DVD of Pilgrimage - now available


For centuries pilgrimage was one of the greatest adventures on earth, involving epic journeys across the country and around the world.
This series sees Simon Reeve retrace the exciting adventures of our ancestors. He meets inspirational modern travellers, sees extraordinary sights and learns about the forgotten aspects of pilgrimage, including the vice, thrills and dangers, that all awaited travellers. He explores the faith, the hopes, desires, and even the food that helped to keep medieval Britons and more recent travellers on the road.
In this series, Simon journeys first from northern England to Canterbury. Then across France and northern Spain, before he treks high into the mighty Alps on his way to Rome. Finally he heads east to glorious Istanbul, Turkey, then on to the Holy Land and his final destination, Jerusalem.

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Pick of the Day/Week in the Guardian, The Sun, Telegraph, Times, Daily Mail, Sunday Times. The Observer, Sunday Express, The Star

Daily Mail: “a truly miraculous journey”

TV Times: “a truly engaging first leg…4 stars”

Daily Mail: “The excellent Simon Reeve returns with a three-part series…illuminating, engaging and enjoyable viewing”

Mail on Sunday: “a life-affirming new series…4 stars…”

The Sunday Times: “Pick of the Day…Simon Reeve packs a rucksack to try to get a flavour of why the faithful once embarked on pilgrimages and what the experiences was like – and is like today. The Wife of Bath would have loved him.”

The Observer: “Choice…The BBC has had a few goes at documentary series on this theme, but they all pale in the face of this three-part project by Simon Reeve, a man whose very name is a guarantee of interesting television. He sets out to retrace the steps of pilgrims of old on a journey from Lindisfarne all the way to Jerusalem. The key is that Reeve is first and foremost a reporter. Despite a Methodist upbringing, he is not a religious man and thus he manages to remain objective throughout. In tonight’s programme we accompany him on a 500-mile journey from Holy Island to Canterbury cathedral, meeting fellow travellers ‘on a journey away from home in search of spiritual wellbeing’. Outstanding.”

The Independent: “Reeve is probably my favourite television travelling companion, unafraid to tackle the sometimes ugly realities behind the colourful destinations.”

Simon Reeve embarks on a 400 mile journey to Canterbury from the North of England, beginning at the mystical island of Holy Island, just off the rugged coast of Northumberland.
To reach the island, one of the earliest sites of Christian pilgrimage in Britain, Simon follows a line of posts marking out a crossing that emerges from the North Sea at low tide.
Medieval Britons believed that journeys of endurance, suffering and sacrifice to a holy site would help them find a place in heaven. Now more than half a million visitors make the crossing every year, mostly by car, to enjoy both the rich history of the island and magnificent wilderness.
Travelling further south through England Simon gets to try medieval food; marvels at the beauty and majesty of Lincoln Cathedral, once the tallest building on the planet; and joins thousands on an annual pilgrimage at a remote village in Norfolk where unscrupulous salesmen used to offer pilgrims the Virgin Mary’s breast milk.
Simon discovers the inspiration behind pilgrimge has not always been religious devotion and piety. Pilgrimage was often a chance for long-suffering peasants to get away from a life of drudgery and explore their land. Many were attracted to the road by the opportunity for adventure and an excuse to do a little sinning away from home. There was a world of vice to tempt travellers, evidenced by the medieval saying ‘go a pilgrim, return a whore’.
Simon visits the area of London where brothels paid rent to the Bishop of Winchester while tempting passing pilgrims. He learns more about exquisite medieval travel souvenirs that have been discovered in the muddy banks of the Thames.
Heading out of the capital, Simon meets a group of Chaucer enthusiasts who walk the pilgrimage route made famous by the Canterbury Tales, and gets to play the part of a lovelorn Prince during a retelling of a Chaucerian tale in the unique setting of a crossroads next to a supermarket on the Old Kent Road.
Simon also meets a pilgrim who has carried a heavy life-size cross thousands of miles, and gets to see the 700-year-old cranium of a monk while staying at an ancient monastery.
The draw of relics – such as the blood of martyrs or even the breast milk of the Virgin Mary - for pilgrims was immense before Henry VIII’s Reformation, when the golden age of pilgrim was abruptly ended. Until then Britain’s ultimate medieval pilgrimage destination was the site where Thomas Becket was murdered: Canterbury.
In making his journey, and discovering more about the history and beliefs of Britain, Simon finds his attitude to pilgrimage – and religion in general – is profoundly changed by his encounters. This is a journey of adventure, of celebration and of wonder. Exactly what all the best journeys should be.

