A new three-part BBC television series exploring pilgrimage will follow seven famous people as they embark on a 15-day pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The Revd Kate Bottley, vicar of Blyth and Scrooby with Ranskill, and Chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College in the Diocese of Southwell & Nottingham, is one of those taking part. Bottley became famous in the UK after staring in the Channel Four programme Gogglebox, which looks at how people watch television. She now has a number of media roles, including presenting the popular Songs of Praise television programme and BBC Radio Two’s national Sunday morning early breakfast programme, the Sunday Hour.
Other participants include actor Neil Morrissey, magician Debbie McGee, M People lead singer Heather Small, comedian Ed Byrne, investigative journalist Raphael Rowe and Invictus Games medallist JJ Chalmers. Some are known for the strong faith beliefs while others are atheists.
“Human beings have been making religious pilgrimages for thousands of years and the 21st century has seen a marked rise in people making these moral and spiritual journeys,” the BBC said in a statement announcing the new commission. They said that the seven participants would be “stripped of the trappings and comforts of fame and celebrity to become modern day pilgrims for 15 days, travelling the famous medieval pilgrimage. . .
“Living as simple pilgrims, including staying in traditional hostels and carrying everything they need on their backs, [the participants] embark on their own spiritual journey of a lifetime and explore the spiritual meaning of pilgrimage.”
They continue: “Walking alongside thousands of other pilgrims they visit historic and religious landmarks, meet incredible people and encounter extraordinary events. But it’s anything but a walk in the park. The physical challenge proves too much for some, theology debates divide opinion but an unexpected confrontation brings the group together.”
The programme will explore how the experience impacts on their own faith, and ask whether medieval pilgrimage has any modern spiritual relevance. “As they learn about more about themselves and each other, they gradually reveal and understand their own beliefs more and discover a greater insight into the meaning of faith,” the statement said.
The BBC’s commissioning editor for religion, Fatima Salaria, said: “My ambition for The Pilgrimage is to show how a group of well-known faces, taken out of their comfort zone, discover what their faith means to them as they walk in the footsteps of ancient pilgrims.”
Tom McDonald, head of commissioning for the BBC’s specialist factual programmes said that religion was “at the heart” of his department’s offer. “We’re committed to growing our reputation for bold and contemporary ideas which bring religion content to the broadest possible audience,” he said. The series, and other new religious programmes announced by the BBC today, “in different ways, explores how the challenges of modern life and questions of faith intersect with surprising, moving and often uplifting results.”
The Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal (the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain), is seeking to construct an Anglican Centre at Santiago at the end of the Camino – the burial place of St James and considered by many to be the third holiest Christian pilgrimage site after Jerusalem and Rome - and recently declared its cathedral in Madrid to be a welcome centre for pilgrims on the route.