Religious programmes for Easter across the BBC

Easter is the cornerstone of Christianity and our programmes across the BBC both mark and celebrate its significance. I am incredibly excited that this year we are telling the story of the Passion with the help of the North East community and building a cross to rival the size of St Paul’s Cathedral.Aaqil Ahmed, Head, Religion and Ethics
Date: 26.03.2014     Last updated: 26.03.2014 at 09.50
Aaqil Ahmed, BBC Head of Religion and Ethics, today announces a range of programming across BBC Television and Radio to mark Easter.

From an ambitious live re-telling of the Passion story set against the striking backdrop of the North-East coast and live worship from Leicester Cathedral on BBC One, to Archbishop John Sentamu’s personal meditation upon the crucifixion of Christ on BBC Radio 4, this Easter, BBC Religion and Ethics reflects both the sanctity of Eastertide and the celebration of the resurrection with a wide range of programming across television and radio. 

Aaqil Ahmed, Head of BBC Religion & Ethics, says: "Easter is the cornerstone of Christianity and our programmes across the BBC both mark and celebrate its significance. I am incredibly excited that this year we are telling the story of the Passion with the help of the North East community and building a cross to rival the size of St Paul’s Cathedral."

At the heart of this year’s schedule on BBC One is The Great North Passion, hosted by Fern Britton: a large-scale outdoor production in partnership with The Cultural Spring that will mark the last moments of Jesus’ life, from his trial and suffering to his eventual death. Fern Britton will join local community participants including a 1,000-strong choir and 12 artists who have created new work inspired by the Stations of the Cross, housed in 12 shipping containers across the North East. These containers will join over 50 others in Bent’s Park, South Shields on Good Friday to form an iconic installation in the shape of a cross.

BBC Radio 3's Choral Evensong will this year be broadcast from Chester Cathedral, and Diane Louise Jordan is joined by actor Stephen Tompkinson at Winchester Cathedral to reflect on the Good Friday story on BBC Radio 2.



Bradford Cathedral hosts Songs Of Praise on Palm Sunday and explores the events of the first Holy Week. Actor Tom Courtenay reads the story of Christ's Passion, as he returns to the city where he filmed some his most famous roles, including Billy Liar. There are stories from the locality that have contemporary parallels with the events of the last week of Jesus' earthly life, together with congregational hymns and music from the cathedral choir and American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman.


‘New Life in Christ’ is the theme of this year’s Easter Live Worship from Leicester Cathedral and will be led by The Bishop of Leicester, The Right Reverend Tim Stevens. Around 450 people are expected to take part in the service that will be broadcast at 10am on Easter Sunday. As well as traditional Easter hymns, readings and prayers read by members of the congregation, a troupe of Indian dancers will light the congregational candles and young children will complete the Easter garden. Members of the cathedral choirs and chamber choir will lead the singing and perform two anthems. The Mass setting is the uplifting and inspirational Schubert in G major and will be accompanied by a small orchestra.

URBI ET ORBI, Easter Sunday 20 April

On this the second Easter of his pontificate, Pope Francis gives his Easter Sunday Message and Blessing, Urbi et Orbi, to the City and to the world. From the balcony on St Peter’s Basilica, the Pope will address a huge crowd of pilgrims, Roman citizens and those who are simply curious.


On the most important date in the Christian calendar, Songs Of Praise celebrates among the rich and varied Christian communities of Yorkshire. Bill Turnbull visits the Polish Catholic Church of Our Lady Of Czestochowa & St Stanislaw Kostka in Leeds, where new friendships have been forged between the older generation and young immigrants. He learns about the Moravian custom of remembering the dead at Easter time and hears how the Greek Orthodox community celebrates Easter in church and at home. Young Catholics from Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford sing hymns from these diverse Christian traditions including the Greek anthem Soma Christou and some old favourites like Now The Green Blade Riseth and Christ The Lord Is Risen Today. There's also a performance by the BBC Radio 2 Young Choristers of the Year, Luke McWatters and Laura Barraclough.



Easter From King's consolidates the emergence of an authentic modern tradition, with the 2014 broadcast coming in the year its companion broadcast, Carols From King's, is set to mark the 60th anniversary of the BBC cameras first filming inside the Chapel of King's College Cambridge. Easter From King's is a candle-lit meditation that traces the Christian story from Holy Week to Easter Day, told in readings punctuated by some of the most startlingly beautiful music ever written. The famous Choir of King's College Cambridge, under Stephen Cleobury, sings music by Allegri, Mozart, Bach, Franck, Vaughan Williams and others, and the readings are taken from the King James' Bible and from poetry by John Donne, George Herbert and Siegfried Sassoon.


More than 250 years since its composition, Handel’s Messiah remains one of the most popular choral pieces in western music, containing the instantly recognisable Hallelujah Chorus. Yet few people know the heart-rending story of how this much-loved work first came to public attention. Messiah At The Foundling Hospital is a one-hour drama documentary for BBC Two presented by Amanda Vickery and Tom Service which re-creates the Foundling Hospital premiere of the Messiah in 1750. The performance was the first ever charity benefit concert in which art and philanthropy came together to raise money and it launched a tradition that every fundraising concert has followed since. Messiah At The Foundling Hospital shows how Handel’s masterpiece helped save the lives of 25,000 people, and changed music forever.