On this second leg of the series, Simon Reeve follows in the footsteps of thousands of travellers from previous centuries, as he travels from northern France to northern Spain, and then crosses western Europe to arrive in Rome.
He starts his journey on the shores of the English Channel, meeting a British walker who’s spent nearly ten years walking thousands of miles across the continent, and has walked all the way to Rome and Jerusalem.
Many British and European pilgrims have been inspired by religious devotion. But some have always been looking for excitement, romance and adventure.
In the French town of St Omer Simon finds piles of children’s shoes left on the tomb of a 7th century saint with notes pleading for children to be cured of their walking difficulties.
The pull of shrines and saints can be as powerful today as it was for our ancestors. During the golden age of pilgrimage in Europe, from the 11th to the early 16th century, it’s thought that around a fifth of the population of the continent was either on pilgrimage or directly involved in the industry of inns and churches and hostels that sprung-up around the routes. Simon explains that villages near popular shrines often developed into towns, and that pilgrimage helped to shape Europe.
To see how pilgrimage still helps to shape the continent Simon visits a route that has come back to life and is now one of the busiest in Europe. The Camino is a 500 mile trek that starts in a bustling French border town
, climbs over the Pyrenees, winds through Northern Spain and finishes in the holy city of Santiago de Compostela. Some 200,000 hikers and bikers completed the trek last year alone but as Simon finds out it’s not for the faint hearted.
Simon discovers that people walk the Camino for a host of reasons, not just religious. He meets a tough, determined American woman who, as a child, was caught in a house fire. She endured 72 operations in the following nine months, and tells Simon nothing will stop her finishing the Camino.
Simon follows the Camino route, and visits a church with a bizarre display of live chickens, experiences the kindness of volunteers who run hostels for hikers, meets a young Australian couple and people who have come from around the world, has his feet washed in a religious ritual and savours a rare opportunity for reflection.


At Compostela Simon discovers the incredible story of how the remains of the apostle James miraculously arrived in this remote corner of Spain in the 9th century. The cathedral housing his remains transformed a previously obscure town into one of the holiest on earth. Simon meets young American trekkers and joins the thronging crowds at the pilgrims mass for an eye popping view as one of the biggest incense burners in the world swings over his head.
Next Simon heads east to Switzerland and undertakes one of the oldest and most perilous pilgrim routes in Europe. The Great St Bernard Pass, 8000 feet high in the Alps between Switzerland and Italy, has claimed the lives of many pilgrims over the centuries – including at least one Pope. Simon dons snowshoes to trek up the mountain, arriving at a monastery and refuge at the top of the pass that can boast it hasn’t closed its doors to visitors for 1000 years. Also at the refuge are a group of design students from the University of Utah. They’re visiting European pilgrimage sites to learn about empathy. Simon joins in their yoga class at the top of the mountain, hears their stories, and is surprised by this very modern mixing of cultures and religion. Nineteen-year-old Ricky tells Simon that he wanted to make the journey because he’s “got to get some meaning in my life”. Then the young Americans are put to work cleaning the monastery, and Simon watches and helps as they as they crawl around dusting high above the altar.

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In Western Europe there are now thought to be more than 6,000 pilgrimage sites attracting tens of millions of visitors every year. To see how modern pilgrimage melds into tourism Simon goes to the thoroughly modern shrine devoted to the monk Padre Pio who died in 1968 in San Giovanni Rotondo in the east of Italy. Padre Pio’s fame spread globally and the economic impact on this former sheep farming town has been massive. Rarely in the history of Christianity has the cult of a Saint expanded so rapidly. The town now gets 2m visitors a year, and beneath the cathedral, a 75 metre corridor is adorned with Padre Pio mosaics that promote his legend, made from melted down gold jewellery donated by devoted pilgrims. Simon sees the gaudy shrine, meets the monk who runs the Padre Pio TV station, and discovers that many modern pilgrims rather like staying in fancy local hotels with vast swimming pools.
Finally Simon arrives in Rome and St Peters Square when pilgrims gather in their thousands to be blessed by the Pope. After travelling across Europe Simon has seen the powerful effects holy places have had on pilgrims but he’s also realised that for those who follow a pilgrims path, it’s about what they discover on the way and about themselves, and not just about reaching journeys end.

