Extreme Pilgrim and Saint Anthony

Extreme Pilgrim

I’ve been busy recently, so this is only a quick pointer to Extreme Pilgrim which has its third and final epis­ode avail­able on the iPlayer till Thursday even­ing — if you live in the UK. This epis­ode was about Coptic Christianity and espe­cially Saint Anthony who cre­ated the first monastery.

After the first half of epis­ode one I’ve been get­ting more impressed with the series. To begin with Peter Owen-Jones gave the impres­sion of look­ing for a super­fi­cial quick fix to a spir­itual mal­aise. The second epis­ode had him work as a Saddhu, a Hindu holy man. His struggle to try and work out what the hell he was sup­posed to be doing could have been a really awful attempt at com­edy. Thankfully he seemed bet­ter pre­pared to get into the spirit of task and genu­inely cared about his rela­tion­ship with the vil­lage where his cave was.

For epis­ode three, he thought he had his strongest chal­lenge. He went to live with a her­mit in the cliff caves over­look­ing the Monastery of Saint Anthony in Egypt. There are prob­lems liv­ing as a her­mit, when you’re her­mit­ing with someone else and a cam­era crew. Fr. Lazarus, his host offered him his cave where he goes when he feels like a her­mit hol­i­day. The film crew leave Pete with a cam­corder to keep a diary and then with­draw to film him occa­sion­ally through a tele­photo lens for three weeks.

I’m not sure this epis­ode worked so well. The pre­vi­ous two epis­odes had him work­ing within a faith which was alien to him. So he was try­ing to make sense of the faith and its rela­tion­ship to the phys­ical exer­cises he was doing. For this epis­ode he’s with Christians and rather than try­ing to under­stand I get the impres­sions that so much of the famili­ar­ity meant he was accept­ing assump­tions rather than think­ing hard about them as he had before.

Nonetheless it’s not a bad epis­ode. If you live out­side the UK you can see some of it on YouTube. This clip needs a bit of set up. He’s vis­ited Fr. Lazarus who’s given him a cave. Fr. Lazarus is con­cerned because he thinks Pete Owen-Jones could be lit­er­ally in for a hellish time. The Bishop of the Monastery con­siders the cliffs too dan­ger­ous for his own monks. Fr. Lazarus has seen many pro­spect­ive her­mits driven from the rocks. He warns his guest the devil is in the cliffs and he will chal­lenge Pete. Lazarus prom­ises to look in on him from time to time, but they are sep­ar­ated by quite a dis­tance. In an emer­gency all Pete has is him­self and his camcorder.

Embedding is dis­abled, so you’ll have to watch the clip at YouTube.


When he's not tired, fixing his car or caught in train delays, Alun Salt works part-time for the Annals of Botany weblog. His PhD was in ancient science at the University of Leicester, but he doesn't know Richard III.

6 Responses

  1. ajcann says:

    I don’t do reli­gion, but I was impressed with this series — the best TV I’ve seen in a while.

  2. saesferd says:

    I was very inter­ested in this epis­ode — unfor­tu­nately I missed the oth­ers.
    The par­al­lels between the ascetic out­look of Celtic mon­ast­i­cism and St Anthony and the Desert Fathers were very evid­ent. The craggy cliffs reminded me of the remote Skellig Michael, with its nar­row ter­races and flights of steps.
    My ini­tial impres­sions of Rev Peter Owen-Jones as a media-type-hype trendy vicar have mod­i­fied some­what. I noticed, even before Fr. Lazarus com­men­ted, the change in his face after his time in the cave.

  3. David Keen says:

    I thought it was a shame we had 40 minutes of him get­ting to the cave and only 20 minutes on his 3 weeks in the moun­tains, but maybe they were short on cam­corder foot­age. It was worth watch­ing for Father Lazarus.

    An extra 5 minutes on what he makes of it all now he’s back in Sussex would be good too, oth­er­wise it just leaves the impres­sion that to access all this spir­itual stuff you have to travel halfway round the world and go live in a cave, or share a tent smoking pot with lots of naked bearded Hindu’s, which to be hon­est most of us aren’t going to do.

  4. ajcann says:

    Yes, I’d like to see a follow-up of the whole series — did it make any last­ing difference?

  5. Alun says:

    A longer con­clu­sion would have been good. He’s writ­ten three columns for the Times, but they don’t say much about last­ing effects.

  1. January 23, 2008

    […] Archaeoastronomy has a post about this pro­gramme and par­tic­u­larly the final epis­ode. This epis­ode was about Coptic Christianity and espe­cially Saint Anthony who cre­ated the first mon­as­tery. Published in: […]