Skip to content

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

September 11, 2018

As they say, ‘a cracking good read.’

This huge novel was highly successful, and received positive reviews and was on the New York Times Best Seller list for 18 weeks. It also topped best-seller lists in Canada, Britain and Italy, and was on the German best-seller list for six years. It has sold 26 million copies so far. On 16 August 2017, it was also published as a computer game by German developer and publisher Daedalic Entertainment

A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England. Follett has re-created the crude, flamboyant England of the Middle Ages in every detail. The vast forests, the walled towns, the castles, and the monasteries become a familiar landscape. Against this richly imagined and intricately interwoven backdrop, filled with the ravages of war and the rhythms of daily life, the master storyteller draws the reader irresistibly into the intertwined lives of his characters into their dreams, their labors, and their loves: Tom, the master builder; Aliena, the ravishingly beautiful noblewoman; Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge; Jack, the artist in stone; and Ellen, the woman of the forest who casts a terrifying curse. From humble stonemason to imperious monarch, each character is brought vividly to life.

The building of the cathedral, with the almost eerie artistry of the unschooled stonemasons, is the center of the drama. Around the site of the construction, Follett weaves a story of betrayal, revenge, and love, which begins with the public hanging of an innocent man and ends with the humiliation of a king.

 It is set in the middle of the 12th century, primarily during the Anarchy, between the time of the sinking of the White Ship and the murder of Thomas Becket. The book traces the development of Gothic architecture out of the preceding Romanesque architecture, and the fortunes of the Kingsbridge priory and village against the backdrop of historical events of the time.

The Anarchy was a civil war in England and Normandy between 1135 and 1153, which resulted in a widespread breakdown in law and order. The conflict was a succession crisis precipitated by the accidental death of William Adelin, the only legitimate son of Henry I, in a shipwreck in 1120. Henry’s attempts to install his daughter, the Empress Matilda, as his successor were unsuccessful and on Henry’s death in 1135, his nephew Stephen of Blois seized the throne with the help of Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester. Stephen’s early reign was marked by fierce fighting with English barons, rebellious Welsh leaders and Scottish invaders. Following a major rebellion in the south-west of England, Matilda invaded in 1139 with the help of her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester.

There are numerous different plot strands, all of which are connected, one way or another, to the building of a cathedral. To build Kingsbridge Cathedral is the burning ambition of Tom, a master builder, for whom the project not only represents employment for the rest of his working life and financial security for his family, but also the pinnacle of his achievement: to build a beautiful cathedral is all he’s ever wanted to do. Philip, the Benedictine prior of Kingsbridge, wants to run a thriving monastery with a prosperous estate and the new cathedral will bring in much-needed revenue – he’s a religious man but he’s also wily and pragmatic, and finds himself increasingly embroiled in the politics of both church and crown. Aliena, the daughter of a disgraced nobleman, wants her family’s lands back from the unequivocally evil Hamleigh family who have been given her father’s earldom and revenge for the wrongs done to her and her brother Richard. Into that mix you can throw scheming bishops, warring noblemen, vicious outlaws, unlikely alliances, arson, famine and of course, the building of the cathedral itself and all that it symbolises.

It really brings home the impact of historical events on ordinary people – the ones we rarely hear about – and their lives.

In the 1999 preface to The Pillars of the Earth, Follett tells readers that he grew up in a Puritan-based family, whose worship space was very spare. In preparing for writing, he was reading about medieval architecture, and: … developed an interest in cathedrals. Before too long, it occurred to me to channel this enthusiasm into a novel. I knew it had to be a long book. It took at least thirty years to build a cathedral and most took longer because they would run out of money, or be attacked or invaded. So the story covers the entire lives of the main characters. My publishers were a little nervous about such a very unlikely subject but, paradoxically, it is my most popular book. It’s also the book I’m most proud of. It recreates, quite vividly, the entire life of the village and the people who live there. You feel you know the place and the people as intimately as if you yourself were living there in the Middle Ages.

The novel’s Kingsbridge is fictional. Follett set it in Marlborough, Wiltshire; he chose that location because the cathedrals of Winchester, Gloucester, and Salisbury could be reached from there within a few days on horseback. Kingsbridge Cathedral as described is based on the cathedrals of Wells and Salisbury

Prologue (1123)

A red-headed man is hanged for theft after being condemned by a priest, a knight, and a monk. His pregnant lover curses the men who condemned him, declaring that their children will be hanged, their enemies will prosper, and that they will live the rest of their lives with regret and sorrow.

Part One (1135–1136)

Circumstances leave mason Tom Builder and his family destitute and starving. After his pregnant wife Agnes dies in childbirth, Tom abandons his newborn by his wife’s grave in the snowy woods, having no way to feed the infant. He later has a change of heart and returns, but finds the baby missing. After meeting up with an outlaw named Ellen and her son Jack, whom they had first met earlier, the group discover that Tom’s infant has been taken to a monastery cell belonging to the Kingsbridge Priory. Knowing that he will be charged with abandonment if he says the baby is his, and confident that the monks will be able to look after him, Tom decides to leave the infant to the monastery. After several unsuccessful attempts to find work, Tom convinces Bartholomew, Earl of Shiring, to hire him to repair the walls of the Earl’s castle.

