Going Places Educational Travel Blog - Why I Love Gothic Cathedrals
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April 3, 2014

Why I Love Gothic Cathedrals

Ever since a passports group organizer gave my colleague the book “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, and then that colleague passed the book along to me (I think it was 25 years ago!), I’ve been hooked on the history of castles and cathedrals.  

If you’re unfamiliar with “Pillars”, it’s a nearly-1,000-page, historical novel that takes place in the 12th century in England.  The principal character, Jack Builder (a.k.a. Jack Jackson), also visits France and Spain – no small feat, in the 1100s!

The bulk of the story takes place in a fictional town called Kingsbridge, England, where the townspeople are undertaken with the task of building a cathedral.  The epic thriller is replete with talented artisans, illegitimate children, corrupt politicians and clergymen, sword fights, love stories, births, marriages and deaths.  The things any good soap opera are made of, with a historically-accurate backdrop in Medieval England.  What could be better?

Since cathedrals took several decades to build, and money issues and war were always looming, Follett blended the building of the cathedral brilliantly with the entire lives of the characters as they struggled to make it through life in the middle ages.

Folleett’s descriptions of the craftsmen’s work on the cathedral, flying buttresses, vaulting, arches, bays, sculptures, statues, carved wood doorways, and stained-glass windows are incredibly vivid.  While reading, one gets the feeling they are standing right there, observing one of these marvels, one of these pillars, being constructed. It is thought that Gothic spires were built higher and higher in order to be “closer to God”.

Follett based his cathedral on the real ones located in Winchester, Gloucester, Salisbury, and Wells, in England.

The story also delves briefly into life in Cherbourg, in northwestern France, where Jack travels to a) find out more about his biological father, and b) learn building skills necessary to complete the cathedral in Kingsbridge.

In Spain, Jack learns about architecture and Arabic mathematics which also help him greatly in construction and completion of the cathedral back in England.

After reading the book (twice), and seeing the TV mini-series (good – but aren’t books always better than “the movie”?!), I have forever been amazed and intrigued by churches and cathedrals in Europe.  When I enter into a Gothic cathedral, I always gasp, then I think, to myself, “The Pillars of the Earth.”

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