Religious programming from across the BBC this Christmas

As we prepare for Christmas, it is befitting that Westminster Abbey is at the heart of our celebrations, given its unique stature at the centre of national worship in this country. Throughout the Christmas period there will also be a diverse rich mix of traditional carols, festive music, contemplation, conversation and live worship across BBC Television and Radio."Aaqil Ahmed, Commissioning Editor, Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics
Date: 27.11.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 17.53
Category: BBC One; BBC Two; Factual
This Christmas, BBC religious programming goes behind the scenes of one of Britain’s most treasured places of worship – Westminster Abbey; actor David Suchet embarks on a personal journey following in the footsteps of St Paul; writer and historian Simon Sebag Montefiore explores Rome, the Eternal City; and, as he prepares to step down as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams intimately reveals the beauty and heritage of Canterbury Cathedral.

Live worship on BBC One comes from St Anne’s Cathedral, Leeds and St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. And BBC Radio 4 will herald the start of Christmas Day with a live broadcast from Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral.

Aaqil Ahmed, Commissioning Editor Religion and Head of Religion & Ethics, says: “As we prepare for Christmas, it is befitting that Westminster Abbey is at the heart of our celebrations given it’s unique stature at the centre of national worship in this country. Throughout the Christmas period there will also be a diverse rich mix of traditional carols, festive music, contemplation, conversation and live worship across BBC Television and Radio.


Christmas preparations start on BBC One on Sunday mornings, with the return of Fern Britton Meets, the series in which Fern talks to people in the public eye about their faith. This year Fern’s guests are Alfie Boe, John Barrowman, Frank Bruno, Daniel O’ Donnell and Dionne Warwick.

Throughout the Advent season, Songs Of Praise presents four special programmes. On Advent Sunday, Sir Derek Jacobi and Sheila Hancock herald the start of the season with a selection of poems and readings that focus on the preparation for Christ's birth.

In Wartime Christmas, Aled Jones visits Holy Cross Church in Greenford, Middlesex, a building conceived on the eve of the Second World War and completed in 1941.

Bill Turnbull joins the line-up of Songs Of Praise presenters for Christmas in Wales, with traditional carols from St Davids Cathedral. For the Sunday before Christmas, A Feast of Carols is a festive musical treat with carols by candlelight from London's Maida Vale featuring Katherine Jenkins, Boys Aloud and actors Kevin Whately and Tina Hobley.

Also in the run up to the festive period is a two-part series on BBC One - David Suchet: In The Footsteps Of St Paul, which follows the well-loved actor as he goes on a personal journey in search of this enigmatic man and his mission.

BBC One will herald the start of Christmas Day with the traditional Midnight Mass, live from St Anne’s Cathedral in the vibrant city of Leeds. The Mass is celebrated by the Dean, Monsignor Philip Moger and will include the blessing of the crib. The homily is given by Monsignor Michael McQuinn.

The setting is the tuneful and majestic Grande Messe Solonelle by Louis Vierne. Other music includes: O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, O Little Town of Bethlehem, The Sussex Carol, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Today A Saviour Has Been Born To Us and Mary’s Magnificat.

On Christmas Day, the Christmas Morning Eucharist comes live from St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. This year the story of the Nativity is reflected within a family communion led by the Rev. Wendy Hough, with the Rev. Gwyn Owen, Area Dean for South Bristol, giving the address. Traditional carols will include O Come All Ye Faithful, Away In A Manger, In The Bleak Midwinter, Ding Dong Merrily On High and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.

On Christmas Day evening there will be a moment of quiet reflection with a reading from Luke’s Gospel by Paralympian bronze medallist Rachel Morris, followed by a carol from the choir and congregation of St Davids Cathedral.

On the Sunday after Christmas, in Celebrating 2012 Big Sing, Alfie Boe and soprano sensation Laura Wright are the guest soloists to join 5,000 voices in the Royal Albert Hall for spectacular hymns that reflect this historic year for the United Kingdom. Aled Jones meets Olympic gold medalists Helen Glover and Heather Stanning and there's a special performance by the Songs of Praise Senior School Choir of the Year from St George's College in Weybridge.

And on New Year’s Day BBC One will broadcast the Archbishop of Canterbury’s annual New Year’s Message. This year will be the final message delivered by Dr Rowan Williams.


In December, BBC Two presents Westminster Abbey, a landmark three-part series that takes a behind-the-scenes look at one of Britain's most historic institutions, following the rhythm of the liturgical calendar from Candlemas to preparations for Christmas. Featuring interviews with members of the 250 staff who oversee the Abbey’s spiritual mission, to ensure the upkeep of a World Heritage site and co-ordinate 1,500 services a year.

On the eve of his retirement as 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams gives BBC Two an exclusive insight into his emotions after 10 years in one of the toughest jobs in Britain. Goodbye To Canterbury reveals how the art and architecture of Canterbury Cathedral have been a spiritual touchstone throughout his ministry; how ancient stones and relics are signposts in the modern world; and what this extraordinary building has to teach his successors.

On Christmas Eve, BBC Two presents Carols From King’s. This traditional celebration of the birth of Christ is the television programme that for many marks the true start of Christmas. The sight and sound of a lone choirboy singing Once in Royal David's City amid the candlelit fan-vaulted splendour of the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge is the beginning of a feast of Christmas words and music. The Christmas story is told in the words of the King James' Bible and in poems by Rainer Maria Rilke, William Austin and Laurie Lee, and the world-famous Chapel Choir, under the direction of Stephen Cleobury, sing carols old and new, including The Holly and the Ivy, Good Christian Men Rejoice and The Angel Gabriel.