Philip, the leader of the cell, is visited by his brother Francis, a priest, who warns him of a plot by Earl of Shiring Bartholomew and the Earl of Gloucestershire against King Stephen. Philip tells Waleran Bigod, the ambitious archdeacon to the Bishop of Kingsbridge, of the plot, and travels to Kingsbridge Priory where the previous manager, Prior James, has died only a few days before. Waleran promises to make Philip the bishop’s nomination for prior, practically guaranteeing Philip’s election, in return for Philip’s support to later make Waleran bishop though Waleran conceals that the bishop is also already dead. Philip agrees as the priory has become financially and spiritually destitute under Prior James, and he believes he can correct that. He wins, making enemies of the rivals for the post, in particular the sub-prior Remigius. Tom’s infant, now named Jonathan, is sent to live with Philip at the priory.

Unsure of the validity of Philip’s words, Waleran goes to the Hamleighs, a noble family who have been enemies of the Earl of Shiring ever since the earl’s daughter, Aliena, rejected a marriage with William, the only son of the Hamleighs. Seeing this as an excuse for them to take their revenge, the Hamleighs take Bartholomew’s castle and arrest the earl, forcing Tom and Ellen, now lovers, and their children into homelessness once again. They eventually settle in Kingsbridge, Tom hoping to get a job rebuilding the cathedral there. The family sees Jonathan during this time, although only Tom and Ellen know that he is Tom’s son. To ensure that Tom will have work, Jack burns down the old Romanesque cathedral, telling no one else of his actions. After some convincing, Philip hires Tom to build the new cathedral.

Tom’s strong son Alfred physically bullies smaller and weaker Jack through repeated acts of battery which creates friction with Ellen as Tom sees no fault in his son and never disciplines him. Brother Remigius, who is opposed to Philip as prior, charges Ellen and Tom with fornication. Waleran, who was cursed by the woman at the hanging, orders Ellen to live apart from Tom. Outraged by Tom’s willingness to accept this, Ellen returns to the forest with Jack.

Part Two (1136–1137)

Philip and Waleran go to King Stephen in the hope of convincing him to give Bartholomew’s estates, including a huge limestone quarry, to the church, so that they can be used to pay for the new cathedral’s construction. Initially believing that Waleran will be loyal to him as a fellow cleric, Philip learns from the Hamleighs that Waleran intends to use the earldom solely to boost his own position. Realising that the Hamleighs are trying to divide him and Waleran so that they can take the earldom for themselves, Philip secretly conspires with the Hamleighs. They agree that Kingsbridge Priory will be given the quarry and some other lands with the rest of Shiring going to the Hamleighs, but the Hamleighs betray this deal and are given ownership of the quarry with Philip getting rights to, not ownership of, the stone. Furious at being foiled, Waleran vows to never let Philip build his cathedral.

Finding her still living in Shiring Castle, William attacks Aliena and her brother Richard. He mutilates the boy to coerce Aliena into not resisting as he rapes her brutally, leaving Aliena traumatized. Homeless and destitute, Aliena and Richard travel to Winchester in the hope of receiving compensation from the king, and visit Bartholomew, now dying in prison. The former earl demands they swear an oath to work to regain the earldom. Aliena supports Richard financially by becoming a wealthy wool merchant (by, as described in the book, the hitherto unheard of act of buying wool from the farmers on their farms and selling it at market rather than the farmers having to travel to market themselves, saving them time and effort) with the help of Philip, who agrees to buy her wool at a fair price when other merchants refuse to do so, and the two siblings settle in Kingsbridge.

The Hamleighs attempt to barricade the quarry against the priory, but Philip foils them by having his monks travel there under cover of darkness and pose as ghosts, scaring off the Hamleighs’ men at arms. In retaliation, the Hamleighs work with Waleran to try to have the cathedral moved to Shiring, thus depriving Philip of the properties tied to it, by claiming that Kingsbridge lacks the resources and manpower to build a cathedral. At the advice of his allies, Philip calls across the county for volunteers to work on the cathedral as penance for their sins. On the day of an inspection by Bishop Henry of Blois that Waleran had arranged, they arrive en masse, and Henry is convinced to not move the cathedral.

Part Three (1140–1142)

William’s father, Percy Hamleigh, passes away, and William learns that the earldom will either go to him or Richard, now a knight, since they are both sons of an Earl of Shiring. In order to restore his fortunes so that he can raise an army with which to impress King Stephen, William leads an attack on the quarry, which the Hamleighs had unsuccessfully attempted to barricade against Philip, killing and expelling the priory’s quarrymen.

Tom befriends Prior Philip and, when Ellen returns, he persuades Philip to allow them to marry. After some time, Alfred proposes to Aliena, but she turns him down, she also strikes up a friendship with Jack, with whom she falls in love, now working as an apprentice mason at Tom’s suggestion, but she shuns him after Alfred catches the two of them kissing, being reminded of WIlliam’s attack on her. The two stepbrothers continue to be at odds, and Alfred later claims that Jack’s father was hanged for thieving, starting a fight that leads to damage and a loss of construction materials. Jack is expelled from the cathedral construction, but Philip contrives a new construction overseer position for Jack that he can have, on the condition that he becomes a monk. Jack reluctantly agrees to this, in order to stay in Kingsbridge. Later on, Ellen claims that Jack’s father was innocent.

