Television viewers in the United Kingdom will have the chance to watch two new history programmes that feature medieval England. 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.