BBC Four

In a new three-part series, Rome: A History Of The Eternal City, historian Simon Sebag Montefiore, uncovers the central role played by religion in creating and maintaining the power of the city of Rome, from its foundations to the modern day. From its founding myth and its pagan gods whose actions dictated the politics of ancient Rome, to the time that a new cult from the East threatened the status quo – Christianity.

BBC Radio 2

In the week before Christmas, Chris Evans will be visited by Three Wise Men who will share their Pause For Thought - Tuesday 18 December the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Wednesday 19 December Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor and finally, on Thursday 20 December, the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nicholls.

At 7pm on Sunday 23 December Hardeep Singh Kohli presents Follow The Star, a special Christmas programme from the Royal Observatory's Planetarium in Greenwich, which recreates the cosmos as it would have been seen 2000 years ago - unravelling the mystery behind the most famous stargazers in history - the Three Wise Men. Performing live in the planetarium will be The Magnets with their own take on some traditional carols and a wealth of contemporary Christmas music.

Join Diane Louise Jordan later that evening at 8pm for an evening in the gothic splendour of Beverley Minster. Sunday Half Hour celebrates Christmas with the Minster Choir, Friar Alessandro, the newly crowned 2012 BBC Radio 2 Young Choristers of the Year, and the York String Quartet. They, along with people from all around the East Riding of Yorkshire will be raising the roof with their singing of the festive favourites, and enjoying the traditional Christmas readings and poetry.

Aled Jones says Good Morning Christmas on Christmas Day to Sam Brown’s Ukulele Orchestra and singing duo The Candle Thieves. Canon Ann Easter joins him for festive conversation and a Moment of Reflection.

And, on the 30 December, in his last appearance as the presenter of Good Morning Sunday, Aled Jones shares highlights of Good Morning Sunday from the last six years.

BBC Radio 3

A New Cycle of Mystery Plays from Monday 17 December to Sunday 23 December, 10.45-11.00pm. In the run up to Christmas, Radio 3 will broadcast five newly commissioned short plays inspired by the medieval Mystery Plays. Each one is a reworking of a New Testament Story, reset in the contemporary world. Rev. Dr Giles Fraser introduces the plays and provides a biblical context. On Monday, Dawn King sets the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders in a building firm. On Tuesday, Katie Hims sets the story of the Good Samaritan on the Central Line. On Wednesday, Frazer Flintham sets the Parable of the Good Servant in a beauty store. On Thursday, Winsome Pinnock sets the story of Lazarus in a holistic healing centre, where terminally ill Larry is drawn to the work of an alternative healer. On Friday, Tom Wells sets the Parable of the Sower in a Secondary School lunchtime science club.

On Sunday 23 December, each play will be compiled in Drama On 3: A New Cycle of Mystery Plays, which will broadcast from 8.30-10pm.

Radio 3 broadcasts the service of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from the candlelit Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge at 2pm on Christmas Day. The much-loved sequence of carols and readings includes a new carol commission Australian Carl Vine, Artistic Director of Musical Viva Australia.

Belief returns to BBC Radio 3 on Christmas Eve. From the 24 December to the 4 January, creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, the former head of the British Army, General Lord Richard Dannatt, and on Christmas Day, former US President Jimmy Carter, join Joan Bakewell to discuss how their influences and beliefs have shaped their lives and work.

BBC Radio 3’s Choral Evensong on Boxing Day at 3.30pm is a special archive edition from the chapel of St John’s College Cambridge with the choir of Clare College. This will be A Meditation on Christ's Nativity based around a sequence of Christmas carols, Ex Maria Virgine, by John Tavener. The Choral Evensong broadcast on Wednesday 2 January at 3.30pm will be from St Peter’s College, Oxford with the Rodolfus Choir.

BBC Radio 4

The Most Revd Dr Rowan Williams will be doing his last Thought for the Day as the Archbishop of Canterbury on Saturday 22 December.

Shortly after 3pm every Christmas Eve, millions of people both in this country and the throughout the world through the BBC’s World Service pause to listen to the haunting solo of a young chorister singing the first verse of Once In Royal David’s City. The traditional Christmas Eve service of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast live from the candlelit Chapel of King’s College, Cambridge. The much-loved sequence of carols and readings always includes a new carol commission, which is much anticipated by the musical community. This year’s commission is by Australian Carl Vine, Artistic Director of Musical Viva Australia.

Radio 4 visits the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King in Liverpool to broadcast Midnight Mass - the first Mass of Christmas in the company of a congregation of nearly 2,000 people. The Archbishop of Liverpool, the Most Revd Patrick Kelly will preside and preach, and the cathedral choir, directed by Christopher McElroy, will sing carols and Christmas music with organ and brass to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the light of the world.

Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols presents Prayer for the Day at 5.43am all week on Radio 4.

On Christmas morning at 9am Bishop Richard Chartres preaches A Right Royal Christmas from the Tower of London in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, at the close of a remarkable Diamond Jubilee Year. Bishop Stephen Oliver and Chaplain to the Queen and Chaplain to HM Tower of London, The Revd Roger Hall MBE, are joined by members of the community who live within the walls of the Tower in this joyful act of worship, including a feast of lively and popular carols and the Christmas morning favourite I Saw Three Ships. Master of Music is Colm Carey joined by organist Andrew Arthur.

As the day’s festivities draw to a close, a meditation from writer and novelist Catherine Fox will be broadcast just after midnight on Christmas night.

On Sunday 30 December, Sunday Worship looks forward to New Year from St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow where hospitality is traditionally such an important part of the celebrations. Kevin Franz, a Quaker, explores the offer of hospitality in light of the Christmas narrative and the change of the year. With the Rev. Alison Jack and the Choir of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow.