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Archbishop Vincent Nichols chooses an object for AHOW

Friday 2 July 2010, 17:59

Paul Sargeant Paul Sargeant

Archbishop Vincent Nichols' pilgrim badge

One of the most exciting things about A History of the World project is the way that it has been picked up by other BBC programmes, from Radio 4's own Making History or BBC Scotland's Radio Café through to CBBC's Relic: Guardians of the Museum and many local radio teams working with museums in their area. Each of them seems to find something in the idea of a history through objects that sparks their interest.

Next week the theme for A History of the World in 100 Objects is 'Meeting the Gods' - looking at religious objects from around the world between AD 1200 and 1400.

However, Radio 4 has already been looking at the idea of objects and belief thanks to another one of our partners the Sunday programme, which has been asking a variety of people about objects that speak to them about their faith or beliefs. They've already spoken to Sir Ben Kingsley, Richard Curtis, David Morrissey and Andrew Motion and this week it's the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols.

Now he's going to have an amazing religious object, right? Some priceless relic from the church vaults, like the Holy Thorn Reliquary which we will feature on Monday morning.

No. Instead he has chosen a crudely moulded pewter badge pulled from the muddy slime on a bank of the Thames. It's certainly old, but as he says, "It's neither precious nor scarce." But, as with many of the objects in our series, a modest object can tell a fascinating story. Here's a preview of why he's chosen it:

That's what I love about A History of the World: a cheap piece of pewter suddenly opens up into the story of a dutiful pilgrimage undertaken in a wholly Catholic kingdom of England. In previous weeks, the stories of a Sin Eater's grave and a witch's pot opened up other stories of faith and superstition.

Sunday Worship has also been getting involved with more modern tales and added a memorial hymn sheet from the 1960 mining disaster in Six Bells colliery, Wales, and a community quilt patched by women in Christian missions.

I think the mission quilt, which is still being sewn, highlights an interesting aspect of many of the spiritual objects that have been added to the A History of the World website: they are imbued with potential as well as history.

All the objects on the site have a historical dimension that helps us look into the past but the way that people describe these spiritual objects you see that they also pull powerfully in the opposite direction, into the future. These buddhas, rosaries, pilgrim badges and quilts seem to be more than just physical souvenirs they have faith and hope invested in them.

Perhaps other objects in our lives do the same: the pair of football boots that will make you dip the ball like Ronaldo or the new swimsuit that promises the perfect summer. Do we all have faith objects, irrespective of our religious beliefs or lack of them?

We've got over 3,000 objects on the site now from museums and listeners and perhaps there are others in there that are about the future as much as the past. You can add your object to the collection and give us your piece of history or hope.

And don't miss the Sunday programme's interview with Archbishop Nichols or next week's programmes looking at objects from Christ's crown of thorns to the statues on Easter Island.

Paul Sargeant is editor of the A History of the World blog


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    Comment number 1.

    I grew up in a Catholic boarding school and so had to spend a significant proportion of time praying. Love/hate relationship with the thurible – lived in fear of dropping all the contents when loading the incense; loved the sound of the chains when the container closed perfectly and one synchronised the three chain/container collisions with the bells during benediction. The monstrance was ethereal and one sensed that it could be featured in an Arthur C. Clarke film. I suspect it’s the closeness of ‘monstrance’ and ‘monster’ that always made me feel uneasy. I still struggle with transubstantiation.


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Identifying the top ten game changers operating in the UK today.


See the latest on our blog


Find out about this year's panel and theme