William proves a hapless and merciless lord who mishandles the earldom financially and routinely rapes any peasant women he wishes. Attempting to restore his fortunes, William leads an attack that burns down Kingsbridge and kills many people including Tom Builder. In the chaos, Aliena’s entire stock of wool, in which she had invested all her money, is destroyed in the fire.

Part Four (1142–1145)

After losing her fortune again, Aliena agrees to marry Alfred if he supports Richard. Jack, who has been confined for continued infringements (largely fraternizing with Aliena) breaks his confinement in an attempt to talk to her, but is ultimately locked in the obedience room of the monastery. The next morning, Ellen breaks into the room, revealing that Jack’s father had once been imprisoned there after he was framed for theft by three men. Freed by his mother, Jack and Aliena make love on the morning of her wedding, and he tries to convince her to leave Kingsbridge with him, but she refuses to do anything that would require her to break her vow to support Richard. Jack attempts to persuade Alfred to call off the marriage, but discovers that Alfred plans to marry her solely to keep her from Jack, and intends to mistreat her to further spite him. Ellen curses the wedding, seemingly leaving Alfred impotent, and he and Aliena never consummate their marriage. Jack leaves Kingsbridge to find out about his father.

After years of putting off the decision following the death of Earl Percy Hamleigh, Stephen finally gives the earldom to William. Alfred persuades Philip to replace the wooden roof of the cathedral with a stone vault, but fails to reinforce the structure at the higher levels. This causes the cathedral to collapse during a service, killing many people. Aliena gives birth to a red-headed son, and Alfred abandons her, having realised that the child is Jack’s. On Ellen’s advice, Aliena leaves with her son to find Jack, and follows evidence of Jack’s sculpture through France, finding him in Paris, where they reconcile. Jack helps to calm a riot at a nearby cathedral using the “Weeping Madonna”, a wooden statue of a woman he was given by a spice merchant he befriended that appears to weep when taken from a hot place to a cold place. The statue is viewed as a miracle, which Jack leverages for financial support to rebuild the cathedral in Kingsbridge.

As he travels home, Jack makes his way to Cherbourg where he is mistaken for the ghost of his father, Jacques Cherbourg, before meeting his grandmother and other relatives, who reveal that Jacques had supposedly died in the sinking of the White Ship, of which he was a passenger. Returning to Kingsbridge, Jack convinces Philip and the clergy to make him the cathedral’s new master-builder, drawing up a new design for the cathedral based on his observations in France and Spain. His relationship with Aliena is discovered by the monks during the negotiations, and Philip orders them apart until Aliena’s marriage to Alfred is annulled.

+++Wanting more information on his father, Jack questions Ellen, who has continuously kept the truth from him out of fear that he would devote himself to a life of revenge against those responsible for his father’s death. She implies that the White Ship was sunk deliberately, reveals that the three men who framed Jacques Cherbourg were Percy Hamleigh, Waleran Bigod, and Prior James. After Jack visits Waleran to seek confirmation of Ellen’s words, William, jealous of Jack’s relationship with Aliena, convinces Waleran to let him attack Kingsbridge again, in order to kill Jack in a way that would avoid drawing attention to his accusations. Richard overhears fighters discussing the attack in another town, and his warning allows the villagers to build a set of town walls and earthen ramparts in about two days, thanks to the expertise of Jack. Fighting from the walls, the townspeople kill many of the attackers and repel William’s attack, while making it impossible for him to raid Kingsbridge again. As revenge, William asks Waleran to block Alfred and Aliena’s annulment. Though disheartened, Jack and Aliena agree to stay together, living separately until the day they can marry.

Part Five (1152-1155)

Many years of famine pass, which are further exacerbated by William’s poor leadership. Alfred has left Kingsbridge for Shiring, but following a downturn in business he returns to Kingsbridge and begs for a job from Jack. William’s mother dies, and after he forgets to summon the priest to give her her last rites, the guilt-stricken William is persuaded by Waleran to build a cathedral in Shiring for the sake of his mother’s soul. They are later aided by Alfred, who brings all of the Kingsbridge workmen to Shiring in return for being in charge of the cathedral’s construction, after Philip is unable to keep paying them.

Inspired by Aliena, Richard organises the starving peasants who have turned to outlawry into a militia, and goes to war with William, robbing him on multiple occasions. William learns of the location of Richard’s forces from Remigius, in return for making the monk the head of Shiring’s future chapter, and plans an overwhelming attack to kill all the rebels. When he arrives, he learns from Ellen that Richard’s men have left to join the forces of Maud’s son, the future Henry II of England, who has invaded the country on the advice of Francis.

