Wednesday 13 October 2010


Ann Widdecombe in Lewes

The rather shrill British Tory MP Ann Widdecombe hosts the Reformation episode of Christianity: A History. The logic of having a convert from Anglicanism to Roman Catholicism producing this part of the series evades me, but by and large the approach is evenhanded. The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, for example, is covered in reasonable depth.

Before the programme bogs down in the inevitable Anglocentric bias - Henry VIII and all that - there is a nice intro with some great views of Wittenberg, Worms and the Wartburg. Luther is described, accurately I think, as imagining himself a prophet of the End Days. Widdecombe is surprisingly generous toward the reformer, but really endears herself to me by failing to mention that painful and pesky impediment to the cause of the gospel, John Calvin, even once. Nice touch.

Two remarkable images stick from the screening. One is footage of that sad, myopic Baptist, Ian Paisley, loudly heckling the late pope John Paul II as he attempted to address the European parliament. The second is the bonfire night celebrations in the English town of Lewes where, to this very day, they burn the pope in effigy each year to commemorate the martyrdom of fifteen local Protestants during the reign of Bloody Queen Mary. According to the organiser, even Catholics join in the festivities, though Mrs Widdecombe was clearly not amused.

The programme assumed throughout that the Church of England was (is) Protestant, but that assertion is contestable it seems to me as long as a significant faction within that church asserts otherwise, claiming to be a via media between Rome and Wittenberg Geneva, therefore neither fish nor fowl. Mind you, I have my doubts about those darned Calvinistas as well... and what, pray tell, do you do with crazy Sydney Anglicans whose grand high poobah, Peter Jensen, claims that Anglicanism is Calvinist?

But putting all that aside, Ann Widdecombe's perspective as a new Catholic is interesting, and her personal stake in the issues moves this treatment beyond the usual dry academic approach. Well worth the investment of an hour.


  1. Meanwhile, over here in the colonies, we've been treated this week to the PBS series: God in America. It's only a six hour series, but has covered some ground with which I was unfamiliar.

    As an example, I had no idea regarding the sheer lack of Catholic influence until the 1840's. The millions of Irish immigrants who arrived during that period of time changed the course of our American culture, which had previously been very religious, and largely Evangelical Protestant.

    It is interesting that parallel religious series would be shown in diverse parts of the world at the same time. Synchronicity? Who knows.


  2. Godfrey vs McGrath fan15 October 2010 at 17:43

    "The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre"

    Just looked up info on this delightful Christian event. As a mythicist I love it. No shortage of stupid people with religious/political ideals on this planet.