Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Crusader States

Episode Two of EWTN’s The Crusades
Filmed on location across Europe and the Holy Land the second part of the new EWTN Crusades docudrama is broadcast on the 9th October at 10pm in the USA. It will be broadcast in the UK and Ireland on Saturday 11 in the evening when all four episodes will run consecutively from 7pm until 9pm.
After the miraculous success of the First Crusade, the Crusader hierarchy set up the Crusader States. One of the major achievements of the crusaders was that they successfully administered to an amazingly polyglot society containing Sunni Muslims, Shi’a Muslims, Jews, all sorts of Eastern Christians and Latins.
Professor Phillips says that there is no sense of ethnic cleansing here as the Crusaders treated all the peoples of their lands well.

Templars filmed at Kenilworth Castle
Local bandits and Muslim raiders crossing into Christians lands continued to attack and rob pilgrims. This led to the formation of the Military Orders the most famous of which were the Knights Templars. These were fighting monks who took the usual vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. They were dedicated to protecting the Holy Land and pilgrims.

Catholic Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith of Cambridge University,
the father of modern Crusader scholarship
and a specialist on the Military Orders

Also in this episode we have several mini-dramatised sequences such as Queen Melisende of Jerusalem and how she managed to rule alone after her husband was killed until her son became old enough to rule.

Queen Melisende of Jerusalem - a still from the series
We follow the second Crusade from Europe to the Holy Land, and we look at often neglected aspect of crusading the Reconquista of Iberian peninsula. 

Fr Thomas Crean gives the theological background to the Crusades
filmed here at the Dominican priory in Vienna.
Fr Crean’s book God is no Delusion is a must for anyone who
what’s to oppose Prof Dawkins nonsense

There were many providential experiences and happenings we experienced while filming the Crusades one was the meeting at Santiago de Compostela with a hermit friend of the cameraman Michal Benko so after filming around the Cathedral we jumped in the car and went to the Finisterre Coast to film him playing St James the Great, Apostle. Who appeared many times during the Reconquista to help the Crusades drive the Muslims out of Spain.

The help of the Spanish Crusaders, the Apostle St James the Great,
filmed here at Cape Finisterre

We finish episode two with the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin, but that was not all there was to it.

Saladin - a still from episode two

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Journeys of Faith

Let the truth be victorious

The Crusades, a new docudrama from EWTN

Episode one of the new EWTN mini-series, The Crusades will be broadcast on 8th October in the USA at 10pm and 9th October at 9.30pm in the UK, the following 3 episodes will be shown on consecutive days at the same time slot. There will also be a continuous showing of all 4 episodes on Saturday 11th starting at 7pm in the Britain and Ireland.

The Camraman's father Julus Benko playing a Crusader,
from the opening sequence

The series is a co-production between EWTN, St Clare Media Foundation of the UK, Buckfast Abbey Devon and Lux communication of Slovakia. The team form Lux provided all the technical facilities for the series including the filming, editing, sound recording mixing. I am very grateful to the director Marek Polacek and to Michal Benko the cameraman/editor for all their hard work and for putting up with this grumpy old Traditionalist, as they call me: -). We all had to take on many disciplines in order to bring in a production that we were determined would be as good, quality wise as a documentary for the main stream media that would cost four or five times as much to make. The series has already been translated into Slovak, Spanish and German.

A scene from the series - shot at Kenilworth Castle England

Episode One – Journeys of Faith
The link here is made between pilgrimages and the Crusades, as the first Crusades were called armed pilgrimages, to help with this there are many clips from the Paris - Chartres pilgrimage, for which we spent three days filming last year. A separate documentary on the Chartres pilgrimage will follow later in the year.

A pilgrim preparing food from episode one
Journeys of Faith

Pilgrimages have always played an important part in the devotional and penitential life of Christians. From the time of Christ, the most important pilgrimage sites were in the Holy Land and in particular - Jerusalem. So we were awe inspired to film in the Holy Sepulcher. And after delicate negotiations with the Armenian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox churches (the Catholics were always very helpful of course) we had the privilege to film at the very sites of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. We conducted a very interesting interview with Fr Clark the rector of the Basilica for the Latin Rite.

