BBC Virgin Mary documentary sparks outrage in UK
A television documentary screened last night that questions Mary's virginity has been criticised by a Catholic bishop for its "crude and offensive" guesswork.
The documentary portrayed Mary as a poor and downtrodden girl, who might have conceived Jesus as a result of being raped.
Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth accused the programme of offensive speculation which misrepresented a figure respected by millions.
Producer and BBC Religious Programs head Alan Bookbinder said the documentary, called The Virgin Mary, gave a "sense of wonder at her miraculous story".
He added: "Above all it shows a respect for the special place that Mary has in the hearts of believers."
The BBC documentary also raided doubts about other traditions, including the birth of Jesus in a stable at Bethlehem and the presence of three wise men.
The program said the traditional image of Mary as a "blue-eyed, blonde haired woman wearing expensive blue robes" was probably wrong.
She was probably a hard-working uneducated girl in simple tunics who had an arranged marriage with Joseph aged 13, the program claims.
The program also questions the Biblical story of Mary's divine conception of Jesus Christ.
It reports a version of the event put forward by a second-century historian, who claimed Mary was raped by a Roman soldier.
But the program said this was likely to have been a ploy to discredit the early Christian church.
Bishop Hollis said he plans to write the director general of the BBC, Greg Dyke, to express his concerns on behalf of the Catholic community of England and Wales.
"As Mother of God, she is honoured and venerated by millions of Catholics and other Christians within these islands and all over the world.
"To include, within a historical examination of her life, confused and unfounded guesswork, which carries with it crude and offensive speculation, is not only unscholarly but runs the risk of undermining the very integrity of the project itself."
The Virgin Mary - Christmas 2002 on BBC ONE
BBC documentary to question Mary's virginity (10/12/02)
23 Dec 2002