Eventually, Stephen agrees to have Henry succeed him. Philip learns that as part of their deal, all properties will revert to the owners who held them prior to Stephen’s reign, thus making Richard the official earl, but Stephen will not have to force the handovers, meaning that Richard might not gain the earldom until Stephen’s death. With the help of William’s young wife, who loathes William, Aliena is able to allow Richard to capture the earldom’s castle before Henry and Stephen’s treaty can be made official and the King’s Peace restored. William returns to the village of Hamleigh, and Waleran proposes to sell him the position of sheriff of Shiring so that he can oppose Richard and keep funding the cathedral. Remigius is abandoned by the two of them during this time, but Philip forgives him for his treachery and allows him to return to the priory.

Richard refuses to grant the priory access to the quarry, on the basis that it was once part of the earldom. After Aliena calls him out for his ingratitude towards Philip, she is attacked and nearly raped by Alfred, who is out of work again after Shiring Cathedral is abandoned. Richard arrives and kills Alfred in the ensuing fight. Seeing a chance to regain the earldom, William obtains a warrant to arrest Richard for murder on the king’s behalf. Realising that Richard has no chance of a fair trial due to the attitudes towards marital rape of the time period and the hostility of both William and Stephen towards him, Philip proposes that Richard, who is more suited to be a soldier than an earl, fight in the Crusades as penance for killing Alfred; William would be unable to arrest him, and Aliena would be allowed to look after her brother’s lands, therefore giving the earldom both a competent ruler and one willing to co-operate with the priory. Aliena and Jack marry within the new cathedral.

Part Six (1170-1174)

After many years, Kingsbridge cathedral is completed. Waleran still seeks to ruin Philip, and accuses him of fornication by claiming that Jonathan, now a well liked and committed monk, is Philip’s son. With Philip’s conviction certain due to a lack of evidence proving his innocence, Jack and Jonathan attempt to figure out the identity of the latter’s father, both being unaware that he is Tom’s son. They discover the truth when Jonathan recalls that he had been found near the monastery cell that Philip once ran, a fact that had previously been unknown to Jack, who then remembers seeing the baby Jonathan lying on his mother’s grave. The two of them manage to convince Ellen, who has remained bitter towards Philip for his role in splitting up her and Tom, to testify on his behalf.

At Philip’s trial, Ellen’s testimony saves him from being convicted. Regardless, Waleran accuses Ellen of perjury, and she exposes his own perjury in the framing of Jacques Cherbourg, revealing that Waleran and the others had been bribed to dispose of him. Remigius confirms her testimony, having heard Prior James confess to his perjury shortly before the latter’s death. He explains that James’s misrule of the Priory had been the result of the guilt he felt for his part in the conspiracy, and admits that he had sought to become Prior to repair the damage, before admitting that Philip was better suited for the task. Waleran ultimately loses his position as bishop of Kingsbridge as a result of the revelations.

Later on, William and Waleran become involved with the plot to assassinate Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in order to protect their now crumbling positions of power. William leads the attack, and despite the efforts of Philip, who had traveled to Canterbury to meet with Becket, the archbishop is brutally murdered. Upon seeing the distraught congregation, Philip is inspired to treat Becket’s death as a martyrdom, and urges the assembled people to spread word of the murder across Christendom. With King Henry refusing to defend Becket’s killers, William is subsequently convicted of sacrilege by the efforts of both Philip and Tommy, the son of Jack and Aliena, and hanged.

At Kingsbridge, Jack meets with a ruined and repentant Waleran, now living as a monk in the priory, to learn why his father was framed. The former bishop explains that a group of barons had arranged the sinking of the White Ship in order to kill the king’s son and heir, with the belief that they would be able to influence the succession and gain more independence from the crown as a result. After they learned that Jacques Cherbourg had survived the sinking, the barons had him imprisoned in England to prevent him from exposing their conspiracy. While initially content to leave him there, they eventually chose to have him killed after he learned English and started attracting unwanted attention, hiring Waleran, Percy and James for this end. Finally understanding the truth behind his father’s death, Jack is able to put it behind him. Elsewhere, the Pope forces King Henry’s public repentance and symbolic subjugation of the crown to the church, in which Philip, now Bishop of Kingsbridge, participates.

Significantly, Tom and Ellen are rebuked for perpetrated fornication, and give the excuse that there was no priest at hand. Yet the diriment impediment “lack of form” dates back to no earlier than the Council of Trent, and clandestine marriages were only forbidden by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 . The contemporary practice (as treated, for instance, by St. Thomas, S. th. Supp. 45) would have well made it possible for them to marry at once, without a priest, possibly taking their children as witnesses. Even more significantly, unmarried couples were fairly common throughout medieval society, and while the social standing of the woman would have been somewhat lowered by being a “concubine” and not a married woman, the fact itself carried no social stigma and scarcely provoked any intervention by law and church.

