Divine Women

9:00pm Wednesday 25 April on BBC TWO

Award-winning historian Bettany Hughes sets out on an epic journey across continents and back in time to trace the hidden and often controversial history of women in religion.

In the final episode Hughes discovers how the period known as the Dark Ages was in fact a golden age for a few remarkable women, as education and the written word became vital tools for them. First she looks at Theodora, the prostitute who became an empress and allied herself with Mary the Mother of God to rule over a great Christian empire.

She also looks at the legacy of the wives of the prophet Mohammad: Khadija, the first convert to Islam and Aisha, whose words are still read by over two billion men and women today.

Wu Zetien – a courtesan who harnessed the power of a philosophy, Buddhism, to become the only women to rule China as Emperor. And St. Hilda, a great educator and wise woman who presided over the crucial conference, the Synod of Whitby, which decided when Christians in Britain celebrate Easter.

Bettany Hughes concludes that these extraordinary women across the globe used their courage, charisma and sheer brainpower to put the female of the species back at the heart of religion. Their incredible achievements still shape our lives today.

Ep 3/3

9:00pm Wednesday 18 April on BBC TWO

Award-winning historian Bettany Hughes sets out on an epic journey across continents and back in time to trace the hidden and often controversial history of women in religion.

In the second of three episodes Bettany Hughes uncovers the lost era of the priestess. She travels to the island of Lesbos to discover the truth behind the much sensationalized poet Sappho. Best known today for giving us the words sapphic and lesbian, in her own time Sappho fulfilled the important role of a priestess, channeling the power of Aphrodite the goddess of sex.

Then in Athens, the heart of Ancient Greece, Bettany Hughes reveals how religion gave women a vital role in a society which otherwise regarded them as worthless.

She then heads to Ancient Rome where the fate of the civilisation lay in the hands of six sacred women – the vestal virgins. She discovers how religion gave this select group of women a life of privilege and luxury, but how their status came at a terrifying price.

Finally, she returns to those crucial early years of Christianity where she finds evidence about the role of women that contradicts centuries of Christian teaching and challenges the belief that women should not be priests.

Ep 2/3

9:00pm Wednesday 11 April on BBC TWO

In this three part series award winning historian, Bettany Hughes sets out on an epic journey across continents and back in time to trace the hidden and, often controversial, history of women in religion.

From Ancient Greece and Rome to China and India, she uncovers stories which unlock a secret history of the world: one which still affects us today.

From the dawn of time humans have felt the need to worship, to find a purpose and bring a shape to human existence. Women have always been at the heart of our understanding of the divine but, Hughes argues, this part of our history has often been ignored, buried away.

In this first episode, Betttany Hughes goes back to the beginning of time and visits the world’s oldest religious site to find startling evidence that women were there, at the very birth of organised religion. She finds the evidence of the origins of the worship of the female form and traces the development of goddess worship.

Bettany then visits a world where goddesses ruled the heavens and earth and reveals why our ancestors thought of the divine as female.Travelling across the Mediterranean and the Near East, she goes to remote places where she encounters fearsome goddesses who controlled life and death including the formidable goddesses Kybele and Gaia – the former was called on to save Rome in her hour of need.And she ends up in modern day India, where the goddess is still a powerful force for thousands of Hindus. Immersing herself in the excitement of the Durga Puja festival, Bettany Hughes experiences goddess worship first hand and finds out what she means to her devotees.

Ep 1/3

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