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This weekend, Christians all over the world
are celebrating the feast of Epiphany.
Known to some as Three Kings' Day, it's a time to remember the story
of the Wise Men who arrived in Bethlehem
sometime after the birth of Jesus to worship the light of the world.
So what better place to be than at the UK's largest light festival,
here in the beautiful City of Durham?
Welcome to Songs Of Praise.
On this week's programme,
I discover how science can tell us more about the mysterious Wise Men
and what led them to Bethlehem.
So, two planets meeting together in Regulus
might have meant the dawn of a new king.
That is known to have happened.
Pam Rhodes goes behind the scenes at The Daily Service,
the radio broadcast that's brought the light of faith
into people's homes for 90 years.
And as Durham's magnificent cathedral is transformed by light,
I hear the story of the saint who inspired this great house of God.
He suddenly saw a vision.
A vision of angels guiding a soul wondrously bright to heaven.
The theme of light in the darkness runs through our music today,
which comes from right across the country.
We start with that great hymn,
written especially for the feast of Epiphany by Reginald Heber in 1811.
Its words, like the star, lead us to Bethlehem
and to the Christ child.
The visit of the Wise Men that we celebrate at Epiphany
remains an iconic part of the Christmas story.
But the account in the Bible has intriguing differences
to the story we've come to know.
Earlier, I met professor of physics Tom McLeish in Durham Cathedral
to find out more.
We have no idea there were three.
The Bible doesn't mention there were three.
It mentions that they were searching for a king
because they had seen his star.
It might have been a comet.
It might have been what we call a conjunction of planets.
We do know that around BC3 and BC2, there were some very close passages
of Jupiter and Venus together in the skies.
Seeing two bright planets very close together in the sky
is rather striking.
When they are next to a star in the constellation of Leo called Regulus,
some ancient civilisations will recognise that
as a regal constellation, so two planets meeting together
in Regulus might have meant the dawn of a new king.
That is known to have happened. We can show that has happened.
This is the light that brings
the gentile Wise Men to worship the baby Jesus,
and it reminds us that the great hope of Israel,
the great forgiveness from God and feeling of all people,
is not for the Jews alone,
but through them, for peoples everywhere.
And someone who looked into the history of science
and looking specifically at that was Bede. Tell us about him.
A big hero of mine and there he lies right behind us.
Here we are in the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral.
Bede was a 7th and 8th century monk, a wonderful scholar.
A very learned man.
Probably born in the North East, not very far from here.
He has, very famously here, and it's just beautifully lit now,
a prayer, a very famous prayer,
in which he talks about Christ as the morning star.
-So, that takes us back to our...
-Takes us back to Epiphany.
Takes us back to, yes, Epiphany.
The reason Bede talks of Jesus as the morning star
I think is very beautiful.
It's not because the morning star, which is of course the planet Venus,
is the brightest star.
It's for a very special reason.
Venus rises long before the sun does but in the same part of the sky.
So when this bright shining thing is there,
although the night is still as dark as midnight, there's no other
sign of dawn, no pink line on the horizon, anything like that,
yet for those who know what this sign means,
dawn will surely come soon.
That's why, for Bede, Christ is our morning star.
Because those who see his resurrection,
though life might be very black
and though the present might be very grim,
they have the sure sign of hope in the future.
Here in Durham, the cathedral is preparing for one of the highlights
of the Lumiere Festival, and I've got a few steps to climb.
243, to be precise.
Beginning in Durham in 2009 as an experimental art project,
Lumiere has grown into the UK's largest light festival.
The cathedral has always offered a wonderful canvas,
but now, for the first time,
sound and light are combining.
Well, I'm out of breath, but I've made it to the bell tower.
Now, in a few minutes,
a specially-composed piece will be rung from here,
by the bell-ringers behind me.
And Chris is in charge. What can we expect?
Um, so, you'll have heard bell-ringing all over the country.
And the idea tonight is that we're going to be
visually projecting what we're doing.
So the lights outside are measuring exactly what the bells do,
and they'll be projecting that image for people to, hopefully,
understand what it is we're ringing.
With the bells in full swing,
the results are quite extraordinary.
It's no wonder an incredible 240,000 visitors come to see this spectacle
across the four days.
Helen Marriage is the woman in charge.
It's an invitation to the public to come and wander the streets
of this lovely medieval city.
But we turn it into an open-air art gallery.
It's free to attend. Anybody can come.
I suppose we believe that if you can physically transform a place,
even for a brief moment,
you can change forever the way people feel about it,
and the way they feel about those they share it with.