While the book has been praised for its description of Medieval life, it also features some historical inaccuracies. Some of these might be to make the characters and the plot more suited for modern readers while some are clear anachronisms:

One of the characters is called Francis, as is an imaginary person when Philip is lying to Waleran Bigod in Chapter 2, ii. It is unlikely that anybody would bear this name fifty years before the birth of Francis of Assisi. Indeed, Francis (Italian: Francesco, meaning “frenchman”) was the saint’s nickname, while his Christian name was Giovanni (John). The name became widespread only due to the saint’s fame.Follett depicts Toledo, in medieval Spain, as a country with no wheat supposedly due to a lack of proper flat terrain to cultivate it. In reality, the Kingdom of Castile’s plains, to which Toledo belonged, were actually famous for their rather extensive wheat fields. Santiago de Compostela, northwest of Spain, is portrayed as a very hot city, like southern Spain is. In reality, Galicia, the northwest region of Spain, is cool and rainy. However, it does have warm weather during summer.Tom tries to find a hibernating squirrel “in the dead leaves on the forest floor […] to put in the broth. He was unlucky.” Squirrels found in the UK do not hibernate, although they are known to be lethargic in times of deep cold. (These would have been red squirrels in Medieval times.)
Sugar is mentioned several times in the book. Sugar was not available in England at that time, except in courtly circles: “It is reported that the household of Henry III was using sugar in 1264, but not until 1319 was sugar in more general use in Britain.” Corn (maize) is also mentioned. However, corn as we know it today was not known in medieval Europe, since it is native to the Americas, and it was only after 1492 that it was traded to Europe. It should be noted that in British English, “corn” can also be a generic term for grains such wheat, oats, and barley, that can be used to produce flour which is Follett’s meaning. Corn is actually a British English word not an American English word
The priory storeroom is said to contain hops, which were not used in the UK for food production until centuries later.
Many people in the book are reported as having breakfast, though there is some debate on whether all people in those times ate breakfast at all.

Not an anachronism – the scene where all the bishops carry their crosiers as they consecrate a new church – a bishop only carries a crozier within his diocese, not when visiting outside it.

Quotations:

“Having faith in God did not mean sitting back and doing nothing. It meant believing you would find success if you did your best honestly and energetically.”

“The most expensive part of building is the mistakes.”

“She loved him because he had brought her back to life. She had been like a caterpillar in a cocoon, and he had drawn her out and shown her that she was a butterfly.”

“She wanted to say ‘I love you like a thunderstorm, like a lion, like a helpless rage’…”

“Nevertheless, the book gave Jack a feeling he had never had before, that the past was like a story, in which one thing led to another, and the world was not a boundless mystery, but a finite thing that could be comprehended. ”

“The duck swallows the worm, the fox kills the duck, the men shoot the fox, and the devil hunts the men.”

“I imagined it. I wrote it. But I guess I never thought I’d see it.”

“You never know,” Jack said speculatively. “There may come a time when savages like William Hamleigh aren’t in power; when the laws protect the ordinary people instead of enslaving them; when the king makes peace instead of war. Think of that – a time when towns in England don’t need walls!”

“Proportion is the heart of beauty.”

“Hunger is the best seasoning.”

“But the lesson of Abraham’s story is that God demands the best we have to offer, that which is most precious to us.”

“She was unique: there was something abnormal about her, and it was that abnormal something that made her magnetic.”

“She looked at his young face, so full of concern and tenderness; and she remembered why she had run away from everyone else and sought solitude here. She yearned to kiss him, and she saw the answering longing in his eyes. Every fibre of her body told her to throw herself into his arms, but she knew what she had to do. She wanted to say, I love you like a thunderstorm, like a lion, like a helpless rage; but instead she said: “I think I’m going to marry Alfred.”

“To someone standing in the nave, looking down the length of the church toward the east, the round window would seem like a huge sun exploding into innumerable shards of gorgeous colour.”

“Knotty theological questions are the least worrying of problems to me. Why? Because they will be resolved in the hereafter, and meanwhile they can be safely shelved.”

“When you’re thinking, please remember this: excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of God through excessive humility.”

“Don’t look so sad,” she said. Her eyes were full of tears.
“I can’t help it,” he said. “I am sad.”
“I’m sorry I’ve made you so unhappy.”
“Don’t be sorry for that. Be sorry that you made me so happy. That’s what hurts, woman. That you made me so happy.”

“Hard work should be rewarded by good food.”

“There was a long moment of silence. Philip was holding his breath. When Remigius looked up again, his face was wet with tears. “Yes , please, Father,” he said. “I want to come home.”

Philip felt a glow of joy. “Come on, then,” he said. “Get on my horse.”

Remigius looked flabbergasted.

Jonathan said: “Father! What are you doing?”
Philip said to Remigius: “Go on, do as I say.”
Jonathan was horified, “but Ftaher, how will you travel?”
“I’ll walk,” Philip said happily. “One of us must.”
“Let Remigius walk!” Jonathan said in a tone of outrage.
“Let him ride,” Philip said, “He’s pleased God today.”
“What about you? Haven’t you pleased God more than Remigius?”
“Jesus said there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people,” Philip countered. “Don’t you remember the parable of the prodigal son? When he came home, his father killed the fatted calf. The angels are rejoicing over Remigius’s tears. The least I can do is give him my horse.”

“It was an odd thing to do, to stand in a street in the hope of seeing someone who hardly knew him, but he did not want to move.”

“Culture clash is terrific drama”

“It’s like knowing your way through the forest. You don’t keep the whole forest in your mind, but wherever you are, you know where to go next.”

