Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones

Did you love Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth?  If so, this book will satisfy your need for another good, thick, medieval tome.  The author, Ildefonso Falcones, is a lawyer in Barcelona.  This debut novel, translated from Spanish, was a bestseller in Spain.  The story focuses primarily on Arnau Estanyol, a good man trying to make his way in a tough world.  His father fled to Barcelona with young Arnau hoping for a better life.  As a runaway serf, his hope was to take advantage of Barcelona’s law that allows anyone who lives in the city for one year and a day to become a free citizen.

Life in Barcelona during the 1300’s is far from a bed of roses and Arnau and his father barely manage to survive.  They adopt Joan, a young boy from the streets who Arnau has become fast friends with.  The boys share a strong bond which becomes even stronger when Arnau’s father dies and they have to fend for themselves.  As they reach adulthood, their paths diverge;  Arnau becomes a stone carrier or “bastaixo” and carries the stones used to build the Cathedral of the Sea and  Joan starts on the path to the priesthood.

After many twists and turns, Arnau becomes a successful businessman and Joan becomes an inquisitor for the Catholic Church.  Because Arnau has a heart for people and tries to change his world for the better, he becomes a favorite with the common man and an enemy of the aristocracy and the Church.  Events ultimately come to a head and Arnau and his adopted brother Joan square off in a fascinating battle.

While Cathedral does not provide the architectural details that Pillars does, it does paint a detailed portrait of what life in 14th century Spain was like, set amidst much family drama.

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