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Fact/Fiction: Is the Vicar of Dibley a Satanist?

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we look into the bizarre claim a cross worn on the hugely popular show was a symbol of Satanism

Vicar of Dibley satanist

Credit: Miles Cole

Every week in Fact/Fiction, The Big Issue examines a spurious claims, questionable studies or debatable stories from the press to determine whether they are fact or fiction. This week we look into a Twitter claim made about the Vicar of Dibley’s cross and its supposed connection to Satanism.

How it was told

The classic comedy The Vicar of Dibley is returning to screens this Christmas with three 10-minute lockdown specials offering a surprise festive treat for fans.

But while telly fanatics might be looking forward to some escapism while watching the show over Christmas – the comedy promises not to shy away from the big stories of 2020 with Dawn French’s Geraldine Granger taking the knee and delivering a sermon on the Black Lives Matter movement.

And in another phenomenon that was also very 2020, the photo of French kneeling was subject to right-wing social media fury.

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The controversy came from former UKIP leader Gerard Batten who tweeted his objection to the cross that French was wearing, claiming it was a upside-down Christian cross. He said: “Dawn French, the BBC’s Vicar of Dibley wears an upside down cross. This is a symbol of Satanism. This isn’t a prop department mistake. This is what we are forced to pay the License Fee for. DEFUND the BBC!”

Batten’s tweet raised the ire of The Chase star Anne Hegerty who responded: “I can’t work out if you’re an idiot or this is a huge joke.”

Hegerty’s response was the basis of many the resulting coverage. The Mirror ran with: “Chaser Anne Hegerty mocks ex-Ukip leader Gerard Batten for ‘satanist’ Vicar Of Dibley claim”.

It was a similar effort from Metro, who opted for: “Anne Hegerty rips into former Ukip leader after he brands The Vicar of Dibley a ‘Satanist’”.

London Economic also reported the story. Their headline read: “Right wing fury as Vicar of Dibley set to ‘take the knee’ and deliver BLM sermon”.

Facts. Checked

Not only is Gerard Batten wrong, he hasn’t even identified the right symbol.

The St Peter’s Cross is an inverted Latin Cross that represents the Christian belief that Jesus’ disciple Saint Peter the Apostle died through crucifixion and requested his cross be upside-down as he felt unworthy of dying in the same manner as Jesus.

While this cross does have associations to the occult in popular culture and often as imagery tied to metal music, the problem with Batten’s argument is that the St Peter’s Cross isn’t the religious symbol pictured.

And who better to ask than the Church of Satan, the group who founded the religion of Satanism in 1966?

They responded to Batten’s claim after being asked by a Twitter user. They said: “1. That’s a Greek Cross, not an upside-down cross. 2. Upside-down crosses are Christian symbols, called St. Peter’s Cross. 3. Many people, including Satanists, use Christians’ ignorance of their own symbolism to freak them out – something which obviously isn’t intended here.”

While Batten’s low-quality snap may not make it clear, the cross appears to have arms of equal length which highlights it as the Greek Cross, known as the crux immissa quadrata. 

One of the most commonly worn crosses, the Greek Cross is especially prominent among the Eastern Orthodox Church and Early Christianity and it has no connection to Satanism.

Batten was right in that it probably isn’t a mistake from the BBC props department for that reason.

According to Greek tourism site Greece.com, it is not know exactly when the first cross was created but the equal arms are intended to symbolise the four main elements of nature: air, fire, water and earth.

The cross was also used by Greeks for artistic as well as religious purposes while it was also popular with Egyptians who featured the cross on clothing and jewellery. The Egyptian cross for religious purposes was the ankh, which is a long cross with a loop at the top.

There’s no association between the Greek Cross and Satanism though. It would be tempting to chalk this error in judgement up to a simple mistake, but Batten has a long history of questionable takes, whether it be on how many lorries cross the Irish border every day or referring to Islam as a “death cult”.

You should ignore Batten’s ill-informed, BBC-bashing argument and just enjoy the comedy this Christmas instead.

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