“What you’re doing is wrong,” he said. “I mean evil. To give up happiness like this is like throwing jewels into the ocean. It’s far worse than any sin.”

“He had been granted his life’s wish-but conditionally.”

“I’ve worked with volunteers before,” he began. “It’s important not to… not to treat them like servants. We may feel that they are labouring to obtain a heavenly reward, and should therefore work harder than they would for money; but they don’t necessarily take that attitude. They feel they’re working for nothing, and doing a great kindness to us thereby; and if we seem ungrateful they will work slowly and make mistakes. It will be best to rule them with a light touch.”

“In both cases, weakness and scruples had defeated strength and ruthlessness.”

“He had seen – clever, clever boy that he was – that she could not be won by wooing; and he had approached her sidelong, as a friend rather than a lover, meeting her in the woods and telling her stories and making her love him without her noticing.”

“But desperate people find courage.”

“He was the worst kind of Christian, Philip realized: he embraced all of the negatives, enforced every proscription, insisted on all forms of denial, and demanded strict punishment for every offence; yet he ignored all the compassion of Christianity, denied its mercy, flagrantly disobeyed its ethic of love, and openly flouted the gentle laws of Jesus.”

“His aim was the glory of God, but the glory of Philip pleased him too.”

“He was seething inside with a new emotion. Nothing seemed very important anymore except the Princess. He was single-minded about her. He was enchanted. He was possessed. He was in love.”

“How terrible, Jack thought, to be old and know that your life has been wasted.”

“The first casualty of a civil war was justice, Philip had realized.”

“He was like a man who has got used to drinking the finest wine, and now finds that everyday wine that’s like vinegar.”

“Jack was too absorbed in his work to hear the bell. He was mesmerized by the challenge of making soft, round shapes of hard rock. The stone had a will of its own, and if he tried to make it do something it did not want to do, it would fight him, and his chisel would slip, or dig in too deeply, spoiling the shapes. But once he had got to know the lump of rock in front of him he could transform it. The more difficult the task, the more fascinated he was. He was beginning to feel that the decorative carving demanded by Tom was too easy. Zigzags, lozenges, dogtooth, spirals and plain roll moldings bored him, and even these leaves were rather stiff and repetitive. He wanted to curve natural-looking foliage, pliable and irregular, and copy the different shapes of real leaves, oak and ash and birch.”

“The small boys came early to the hanging.”

“She was dressed in white, and her tunic had amazing flared sleeves which trailed on the ground behind her as she glided down the stairs. Her hair was a mass of dark curls tumbling around her face, and she had dark, dark eyes. Jack realized that this was what the chansons meant when they referred to a beautiful princess in a castle. No wonder the knights all wept when the princess died.”

“He did not really understand the game they were playing: in his world, the best way to get something was to deserve it, not to toady to the giver.”

“All birds and men are sure to die but songs may live forever.”

“She was wilful, maddening, quarrelsome and intolerant, but somehow these things were trifling: there was a passion inside her that burned like a candle in a lantern, and it lit up his life.”

“He had to learn that those who treated him in a hostile way did so out of weakness. He saw the hostility and reacted angrily, instead of seeing the weakness and giving reassurance.”

“Don’t be sorry for that. Be sorry that you made so happy. That’s what hurts, woman. That you made me so happy.”

“He had forgotten that God saw through the silk robes to the sinful heart, that the only wealth worth having was treasure in heaven, and that even the king had to kneel down in church. Feeling that everyone else was so much more powerful and sophisticated than he was, he had lost sight of his true values, suspended his critical faculties, and placed his trust in his superiors. His reward had been treachery.”

“When you’re about to be turned down, go for a postponement.”

“They did not suspect her for a moment. It did not occur to them that a woman could be dangerous. How foolish they were. Women could do most of the things men did. Who was left in charge when the men were fighting wars, or going on crusades? There were women carpenters, dyers, tanners, bakers and brewers.”

“She loved him because he had brought her back to life. She had been like a caterpillar in a cocoon, and he had drawn her out and shown her that she was a butterfly. She would have spent her entire life numb to the joys and pains of love, if he had not walked into her secret glade, and shared his story poems with her, and kissed her so lightly, and then slowly, gently, awakened the love that lay dormant in her heart. He had been so patient, so tolerant, despite his youth. For that she would always love him.”

“wondered if he really was capable of it. Then he thought what a thrill it would be to create something from nothing; to see, one day in the future, a new church here where now there was nothing but rubble, and to say: I made this.”

“And where are you going?” His voice was playfully challenging.

“To get some breakfast,” she said without stopping.

He leered. “I’ve got something for you to eat,” he called after her.

“I might bite it off, though,” she said over her shoulder.”

“He forced himself to take a single step forward; and once he had done that the second was a little less difficult, and the third was almost easy.”

“Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son. God no longer asks for blood sacrifices, for the ultimate sacrifice has been made. But the lesson of Abraham’s story is that God demands the best we have to offer, that which is most precious to us.”

“One of the monks was doing something incomprehensible at the altar, and the others would occasionally chant a few phrases of mumbo jumbo.”

“Two blades clashed, ringing like a bell. Like all small boys, Philip thought his father was invincible; and this was the moment when he learned the truth.”

