.’ Viewers of a less than reverential bent might have been tempted to let loose a chorus of ‘Woo, get you!’ at this point.
But by the end of the first episode – there are five more – Taylor had silenced any doubters. At least he’d rendered this one completely mute. Indeed, I’d go further – this has all the makings of a fantastic series: constantly surprising, full of fascinating details and underpinned by a poignant sense of loss. ‘We seem to have forgotten how to read the language of these buildings,’ said Taylor. Then came another forgivably immodest toot on his own trumpet: ‘I’ve made it my mission to rediscover that language.’
I suppose it’s possible that most, perhaps all, Sunday Telegraph readers already knew that early Christians avoided the cross as a symbol because it was an instrument of execution reserved for the lower orders, but alas I didn’t. Crucifixion – so infra dig. Nor did I know that the reason that lecterns are often in the shape of an eagle was that the eagle is the only one of God’s creatures able to look directly at the sun.
But there was a lot more to Churches: How to Read Them than just a parade of interesting snippets. Taylor showed how paganism shaded, first hesitantly then with growing conviction, into Christianity. In the village of Kilpeck in Herefordshire he found an array of extraordinary figures on the outside of the Anglo-Saxon church, including one of a faceless woman holding open her vagina. ‘Why?’ he wondered. Rather than go down the Dan Brown route, Taylor opted for a the simplest explanation – perhaps it was just a joke.
There’s nothing remotely evangelical about Taylor, but such was the freshness of his approach and the infectiousness of his enthusiasm that on learning that nave comes from the Latin for ship – as in sailing towards God – my own Ship of Faith, long in dry-dock, briefly strained for the sea once more.

screen cap

sneak peak

rapidshare and hotfile links:

Dark Beginnings

Presenter Richard Taylor explains how churches were originally simple buildings intended to protect the altar and the most important Christian rite of all, the Eucharist. He visits Britain's finest early medieval churches to untangle the mystery of why the Anglo-Saxons and Normans seem to have been unwilling to shake off their pre-Christian past and to have continued to fill their sacred buildings with mysterious pagan images. An ancient book in an Oxford library helps Richard find an answer.

Medieval Life

Richard Taylor uncovers evidence that shows how and why our parish churches came to play such a crucial role in the everyday life of the Middle Ages. He looks at how humorous wall paintings and intricate carvings were used to teach moral lessons and how carved angels in such spectacular churches as Blythburgh, Suffolk, were used to create a heaven on earth.

Taylor finds out how rites such as baptism and the largely forgotten ritual known as the 'churching of women' offered people protection from the cradle to the grave. And he discovers how - even today - the local pub may have an unexpected bond with the parish church.

Medieval Death

The medieval church cannot be understood without recognising that death was at its heart. Richard Taylor shows how churches were designed to give medieval people a way to escape death, with their Judgement scenes, cadaver tombs and graphic depictions of the crucifixion.

He explains why scenes of suffering on the cross became so prominent and why the instruments used in the persecution of Jesus were depicted in the decoration of windows, floors and walls at such remarkable sites as Malvern Priory in Worcestershire.

Taylor explains the medieval obsession with purgatory and how this again transformed our churches with the building of elaborate chantry chapels, where Masses could be said to ease the journey of departed souls into heaven.

Later episoded are not aired yet


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