Cathedral of the Sea
Cathedral of the Sea is a most welcome addition to the growing genre of medieval fiction. It is one of only a few that is set in Spain and available in English. The heart of the story is Barcelona’s Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar which captivates, consoles, and gives meaning to the city’s common people, especially to its bastaix, the dock workers who literally carried her building stones on their backs from the quarry to the building site.
The principal character, Arnau Estanyol, is just such a dock worker. Born in 1321, he is the son of a runaway peasant. He unloads ships and carries huge blocks of stone on his back. He is one of the faceless mass of the city’s poor. From this seemingly dull cloth the author creates an irresistible tale that – unflinchingly – carries the reader into scenes of incredible cruelty inflicted by nobility and clergy on whose whims hang the workers’ lives, into the religious hysteria and the pogrom that came of it, of war, incessant hunger, and the terrors of the Inquisition.
Cathedral of the Sea is, in these respects, a dark story, for one cannot help being overwhelmed with sadness when confronted with the evil men can do. But the story also retells acts of kindness, love, and extraordinary loyalty – with touches of humor provided by Barcelona’s visiting prostitutes. This is a fast paced, page turning story that, in spite of its length, holds the reader’s attention to the very end. I agree with those who compare it to Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. Both are splendid examples of captivating epics grounded in solid historical research. Highly recommended for both historical content and narrative zest.
Early Medieval (to 1337)