And now a hymn that celebrates the God of light.
The magnificent Durham Cathedral was originally built
as the shrine of St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne.
Earlier, I met Marie-Therese Mayne to find out more
about this great saint of the North.
He's many things.
He was a monk, he was an abbot,
a bishop, and a saint.
He's the reason that Durham Cathedral is here.
He was born in the early 7th century.
And grew up fairly normally.
And then, when he was in his teens,
he had an extraordinary vision -
an epiphany, you might say.
One night, he was looking after sheep in the Lammermuir Hills,
and he suddenly saw a vision -
a vision of angels guiding a soul, wondrously bright, to heaven,
and he took this as a sign from God.
The young Cuthbert then found out that St Aidan -
Bishop of Lindisfarne -
had died that very night.
He was inspired to devote his life to God,
to become a monk.
A few years later, he too would become Bishop of Lindisfarne.
He was ascribed miracles of healing, of prophecy,
and when he died, he was very quickly announced a saint.
That was reinforced 11 years after his death.
He'd been taken back to Lindisfarne and buried outside the church there.
11 years later, the monks decided to elevate his body
to recover the bones and place them in a reliquary,
so they could be seen by pilgrims,
and they had quite a surprise in store.
When they opened the coffin, they expected to find bones.
But what did they have?
A complete body, looking as if it was just asleep.
He was incorrupt. He hadn't decayed.
And this was a sign of great, great sainthood.
So he became a focus for pilgrimage.
People visited him. Again, miracles ascribed to his intervention.
And he stayed on Lindisfarne for about 170 years,
until the Viking raids forced the monks to flee.
They gathered up all of their treasures,
they gathered up the relics, they gathered up their saint,
and they eventually settled here in 995 AD.
And the very first Durham Cathedral,
the Anglo-Saxon cathedral,
was built in honour of St Cuthbert, to house his shrine,
and to the glory of God.
But what's the function of the cathedral today?
It's very much as it always has been.
Our primary aim is to be here for the worship and the glory of God.
But we also are serving the community.
We're serving our congregation.
We're serving our visitors.
We are a living, breathing church,
a working church,
and we're part of the Unesco World Heritage site as well.
And all along, Cuthbert, who had that epiphany all those years ago,
has been watching it all.
And he's still watching over us today.
The Lumiere Festival takes over the whole of the city of Durham,
but the centrepiece is always the cathedral.
People will come to Lumiere for all sorts of different reasons.
But one of the things that we do hope is that,
as they come through the cathedral in their thousands,
we hope that they will pick up something of the light of Christ.
They may have a moment of stillness.
They may want to come back another time.
They may just receive a warm welcome.
And as the bell welcomes them,
we hope that they'll hear something of Christ in that.
Rachael, you've been helping out with people lighting candles.
What is it that draws people to lighting candles?
I think people find that it's a nice, easy way
of being able to remember someone.
So, lighting a candle, that physical action,
seeing the candle light up,
and just being able to pause and reflect,
I think people feel drawn to do that.
Epiphany is about light and discovery and revelation,
and that's something that's happened in your life as well, isn't it?
Yeah, about five years ago, when I was in Afghanistan,
serving out there, I had a moment where I went from
really being a complete non-believer, an atheist really,
to walking into a shipping container
where a service was being held.
And in that shipping container,
that's where my whole life changed really.
The Army chaplain sent out a message to say,
"Come to the service whether you're of any faith or none."
And I felt that I was included in that.
You know, I felt that I had a legitimate reason to be able to go,
because I was invited.
And I had had a very difficult day.
I did feel quite burdened.
And it was an opportunity to go in,
and to pause, and to reflect on my day.
And I took it.
What happened? What was happening in your heart?
I wish I could remember the exact words the padre said,
the exact Bible passage, but I can't.
All I know is that in that 20 minutes that I was in there,
I went from not believing to understanding that God is real,
that God has always loved me,
and that God was calling me home.
So it was a really incredible and quite overwhelming experience.
Luckily, the padre saw that I...
I seemed like I had something on my mind and he took me to one side,
we sat on some sandbags and he said, "Is everything OK?"
And I said, "I'm really worried that I might be becoming a Christian."
And he said, "Well, don't panic."
He gave me a copy of the New Testament and The Psalms,
a little camouflaged Bible.
And I spent the next nine months discovering who Jesus was.
-You walked into the shipping container an atheist...
-..and you walked out a Christian.
-A shipping container.
-A shipping container, yeah.