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In this final part of the series Simon Reeve follows in the footsteps of travellers who made long, arduous and dangerous journeys to reach the holiest place on earth - Jerusalem.
Simon begins this part of his journey in Istanbul, Turkey, gateway to the east, a busy medieval staging post for pilgrims to the Holy Land. For nearly a thousand years it was also a major destination for pilgrimage in its own right. Simon explains that it became the centre of Roman Christianity in the 4th century under Emperor Constantine, who renamed it Constantinople. His mother Helena, arguably the first pilgrim to the Holy Land, brought back relics from Jerusalem to fill the city’s churches, which in turn brought in scores of pilgrim’s for centuries to come.
In the 15th century Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Empire and came under Islamic control. Simon visits one of the few Christian churches that survived, a building he thinks is one of the most magnificent in the world. The vast Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque and is now a museum – even today it does not fail to impress.
Simon describes how medieval pilgrims arriving in Istanbul for the first time would have found a mysterious land where people did things that seemed entirely ridiculous, like washing. He visits a traditional Turkish bath, or hamam, and gets a painful public lathering from a professional washer. Simon winces as his joints are cracked, and explains that in medieval Europe few people washed, but when pilgrims began travelling through Constantinople they rediscovered the joys of public bathing and reintroduced it to Europe. Pilgrimage didn’t just involve the spreading of religious ideas but very practical ones as well.
Simon travels on to the Holy Land, following in the footsteps of Victorian travellers who used the definitive guide book of the period, published in 1876 by Thomas Cook – whose grand excursions to the Holy Land pioneered the modern package holiday.
Simon’s travelled to more than 120 countries, but this is his first visit to the Holy Land. He drives into the West Bank and on to Bethlehem, where he’s astonished by the scale of the Israeli security barrier, or separation wall. Despite not being religious he’s moved to tears by the memory of family Christmases when he sees the spot where Christ is said to have been born inside the Church of the Nativity. Like travellers from the time of Thomas Cook he then visits the extraordinary and isolated 6th century monastery of Mar Saba - a place few outsiders are permitted to enter today - and talks to monks living in the middle of the desert. Simon camps in the desert, although he suspects the Bedouin camp is a bit more touristy than those in which Victorians slept. He’s woken in the night by a rogue donkey, but next goes for a spot of simple tourism, just as Victorian pilgrims did, bathing in the Dead Sea. He also goes fishing in the Sea of Galilee and discovers that tourist demand for the Biblical St Peter’s fish is pushing them to extinction; then he has an astonishing encounter with David, a reformed drug addict who overdosed and was dying in an American hospital, but now wears biblical clothing and lives in a village inside the ancient town of Nazareth where people dress, live and work as if they are characters from the Bible. Simon helps David catch and shear sheep, and hears David’s view of life as a modern pilgrim.
In Jerusalem, his final destination, Simon meets a doctor who treats the bizarre ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’, a phenomenon where visitors to the city become so overwhelmed by the place they become convinced they personally are the Messiah or one of the Apostles.
Several million people a year from all the three major religions come to visit or worship in one of the most highly contested square miles on the planet. Simon visits the Israeli CCTV command centre where everyone is kept under constant surveillance, and wonders whether any major conflict here between pilgrims of different faiths could lead to war across the Middle East.
Finally Simon joins in the ancient ritual of walking the Via Dolorosa, the route taken by Jesus as he carried his cross to the site of his crucifixion. The route ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Christ rose from the dead. Simon reflects that the site is a witness to the birth of a culture, of a civilization, of emotion, passion, culture, music and suffering.
At journey’s end Simon says that even for a non-believer, he thinks pilgrimage has much going for it, offering a very real sense of purpose and achievement, and he suggests more travellers should set-out to follow our ancestors to somewhere holy and learn about the history and the culture that shapes our lives to this day.

Pilgrimage With Simon Reeve Ep 3 - Nazareth Village with Nisreen Totry & David Hull 7