By Marie Mischel Catholic News Service
PARK CITY, Utah (CNS) -- The crusading King Richard the Lionheart came to St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Park City, Nov. 18, when "Knights of the Cross" premiered in the parish's gymnasium.
The 20-minute television show, which was filmed in a studio in Bountiful, features local actors as well as a cameo by Father Christopher Gray, pastor of St. Mary's, who plays a priest who gives Communion to King Richard in a dream sequence.
That scene was a favorite of the show's producer, Austin Kelly. "Not only was it a great opportunity to portray the beauty of the Eucharist, but to also show metaphorically how Richard's resolve is empowered by this communion with God," said Kelly, a St. Mary's parishioner.
"Knights of the Cross" is a Catholic TV show about the Crusades, Kelly said, emphasizing: "We really wanted to make this show reverent of the Catholic faith."
The first episode depicts King Richard I of England, one of the three European leaders of the Third Crusade, which was an attempt to reconquer the Holy Land after Jerusalem was captured by Saladin in 1187.
The episode is based on a historical event: King Richard fell ill while on crusade, "and he was close to death for three days, and he woke up and he told everybody, 'I saw my father in purgatory,'" said Aaron Alviso Stephenson, the writer, during a Q&A after the show was screened in the St. Mary's gym.
Another detail contributing to the show's credibility is that some of the lines were taken from correspondence the real Richard wrote while he was on crusade.
The panel discussion after the screening featured Brent Uberty, executive producer; actor John Donovan Neilson, who portrays King Richard; J Stephen Roberts, historian consultant; and Aaron Alviso Stephenson, writer and director.
After answering the first question, about how much his armor weighed (72 pounds), Neilson said that he almost missed a day of filming because he delivered his baby in the car that morning. However, his wife, who is also an actor, "came early enough that she gave me a smile and … said, 'Get out there; this is a big deal. Go film this thing.'"
Roberts, a historian, noted that warfare was common in the Middle Ages, and "the Crusades involved a response to things that were going on at the time: pilgrims who were in danger while traveling to the holy sites in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas."
The topic of the Crusades is complex, he said, adding that he thinks the spiritual aspect gets lost in many representations of the Crusades.
"There's just no question that was a big part of what drove (King Richard) to do this very politically disadvantageous thing of leading this crazy crusade in the Holy Land when he should have been worried about politics back in England," Roberts said.
"This was a spiritual thing; this was about faith, which was a huge thing in the medieval world. In the 12th century, Christianity was the air that people breathed in medieval Europe."
"Knights of the Cross" can be viewed on YouTube on the Real Crusades History channel; it also is available on https://www.christianchannel.com/, a streaming service that Kelly owns.
A crowdfunding effort is underway to raise $300,000 for the next two episodes of "Knights of the Cross," Kelly said in an interview prior to the screening. He plans to feature St. Simon Stock, a Carmelite prior to whom the Blessed Virgin Mary gave the Brown Scapular, in episode 2.
To contribute to the crowdfunding, visit www.knightsofthecross.com.
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Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic, the newspaper for the Diocese of Salt Lake City.