-Not the most glamorous of places to meet God.
But it happens in the strangest places.
Obviously, the Magi were in the desert too.
And so it's exciting that they were following a light
and they desperately wanted to go and meet the Christ child.
And it felt a bit like that for me.
I'd learned in the shipping container that God was real,
and then I wanted to go and find out who this Jesus character was.
The Feast of Epiphany celebrates the good news of Jesus
spreading beyond Bethlehem
to people far away.
And the BBC's Daily Service has been bringing Christian worship
to people's homes for a staggering 90 years.
Pam Rhodes has been tuning in to a bit of broadcasting history.
-This is the BBC.
It was 1926 and radio broadcasting was in its infancy
when a devout Christian named Miss Kathleen Cordeux
wrote to the man in charge
of the new British Broadcasting Corporation.
What she asked was,
"How many are there who listen in
"who long to hear something daily of God and his love?"
And John Reith, later the celebrated Lord Reith,
thought that there might be an enthusiasm for it.
And so, 90 years ago this week,
in January 1928,
the first Daily Service went on air.
The 15-minute service of speech and worship
is now the longest-running daily radio programme in the world.
And it's endured some turbulent times.
When Broadcasting House was bombed in World War II,
the services had to be moved to secret locations
in Bristol and Bedford.
For many years, the programme was broadcast from here,
All Souls, Langham Place, right next door to the BBC,
before, in 1992, it moved up to its new, permanent home in Manchester.
Today, it's being broadcast
from the modern studios in Media City, Salford.
The biblical story of Jonah begins with God asking him to...
And I'm here in time to join rehearsals,
as I'm told I may have a job to do.
40 days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.
-I was going to actually add something to the reading.
-We can get this printed up.
I'm always extremely nervous,
but that's a good thing, because it keeps you on your toes.
And the fact that it is live, actually,
it feels so current.
So The Daily Service has weathered the years, but has it, in essence,
changed down the decades?
There are still prayers. There are still Bible readings.
There's still music.
What has changed is how the world worships.
Here's some music.
GENTLE MUSIC PLAYS
And The Daily Service has always been adaptable.
It's always been fluid enough to take on the modern world.
I feel really privileged actually to be part of something
that has such a long tradition,
something that's reaching so many people, you know,
in the privacy of their homes or in their cars,
or wherever they're listening.
We get quite a lot of letters and e-mails.
And this is quite a typical one.
The Daily Service has been my go-to place on a good and a bad day.
I feel at peace, feel supported, less alone,
and come with the nation to pray
for this fragile and broken world that we live in.
-Good luck. Five minutes to go.
On long-wave and DAB digital radio, it's time for The Daily Service.
# Now I can trade these ashes in for beauty... #
He was petrified.
They were, after all...
We take presenters from a very, very broad range of backgrounds.
All types of denominations.
You have this phrase in radio
that you have your one listener.
And when I have a new presenter, I try to tell them to imagine
that they're having a cup of tea with a friend.
Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's walk.
And he cried out, "40 days more and Nineveh will be over... #
# ..burden down... #
And may the Spirit guide us
and encourage us to place ourselves at the foot of the cross.
There to find our eternal home.
Well, our time here in Durham is almost up,
but it's been fantastic to experience
such creative uses of light and sound
to transform this city and this beautiful house of God.
Katherine Jenkins is the host
as Songs Of Praise joins Her Majesty the Queen
at the 150th anniversary celebration of Scripture Union.
Our final hymn celebrates how craftsmen's art and music's measure
combine in worship of God.
Till next time, goodbye.
To mark Epiphany, Sean Fletcher is in Durham for the UK's largest light festival. He joins tens of thousands of visitors who come to see the medieval city and towering cathedral transformed by light installations. Falling each year on 6 January, Epiphany is the twelfth day of Christmas and marks the end of the festive period. Sometimes known as Three Kings' Day, it is a time to remember the story of the wise men led by a star to Bethlehem to worship the infant Jesus.
Sean meets professor of physics Tom McLeish to discover more about this part of the Christmas story and explores the great cathedral to learn more about its rich Christian history.
Brightest and Best - Church of St Cross, Winchester We Three Kings of Orient Are - St Mark's, Maida Vale O Lord of Every Shining Constellation - Christ Church, Port Sunlight It Came Upon the Midnight Clear - Romsey Abbey My Jesus, My Saviour - St Catherine's Church, Pontypridd Lux Aeterna - Pershore Abbey O Worship the King - Pershore Abbey Angel Voices Ever Singing - Romsey Abbey.