Manika Bébhinn Ramsay’s husband, Alastair, died suddenly in 2007. Walking along an ancient pilgrim path, St.Kevin’s Way in County Wicklow, Bébhinn recalls the horror of coping with a sudden bereavement and tells presenter Regan Hutchins how pilgrimages helped her to cope with her grief and how they have brought a new meaning to her life.
These old Ways of the Saints are being restored as increasing numbers of people - believers and non-believers alike - seek them out.
Traditions and rituals associated with the pilgrim paths continue and new ones are added as Ireland finds its spiritual footing for the 21st Century.
Along the path of St.Kevin’s Way Regan joins other pilgrims to hear how they are drawn to the Old Ways to resolve inner conflicts and to make peace with the often chaotic modern world.
We hear how paths such as St.Kevin’s Way, are being organised to reach increasing numbers of pilgrims and tourists alike and how they open up some of the hidden treasures of the Irish countryside. Spirituality is at the heart of these routes and the practice of walking along them has brought strength and peace to travellers across the centuries.
Producer: Regan Hutchins
(Photo: Group of pilgrims at Glendalough. Credit: Patricia Murphy )
The Last Supper
This year is the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci and marks that start of a major series of international exhibitions celebrating his life and work. In this edition of Heart and Soul we’ll explore the creation and continuing impact of one of the most important and famous religious paintings in the world – Leonardo’s masterpiece – The Last Supper.
Da Vinci began The Last Supper around 1495, the fact that it’s survived more than 500 years is a miracle in itself. Da Vinci used a new technique to create vibrant and life-like portraits of Jesus and his disciples, but from the start it required contestant retouching. Various invading armies have abused it and even tried to cut the plaster down to take as a trophy. A century ago the painting was in such poor repair that it was feared it would be lost completely, but still it endured, fragile but undiminished and more than 300,000 people a year queue for strictly limited tickets to see it.
Art historian Elizabeth Lev tells the story of The Last Supper and decodes the religious imagery that has so entranced the world. Da Vinci has depicted a seminal moment in religious faith and history. Jesus is seen reaching for the bread and wine – this was the first Eucharist – arguably the birth of Christianity. The Last Supper ushered in the Renaissance and changed forever the way artists portray the relationship between Man and God.
But it is an image that is hugely symbolic to Christians around the word and Elizabeth speaks to the tattoo artist who spends hours etching it faithfully onto the body parts of people and the Mexican worshipper who shares how people around her have the image on the walls of their houses to remind themselves of the Last Supper.
Presenter: Elizabeth Lev
Producer: Phil Pegum
(Photo credit: Getty Images)
My faith and my large family
Colin Brazier is a Catholic and with six children, has long promoted the benefits of a large family. Colin looks at this very personal issue and examines what part religion plays in how many children makes a family
The idea of religious people being told that re-populating the earth is part of their faith is a strong one - but environmentalists foresee problems for the planet if the population grows as it is doing, especially in parts of the world where religious teachings are very influential.
Colin meets a Jewish family who have chosen to have a large family and a Christian who has decided that she would have just one child for the sake of the environment
Presenter: Colin Brazier
Producer: Henrietta Harrison
Image: Getty Images
Walking on a hot coil
Being hung from tall trees on sharp hooks attached to flesh and piercing body parts with hot iron rods; it's a painful, almost sadistic way of praying for the harvest from the Hindu god Shiva in West Bengal to be a good one.
Although they’re already experiencing some of the effects of climate change, they do not know about the catastrophe that awaits them in a future not so far away. West Bengal is amongst the areas in the world where scientists estimate climate change will hit the hardest.
Sahar Zand takes listeners on an extraordinary journey to the heart of West Bengal where religious ceremonies outnumber the months in the calendar. Here every child grows up knowing the proverb “13 festivals in just 12 months”.
Sahar hears how the faith in Shiva's power is so earnest, but that the evidence is that global warming is having a powerful and deadly affect on the farmers here. They tell her that many thousands of rural workers have committed suicide after their crops have been ruined.
Produced and Presented by Sahar Zand
Images: Sahar Zand / BBC
A spiritual awareness from space
There has always been a synergy between spirituality and space, even before man first escaped the boundaries of our home planet. Once they did, astronauts in orbit reported feelings of awe and wonder. Viewing the Earth from on high, they were transfixed by the magic such a perspective brings.
Astronaut Charlie Walker, one of the crew of the space shuttle Discovery, takes a close-up look at the phenomenon that’s become known as the 'overview effect'. It was writer Frank White who first coined the term, describing it as ‘a cognitive shift in awareness’ - a meditative or even spiritual experience. You can see it in the brain, as neuroscientist Dr Andrew Newburgh reveals.
On returning to Earth, astronauts talk of a deep desire to make the world a better place, to engage with others and make full use of the powers that being part of an elite few has given them. What if we could all experience the overview effect? With commercial space flights and state of the art terrestrial technology, it could soon become a reality.
Views from the heavens have been described as a cosmic wake up call, a reminder we're all travelling on 'spaceship Earth' together. Charlie Walker explores whether it could be the key to a more caring, sharing world.
Image: The Earth as seen from the International Space Station (Credit: Tim Peake/ESA/Nasa)