MoVE OVER, Brother Cadfel. Step aside, Inspector Morse. Make way for the newest BBC supersleuth the Rev Dr Ian Bradley. The Anglican clergyman, a lecturer in the Department of Theology and Church History at the University of Aberdeen, will star in a Christmas Day special on BBC Radio 2, when he will reveal the evidence unearthed by years of detective work: the origin of our favourite hymns.
Dr Bradley has painstakingly pieced together clues that reveal that 0 Come All Ye Faithful, for instance, was originally a rallying cry for Jacobites. The original Latin text version included messages of support for James Edward Stuart, the exiled son of King James II and Pretender to the British throne. Written shortly before the 1745 rebellion led by Bonnie Prince Charlie, its cry "0 come all ye faithful" is thought to have been a coded rallying cry to Jacobites to alert them to the impending challenge to the Hanoverians. The tale behind Silent Night is more homely: on Christmas Eve, legend has it, the organ at a little church in the Bavarian Tyrol had bmken down. In a state of panic, the pastor and organist set to work to write a carol for midnight Mass that could easily be picked up by the congregation and sung to a simple guitar.
According to the theological sleuth, this kind of evidence-gathering will serve a dual purpose entertain his listeners, but, also, teach them about theology: "I feel strongly that most people get their experience of theology through hymns." We need to take more notice of them. Popular song is a goad way of understanding history and experience."