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Duration: 35 minutes

In this programme, divided into short chapters for use in the classroom, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch explores what it means to be English and what has shaped English identity.

He traces the roots of Englishness to an idea held by a seventh century monk and historian, the Venerable Bede. Bede first came up with the notion of the English as a single people united by their belief in a Christian God - a chosen people. It was an idea he took lock, stock and barrel from the Jewish scriptures.

Professor MacCulloch explores the meaning behind one of the most important moments in a Jewish boy's life - his circumcision. He asks how important this initiation into the faith is in creating Jewish identity.

He attends the latest ritual to be introduced into Britain - a citizenship ceremony - to find out why people want to become British and what it means to be British.

The proud reputation of the English as a tolerant people is challenged as Professor MacCulloch revisits darker moments in the nation's past and reveals that it set a precedent for Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jews.

Finally he travels to Israel to visit the home and burial site of England's patron saint - St George. Is he a true symbol of English identity and are there clues here to the real core of Englishness?

Last on

Tue 29 Apr 2014 03:55 BBC Two


Diarmaid MacCulloch
Andrea Gauld
Production Manager
Joan Humphreys


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