“A chill December morning dawned, with rags and tatters of mist hanging on the trees like poor people’s washing.”

“It was the study hour. Most of the monks were reading. A few were meditating, an activity that was suspiciously similar to dozing.”

“An optimistic early-rising whore with red lips and red boots sauntered along, smiling hopefully at middle-aged men, but there were no takers at this hour.”

“The power of a king was not absolute, after all: it could be restrained by the will of the people.”

“He had heard that people who had the toes chopped off one foot could not stand up, but fell over constantly until they learned to walk again. He felt like that, as if part of him had been amputated, and he could not get used to the idea that it was gone forever.”

“She was twenty-six years old, her life was ruined, and it was her own fault.”

“It had taken Jack awhile to get used to Spanish cooking. They never served the great joints of beef, legs of pork and haunches of venison without which no feast was complete in England; nor did they consume thick slabs of bread. They did not have the lush pastures for grazing vast herds of cattle or the rich soil on which to grow fields of waving wheat. They made up for the relatively small quantities of meat by imaginative ways of cooking it with all kinds of spices”

“Philip believed that caring for people was the service of God. That was what salvation was about.”

“This was her destiny, and it was a fit and proper one. She was not unwilling, but she knew this was a fateful moment, and she had a sense of doors closing behind her and the path of her life being fixed irrevocably.”

“It did not occur to them that a woman could be dangerous. How foolish they were.”

“He was only a boy from a Welsh hill village who had the good fortune to become a monk. Today he would speak to the king. What gave him the right?”

“It had been a morning of vivid images: the man-made streams, the rats in the butchers’ shops, the stacks of new-minted silver pennies, and then the woman’s private parts. For a while, he knew, those pictures would come back to him to unsettle his meditations.”

“The kiss of peace, which was part of the ritual of the mass, was the symbol of trust, and no contract, from a wedding to a truce, was complete without it.”

“Archdeacon Peter’s face was like stone. He was the worst kind of Christian, Philip realized: he embraced all of the negatives, enforced every proscription, insisted on all forms of denial, and demanded strict punishment for every offense; yet he ignored all the compassion of Christianity, denied its mercy, flagrantly disobeyed its ethic of love, and openly flouted the gentle laws of Jesus. That’s what the Pharisees were like, Philip thought; no wonder the Lord preferred to eat with publicans and sinners.”

“Aliena’s brother, Richard, sometimes reminded her of her father, with a look or a gesture, and that was when she felt a surge of affection.”

“If earls’ daughters were allowed to marry whom they please, we’d all be ruled by strolling minstrels and dark-eyed outlaws.”

“When you’re thinking, please remember this: excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of God through excessive humility.”

“Philip looked incredulously at the tiny bundle in Johnny’s arms. He reached out a hand tentatively, and lifted a corner of the blanket. He saw a wrinkled pink face, an open toothless mouth and a little bald head—a miniature of an aging monk.”

“Being a monk was the strangest and most perverted way of life imaginable. Monks spent half their lives putting themselves through pain and discomfort that they could easily avoid, and the other half muttering meaningless mumbo jumbo in empty churches at all hours of the day and night. They deliberately shunned anything good—girls, sports, feasting and family life.”

“but instead of feeling ashamed she was overwhelmed by a sense of her own power. She had resolved not to let people make her a victim, and she had proved she could keep her resolution.”

“Such disappointments, betrayals and reconciliations were the stuff of married life, but she and Jack had gone through them before the wedding. Now, at least, she felt confident that she knew him. Nothing was likely to surprise her. It was a funny way to do things, but it might be better than making your vows first and getting to know your spouse afterward.”

“the book gave Jack a feeling he had never had before, that the past was like a story, in which one thing led to another, and the world was not a boundless mystery, but a finite thing that could be comprehended.”

“A lark, caught in a hunter’s net
Sang sweeter then than ever,
As if the falling melody
Might wing and net dissever
At dusk the hunter took his prey,
The lark his freedom never.
All birds and men are sure to die
But songs may live forever.”

“Privacy was an extravagance of lords: everyone else slept and made love downstairs in the communal hall.”

“He wondered if he really was capable of it. Then he thought what a thrill it would be to create something from nothing; to see, one day in the future, a new church here where now there was nothing but rubble, and to say: I made this.”

“Monks committed all the same sins that ordinary people did. He had just been shocked by the woman’s shamelessness. The sight of her nakedness remained with him, the way the hot heart of a candle flame, stared at for a few moments, would burn on behind closed eyelids.”

“And when things are simple, fewer mistakes are made. The most expensive part of a building is the mistakes.”

“I see everything, but understand nothing!”

“Even lords ought to follow the customs.”

“It looked, she thought, as if the hand of God had come down over England and struck the earth, destroying everything men had made except churches.”

“had coped perfectly well on his own, of course, but it was very reassuring to have someone in your life who was always ready to fight for you, and he had missed that comforting feeling.”

“He was nineteen years old, homeless and rootless, with no family and no purpose in life.”