BBC Radio 2

AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS 2014, Friday 18 April, 8–10pm

Diane Louise Jordan introduces an evening of music At The Foot Of The Cross and is joined by actor Stephen Tompkinson, who helps to reflect on the story of the first Good Friday, describing the events of that day in reading and poetry. Winchester Cathedral is the inspirational setting this year for the BBC Concert Orchestra, choirs and congregation. Fauré’s Requiem is the main work alongside music from film, anthem and oratorio with well-known Good Friday hymns and traditional spirituals sung by Ken Burton’s Tessera. The BBC Concert Orchestra is conducted by Andrew Lumsden, Director of Music at the cathedral. The Waynflete Singers join Winchester cathedral choristers, and BBC Radio 2’s own Young Choristers of the Year 2013, Laura Barraclough and Luke McWatters.

GOOD MORNING SUNDAY, Easter Sunday 20 April, 7–9am

Clare Balding will broadcast Good Morning Sunday live from Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Day. Speaking from the Huguenot Chapel in the crypt of the cathedral, Clare’s guests include the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archdeacon of Canterbury, the Venerable Sheila Watson. Theologian and social media expert Vicky Beeching will join Clare en route to the cathedral to explore ideas of pilgrimage. Clare also helps to launch this year’s BBC Radio 2 Chorister of the Year competition.

THE SUNDAY HOUR, Easter Sunday 20 April, 6–7am

Diane Louise Jordan plays spiritually uplifting and inspiring music in a special edition for Easter Day. Her special guest is the hymn writer and worship leader Stuart Townend. The programme, as always, will include prayers, the virtual candle and listener requests and dedications.

BBC Radio 3

CHORAL EVENSONG Live from Chester Cathedral, Easter Sunday 20 April, 3pm

Easter Sunday is celebrated with a special live broadcast from Chester Cathedral featuring music by Herbert Howells – his majestic ‘Te Deum’ (‘Collegium Regale’) written in 1944 for the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge.

LIVE FROM THE GUILD CHAPEL, STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, 23 April, 3.30pm (rpt Sun 27 April, 3pm)

Celebrating the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth, Choral Evensong travels to the 13th Century Guild Chapel in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon, next door to Shakespeare’s schoolroom. The service will be led by the orchestra and chamber choir of The Swan Theatre in music contemporaneous with Shakespeare.

AFTERNOON ON 3, Friday 18 Apr, 2pm

Bach's St John Passion from Berlin conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with a cast including Mark Padmore, Christian Gerhaher, Magdalena Kozená, Roderick Williams and Camilla Tilling. 

JS Bach - St John Passion

Sir Simon Rattle conducts this performance recorded at the end of February in the Berlin Philharmonie.

Jesus - Roderick Williams (baritone)

Magdalena Kozená (mezzo-soprano)

Pilate, Peter - Christian Gerhaher (baritone)

Evangelist - Mark Padmore (tenor)

Topi Lehtipuu (tenor)

Camilla Tilling (soprano)

Berlin Radio Chorus

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Sir Simon Rattle (conductor)

Followed at c. 2.55pm by:

Schubert. Symphony No. 4 in C minor, 'Tragic' D. 417

Berlin Philharmonic, Gustavo Dudamel (conductor)

BBC Radio 4


Sat 12/Mon 14-Fri 18 April, 5.43am – The Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

Sat 19/Mon 21-Fri 25 April, 5.43am – The Most Revd George Stack, Archbishop of Cardiff

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY Friday, 18 April, 7.48am

Cardinal Vincent Nichols will deliver Thought For The Day on Good Friday.


Archbishop John Sentamu offers a personal meditation upon the crucifixion of Christ through the sounds, stories and situations he finds as he walks around the historic city of York, on this the most solemn day of the Christian year. As well as the people he encounters, poetry, prayer, and readings from the passion narrative with stunning music recorded by the Choir of York Minster, all help to tell the story.

His focus is to see the events of that day through the power of the mob, both then and now. Throughout Jesus’ final hours, crowds play a significant role in the story. A crowd is led by Judas to the Garden of Gethsemane to arrest his friend. Hours later, given the opportunity to release Jesus, a crowd instead bays for his blood. And, as Jesus journeys through the streets with his cross, the Roman guard is there to hold the people back as emotions soar.

An angry crowd needs a victim, one who is different, somehow deficient or offensive, untouchable. Such situations resonate with the victimised and marginalised around the world today, including some whom the Archbishop himself has sought to defend here in the UK, and in parts of Africa. Crowds have always had the power to draw bystanders into a maelstrom of destructive behaviour. As he travels around York, Archbishop Sentamu explores the story of Clifford’s Tower, which in 1190 was the scene of one of the medieval period’s most notorious pogroms in the UK, when 150 Jews were massacred.

SUNRISE SERVICE - Sunday 20 April, 6.35am

From St George's College Weybridge, whose award-winning choir sings Easter anthems and carols to welcome the dawn. Leader: Fr Aidan Rossiter CJ; Music Director: Tansy Castledine. Music: Now the green blade riseth (Lindley); The Easter Song of Praise (Shephard); O healing River (trad); Blessed be the God and Father (Wesley). Reading: John 20: 1-18.

SUNDAY, Easter Sunday 20 April, 7.10-7.53am

William Crawley will present a special edition of the programme from Belfast.

EASTER SUNDAY WORSHIP, 20 April 2014, 8.10am

Inside Joy – As we approach the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, our celebration for Easter Day comes from the Guild Chapel, Stratford Upon Avon, opposite Shakespeare’s home. It was a building he would have known intimately and we are joined by the choir and orchestra of Stratford’s world-famous Swan Theatre performing Haydn's Little Organ Mass.

The Rt Revd John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick, preaches, and the Revd Dr Paul Edmondson of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust presides, at this joyous Easter Sunday morning celebration of Shakespeare’s great themes of faith and redemption.