Posted by: Philip Carr-Gomm | March 14, 2013

Pagans & Pilgrims Tonight

Episode 2 of Pagans & Pilgrims is on BBC 4 tonight 8.30pm. As mentioned in a previous post, this series was designed and made to be called ‘Britain’s Holiest Places’ and looks mainly at Christian sites. Only after it was made did the Beeb change the title. So don’t be surprised if you don’t hear much about Paganism… although of course it’s always there, just beneath the surface…

From the BBC page on the series:

what was really happening in Britain’s spiritual landscape over the last two thousand years?

Many of the answers will be found in our BBC Four TV series, Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain’s Holiest Places, where we had to choose 36 of them, each drawn from a selection of 500 around the UK, included in a book by Nick Mayhew Smith on the same subject.

Ifor ap Glyn - Lady's Well, Holystone, Northumberland
Full immersion in Northumberland’s Lady’s Well meant the beginning of a new life

The series explores the historical relationship between Christianity and the older beliefs that existed before its arrival. Rather than destroying the old symbols of paganism, Christianity simply subsumed them, and the previously pagan landscape was overwritten with a new Christian narrative.

From crumbling ruins and towering mountain hideaways, to sacred caves and ancient shrines, some of which predate Christianity, we explore the myths and legends running through Britain’s spiritual history, and ask what these historical sites tells us about who we are today.

Many of the places we visited were in the grand surroundings of some incredible cathedrals, but the one that stood out most for us couldn’t be more different – the Welsh Christian shrine at Pennant Melangell.

Set amid the dramatic North Wales countryside near the Snowdonia National Park, a small farming valley was in the 6th Century home to Melangell, a princess who became a hermit after an unwanted marriage proposal.

Legend has it that one day the local lord came through with his hunting pack, driving the wildlife before him.

Some hares sought refuge under Melangell’s cloak, and when the huntsmen raised their horns to their lips to call the dogs in for the kill, no sound emerged. The lord was so moved that he placed the valley and all its wildlife under Melangell’s care and it became a place of Christian sanctuary.

In the 12th century a shrine to St Melangell, containing her body was erected. Like many other shrines, it was destroyed during the reformation, but she was so popular her bones were secretly reinterred to save them from the reformers’ zeal. During restoration of the church in the late 20th Century they were rediscovered and placed back in the rebuilt shrine.

On the day we visited in October, we were preoccupied with the difficulties of the day’s filming. And it was only afterwards that we began reflecting on how calm and moving a place it was.

Read more and see pictures of Pennant Melangell


Responses

  1. I must confess to being a little disappointed at last night’s programme. There was no mention of all the holy wells in Britain that are used regularly in the present day. It seemed to be very low on Pagans and very much from a Christian viewpoint. Perhaps half an hour just isn’t enough time?

  2. PS there does seem to be some disquiet over the angle of the programme. Perhaps the original title of the show should have been the one used? Would have been more accurate. That said, it’s still interesting. Just not quite what I was hoping for.

  3. I watched the first episode and thought the description of Halloween as a Secular festival demonstrated a fundamental lack of knowledge about Paganism, not what I expected form the title of the series.

    Unless someone can tell me it gets a lot better it is ditched from my schedule.

  4. Thoroughly enjoyed your contributuion to the third episode in this series. I was a little offended when he said the evidence of modern pagan practice in the form of clooties on the yew trees made it feel eerie but I really enjoy the chance to add a few destinations on my list of places to see on this lovely Isle of ours.

  5. Agreed. Last night’s episode (‘Trees and Mountains’) was somewhat better, and your contribution was articulate and positive – just what was needed. I’m quite astounded at the poor research on the programme, however; how could the presenter not be aware that clouties and other ‘Earth magic’ were happening in the present day?

  6. It’s not just that he was unaware of it’s happening it was the very slight hint of it being dark, other, eerie, as he put it. It props up some very unhealthy sentiment towards practices that to me seem no more or less ‘eerie’ than lighting a candle in church in remebrance of the dead or of making a christingle at christmas. how can ribbons be eerie? Lol

  7. The Water episode was hopeless. Boring and stiff. I would like to know, among other things: What exactly is so exciting about hearing some Latin words under the trees by the sacred pool in the Scottish borders? And it completely escapes me how one can talk about water and holy wells about mentioning the mythological meaning of water and the Goddess.

  8. I was chuffed that Melangell featured in the programme and felt vindicated at having given her so much space in the chapter on saints in The Megalithic Empire. Long live the Easter hare.

  9. I am a woodcarver who recently unwittingly carved melangell.Shortly after I started watching Pagans and Pilgrims and was interested to see the piece on her.check her out on http://www.woodartwords.com

    One wet day in January this year when I should have been chainsawing ouside,I decided to put my time to good use and start a new carving.A piece of mulberry that I was given a few years ago caught my eye and the project began.I thought that the piece with a fork at the top could maybe be a figure carrying something on their shoulder.I spent the rest of that day creating a lumpish manly head and shoulders and the suggestion of a rabbit or hare where a split in the wood created a sort of cloak effect.More heavy rain the next day led me to carry on and by the end of that afternoon I had an almost saintly feeling male figure with a definite hare beneath a not so definate cloak.The fork in the wood left a protrusion from the back that I was unsure how to use for best effect.But as usual I thought i would just plod on and cross that bridge when I came to it.Knowing the more time I invested in the piece the less likely I would be not to finish it.The grain seemed to be leading me, so that night out of interest I googled “saints of animals” wondering If perhaps I was unwittingly carving one and came up with Francis of Issisi, although most images had him portrayed with birds and I found none with hares.
    The next day I was eager to carry on ,the rain had stopped and I had other things to do but I was gripped and needed to finish this piece before I could consider doing anything else.I continued been led and quite soon it became apparent this figure was to be female, not what I had imagined yesterday at all and still no idea how to deal with the hunch back.By the end of that day it was definately a woman but still had a saintly feel,I’m not sure why, something in the stance maybe, or the pale buttery colour of the wood.An Irish friend of mine who had called in that day felt sure he had heard of a female saint who had a connection with Hares ,I was intrigued and thrilled to hear from him later that evening with news of a Melangell, Patron saint of hares .
    I had a name for the ever changing face and equipped from the internet with the legend of her story I carved on, eventually deciding she could be carrying firewood ,something someone living a remote hermits life must have had to do.This hopefully would utilize the fork in the log. Some weeks later I finished ,gave her a couple of coats of beeswax polish mounted her on a piece of Oak and finally got back to the other things I should be doing.

  10. Three hares joined by their ears to form a triangle feature on some Dartmoor churches. The icon of three hares seems to have an esoteric rather than Christian significance but no-one knows what it is these days.

    Hares were associated with witches so Melangell is most likely a pre-Christian “saint” a la Artemis, goddess of hunting and the moon and also a protector of young hares. Hunting has always been a strictly regulated activity.


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