What is the ap­peal of the pil­grim­age when we no longer be­lieve in re­li­gion?

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - FOOD & DRINK -

There’s a wide- eyed qual­ity to Si­mon Reeve that makes him the per­fect guide for a travel show. He looks gen­uinely ex­cited by the peo­ple and places he en­coun­ters on his trav­els. In his new se­ries Pil­grim­age (Tues­days, BBC2), he’s ex­plor­ing what it is that has driven, and con­tin­ues to drive, peo­ple to leave the safety of their homes on, of­ten dan­ger­ous, jour­neys in search of en­light­en­ment.

A thou­sand years ago, pil­grims would brave ban­dits as they set out on epic quests to visit a holy shrine, where con­tact with the relics of a favoured saint might mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween heaven and hell. These days not many of us be­lieve that touch­ing a vial con­tain­ing the blood of Thomas à Becket gives us an ad­van­tage in the af­ter­life, yet many ag­nos­tics set out on jour­neys of self-dis­cov­ery, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of our fore­bears. Thou­sands of pil­grims, many of them non- be­liev­ers, walk the Camino de San­ti­ago each year.

As Reeve trav­elled from the holy is­land of Lind­is­farne, off the north­east coast of Eng­land, to the sa­cred city of Can­ter­bury, he met both be­liev­ers and non-be­liev­ers – in­clud­ing a man who has trav­elled tens of thou­sands of kilo­me­tres car­ry­ing a cross, al­beit one with a small wheel at its base – try­ing to un­der­stand their mo­ti­va­tions. Reeve him­self is a lapsed Methodist but, like all avid travellers, has some­thing of a mis­sion­ary’s fer­vour for ex­plo­ration. This first episode whet­ted the ap­petite for the great jour­neys across the world to come.

An­other re­place­ment for re­li­gion in our sec­u­lar world is food. Celebrity chefs are the new high priests and we wor­ship at their tele­vi­sual pul­pit, as they dis­pense wis­dom about the wor­thi­ness of our crème brûlées. MasterChef: The Pro­fes­sion­als (Tues­days, BBC2) is at the fun­da­men­tal­ist end of this new faith. You know they mean busi­ness by the ti­tle, and the fact that one of the Roux fam­ily is in­volved. This week, two of the semi-fi­nal­ists stood be­fore their maker (or breaker), Michel Roux Jr, to hear him de­liver his edict. They had made him proud to be a chef, he pro­claimed, be­fore telling them that they were among the divine elect. Here en­deth the les­son. Christ­mas is the one time of year when Neven Maguire gets a chance to take a break from his hec­tic sched­ule. Over the hol­i­days, his award-win­ning restau­rant is closed, giv­ing him the chance to spend time with his fam­ily. But what does Christ­mas din­ner look like in the Maguire house­hold? Well, here’s a chance to find out, as Neven shows us some in­no­va­tive ways to pre­pare the per­fect meal on the big day, us­ing the best, tra­di­tional Ir­ish ingredients. Among the dishes Neven will be cook­ing are a glazed ham with pineap­ple salsa, a crown of turkey mar­i­nated in but­ter­milk, oat­meal bis­cuits, and to roundund things off, a scrump­tious cho­co­late sen­sa­tion.

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