The Chartres Pilgrimage

We look at the rise of Islam and how Muslims conquered the Christian lands of the Palestine, North Africa, even Iberia and at one point threatened France. In 1095 Christendom finally made a stand when Pope Urban II instigated the First Crusade after the Byzantine Emperor called for help to regain his lost lands, and to make the Holy Land safe again for pilgrims. There are some points here that main stream media fail to mention.

Professor Thomas F Madden being interviewed in Istanbul (Constantinople)
overlooking the Bosporus

Muslim conquests to 732 the once Christian lands are in dark green
The first episode, Journeys of Faith like the other three episodes in the series, contains drama sequences and re-enactments to better depict the crusading era. Also with the help of some of the world’s leading crusades historians such as Professors Jonathan Riley-Smith, Thomas Madden, Jonathan Phillips, and Damian Smith we were able to dispel the myths of the Crusades. The theological background is given by Fr Thomas Crean OP, also in episode one we have James Bogle who discuses the reasons for the original call to crusade.

Hagia Sophia

The Blue Mosque - a copy of Hagia Sophia?

I am very grateful to EWTN for allowing us to make what is really quite an expansive docudrama, we not only shot in 7 countries across Europe and the Holy Land, we also filmed two crusader re-enactor groups one at Kenilworth castle in England, the other was a Slovak crusader group who we filmed in Central Europe. Throughout the series there are drama sequences about 15 in total, in later episodes we have St Louis IX that great crusader king and St Francis meeting the sultan Al-Kamil and many other scenes to help tell the story.

On the 8th October (9th UK) before the first episode is shown myself and Professor Thomas Madden will be on Fr Mitch Pacwas EWTN Live programme to discuss the series and why and how we made it.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Music for the Crusades

The Soundtrack for EWTN’s new Crusades documentary and its recording

The soundtrack for the new EWTN documentary on the Crusades in an entirely new recording and the tracks are original pieces of music specifically composed for this documentary. Some traditional hymns and Gregorian Chants have been given new musical arrangements, using the traditional Latin texts of course. The director Marek Polacek, the cameraman/editor Michal Benko and myself all believe that the soundtrack makes up at least 20% of the impact of a documentary. So it was very important to get this right.

During my visit to TV Lux of Bratislava in October 2013 Marek and I met with conductor Zuzana Buchová Holičková, who was also the representative of the composer Mária Jašurdová and the choir Chorus Salvatoris. I can’t read music myself but we had a number of pieces of music and ideas we wanted to get across and had a number of Gregorian chants on a laptop and played them to her. So hoping desperately that I was making sense I gave her a list of pieces including a Latin Mass


Chorus Salvatoris recording the soundtrack for The Crusades
For the opening theme which has become to be known as Hail Holy Queen of Christendom we wanted a piece of dynamic but at the same time spiritual music. It had to reflect the main field of operation for the Crusades, the Holy Land, and the hot deserts, it also needed to express the spiritual side of the Crusades, of repentance, of pilgrimage, of service and of sacrifice – the themes of this documentary. The Crusaders were fighting for Christendom, Our Lady represents the Church, she is our mother and she nurtures us and the Crusaders in turn wanted to protect her. We wanted a desert type theme with a drum beat with an ethereal female voice to float above it all as the prayer of Christendom, the Hail Holy Queen. Revel’s Bolero was used as a starting point and the Latin prayer/hymn to Our Lady as the text. Of course I didn’t just want a straightforward Bolario and the Salve Regina said over the top that would be silly. But often composers use other pieces of music as launch pads for a new and innovative pieces so perhaps she could do this for us. After all George Lucas of the Star Wars films really wanted the theme tune of 633 squadron for his film and asked the composer John Williams to come up with his own 633 squadron which became the Star Wars theme. We are really pleased with the result, the composer did a suburb job with a wonderful piece of music better than we could have hoped for. The only professional singer in the entire recording, the soprano Hilda Gulyásová was hired to sing the lead part and what a beautiful voice she has too.

Soprano Hilda Gulyazova recording Hail Holy Queen of Christendom

The sound engineer at Lux Miro Šibík is also a composer he has composed a number of wonderful pieces and played and recorded them via a synthesizer and has really achieved some great orchestral effects. Special thanks is also extended to the other sound engineer at Lux Martin Noris for recording my narration, also to Alan Lewis at Glass Studios in England. Our thanks also goes out especially to music director Lukáš Borzík and conductor Zuzana Buchová Holičková and to all the members of the choir the musicians to the soloists. Photos Marek Polacek.

Its not all hard work