“You don’t catch people’s religions the way you catch their fleas”

“Her breasts had changed, too. He remembered when they had stuck out from her chest as if they were weightless, the nipples pointing up. Then, when she was pregnant, they had become even bigger, and the nipples had grown larger. Now they were lower and softer, and they swung delightfully from side to side when she walked. He had loved them through all their changes. He wondered what they would be like when she was old.”

“Philip couldn’t fornicate if you put him in a barrel with three whores.”

“She wanted to say ‘I love you like a thunderstorm, like a lion, like a helpless rage’…”

“Everything in Tom’s cathedral looked as if it was meant to be. Perhaps her life was like that, everything foreordained in a grand design, and she was like a foolish builder who wanted a waterfall in the chancel.”

“Most people in Kingsbridge could talk only about agriculture and adultery, neither of which interested her.”

“He had never before thought of himself as gullible. He wondered where he had gone wrong. It occurred to him that he had let himself be overawed—by bishop Henry and his silk robes, by the magnificence of Winchester and its cathedral, by the piles of silver in the mint and the heaps of meat in the butchers’ shops, and by the thought of seeing the king. He had forgotten that God saw through the silk robes to the sinful heart, that the only wealth worth having was treasure in heaven, and that the even the king had to kneel down in church. Feeling that everyone else was so much powerful and sophisticated than he was, he had lost sight of his true values, suspended his critical faculties, and places his trust in his superiors.”

“She shook her head in perplexity. “I’ll never know where you got the idea that you were destined for greatness.” She dropped the rest of the rabbit in the pot and begun to clean the underside of its skin. She would use the fur. “You certainly didn’t inherit it from your forebears.”

“Any fool can get into a fight, but a wise man knows how to stay out of them.”

“It pleased Aliena that they were all together: she and Jack and their children, and Jack’s mother, and Aliena’s brother, and Martha. It was quite like an ordinary family, and Aliena could almost forget that her father had died in a dungeon, and she was legally married to Jack’s stepbrother, and Ellen was an outlaw, and—

She shook her head. It was no use pretending this was a normal family.”

“When Philip relived that day in his nightmares, and woke up sweating and screaming in the dark, he would always be able to calm himself, and eventually relax into sleep again, by bringing to mind that final tableau, and the way the screaming and the wounds had been swept aside by the unarmed man with the cross.”

“Having faith in God did not mean sitting back and doing nothing. It meant believing that you would find success if you did your best honestly and energetically.”

“The children and some of the adults played chess and nine-men’s-morris to while away the evening,”

“Feeling that everyone else was so much more powerful and sophisticated than he was, he had lost sight of his true values, suspended his critical faculties, and placed his trust in his superiors. His reward had been treachery. He”

“He was afraid he might say or do something that would offend King Stephen or Bishop Henry and turn them against Kingsbridge. French-born people often mocked the way the English spoke their language: what would they think of a Welsh accent? In the monastic world, Philip had always been judged by his piety, obedience, and devotion to God’s work. Those things counted for nothing here, in the capital city of one of the greatest kingdoms in the world. Philip was out of his depth. He became oppressed by the feeling that he was some kind of impostor, a nobody pretending to be a somebody, and that he was sure to be found out in no time and sent home in disgrace. ”

“Archdeacon Peter’s face was like stone. He was the worst kind of Christian, Philip realized: he embraced all of the negatives, enforced every proscription, insisted on all forms of denial, and demanded strict punishment for every offense; yet he ignored all the compassion of Christianity, denied its mercy, flagrantly disobeyed its ethic of love, and openly flouted the gentle laws of Jesus. That’s what the Pharisees were like, Philip thought; no wonder the Lord preferred to eat with publicans and sinners.”

“Aliena was concentrating. Their painted wooden board was shaped like a cross and divided into squares of different colours. The counters appeared to be made of ivory, white and black. The game was obviously a variant of merrels, or nine-men’s-morris, and probably a gift brought back from Normandy by Aliena’s father.”

“He could survive anywhere but he belonged nowhere.”

“These Sunday afternoons were the golden moments in a life that was rapidly falling apart.”

“excessive pride is a familiar sin, but a man may just as easily frustrate the will of God through excessive humility.”

“The world of power and property required that a man be suspicious, demanding, and insistent.”

“My stepfather, the builder, taught me how to perform certain operations in geometry: how to divide a line exactly in half, how to draw a right angle, and how to draw one square inside another so that the smaller is half the area of the larger.”

“But you need love,” he said. She groaned inwardly.”

“Recklessly, he decided to tell the real truth. “Because it will be beautiful,” he said.”

“The fact that you’re ready to give up your life’s work to live with me is … it almost breaks my heart that you should love me so much. But I don’t want to be the woman who took you away from the work you loved.”

“He could survive anywhere but he belonged nowhere.”

“The world of power and property required that a man be suspicious, demanding, and insistent.”

“My stepfather, the builder, taught me how to perform certain operations in geometry: how to divide a line exactly in half, how to draw a right angle, and how to draw one square inside another so that the smaller is half the area of the larger.”

“But you need love,” he said. She groaned inwardly.”

“Recklessly, he decided to tell the real truth. “Because it will be beautiful,” he said.”

Return to the home page

Advertisements
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: