As I mentioned last week in my review of the novel The Pillars of the Earth, the late Gothic period in Spain transitioned into a very ornate style of architecture called Plateresque. The New Cathedral of Salamanca is one example of this style.
Up close, you can see the incredible detail of the facades. “Plateresque” means “in the style of a silversmith,” so there are many little flourishes.
There were some renovations of the exterior done in the 90s, and the builders added their own touches, including this astronaut. See him on the left? It is definitely an unexpected detail!
As an elementary school student, I read a wonderful book called A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver and promptly fell in love with Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Middle Ages, and Abbot Suger’s idea that beautiful things could give glory to God. In his case, “beautiful things” included the first church in the Gothic style at St. Denis in France in the 1140s.
I did not get to see Gothic cathedrals myself until many years later, when I first visited Europe as a university student. I am still mad about them. I have seen many Gothic churches in several countries (though my favorites are in Spain).
From my Spanish art history course, I learned about the architectural transitions from Romanesque to Gothic, then to Plateresque in the late Gothic period and on to the Renaissance.
So it’s no surprise that I would love a novel about the building of a Gothic cathedral. But The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is more than that. This behemoth has hidden depths, and it made its way onto the top 100 list for the Great American Read for a reason.
Palma de Mallorca Cathedral, La Seu
Palma rose window
The novel works on several levels. At its most basic, it is a family drama, chronicling the struggles and joys of life over several generations. Tom the builder, his stepson Jack, the earl’s daughter Aliena, and the new earl William all deal with matters of life, love, and death, all watched over by Prior Philip, the leader of the Kingsbridge monks.
Choir of Burgos Cathedral
The setting of a village in England in the 1100s adds another layer of historical fiction, with such details as how cloth was felted, what people ate and how they celebrated holidays, and the hierarchy in religious institutions like a priory.
Cloisters of Jerónimos Monastery, Lisboa
Jerónimos Monastery, Portuguese Late Gothic Manueline style
Lastly, it fits neatly into the epic narrative of English history, weaving in connections to events of the civil war between Empress Matilda (Maud) and her cousin Stephen, the ascension of Henry II, and the murder of Thomas Beckett.
The cathedral itself is particularly interesting. Each architectural element of the Gothic style is developed and explained organically as the story progresses: the pointed arches, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, and stained glass windows.
Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona
Stained glass in Santa Maria del Mar
Pointed arches in Santa Maria del Mar
Pillars is inspiring not just because it shows a beautiful creation dedicated to God, but because it also shows that here on Earth, justice is possible and worth fighting for, whether it is the result of a curse by a “witch,” meted out by bishop or king, or at the hands of the mob/public opinion. Though the Catholic Church obviously features prominently, it is not an overly religious book. Also, the supernatural and the divine are presented as two sides of the same coin, which feels natural to the time period.
Follett’s prose is not the best I’ve read, but the twists of the story held my attention and kept me on my toes. I was surprised how invested I got in the details of the story and how all the events stayed with me. I’m sure somebody is going to have problems with the two main female characters, but I liked them both. I’m looking forward to reading the sequels which take place in the same area, jumping ahead several generations.
After all the hours I put into reading this book (for perspective, the audiobook version is about 40 hours long), I can say it was time well spent. I can easily see why many people name the informative but engaging Pillars of the Earth as one of their favorite novels. It has certainly stuck with me, and I look forward to continuing with Follett’s Kingsbridge series.
Congrats to the Lens-Artists Challenge for a great first year! I’ve been participating since last November and have really enjoyed it. We have a special topic this week in honor of the anniversary, bloggers’ choice. See below to check out what the founders of the challenge picked.
Monument to the Discoveries
Pretending to be explorers
I tried to incorporate all their themes in my collection of photos. During university, I studied abroad in Spain for a semester with a group of about a dozen others. There were eight of us girls that often took weekend trips, including one to the beautiful capital of Portugal, Lisboa.
We were able to see several parts of the city, including Belém and the Park of Nations area that was created for the ’98 World Expo.
There was so much beautiful architecture, great food, and wonderful outdoor spaces in the city. Though we went not knowing a word of Portuguese, we managed to muddle through with a mix of English and Spanish. We found the people to be very friendly, speaking of making connections. 😀
Fountain in the Park of Nations
I would love to travel to Lisboa again someday! I also haven’t seen these friends in many years now, so it was wonderful to look back at these happy memories. Here’s to another year of great photos!
Welcome back to our Star Wars coloring book club, where Kiri from Star Wars Anonymous and I color the same image every month to compare and contrast.
Can you tell what this month’s mandala is made up of? It has parts from an AT-AT walker, including the feet, head, and joints.
AT-AT stands for All Terrain Armored Transport, and they most notably appears in The Empire Strikes Back during the Empire’s ground assault on the Rebel base on Hoth. Seeing the AT-AT brought Hoth to mind, so I used a lot of cool colors to represent that frozen, snowy place.
I was intending to be a little more daring with this one, but I really ended up playing it safe, using a standard limited color scheme and a lot of symmetry. But I still like the way it turned out, even if it is a bit boring.
Now that I have a kid, there are certain things that are once again socially acceptable for me, like ordering a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. I admit I’m a kid at heart and really enjoy doing kid stuff like that again. Right now, everything is Toy Story 4 branded, but prior to that I was happy to pick up some Avengers figures! Yet my excitement soon turned to confusion…you’ll see why.
First, we have Captain America, a perfectly acceptable Happy Meal-quality toy. When you push a button, he moves his shield arm. Cool, right?
But then we have…well, I don’t even know what this is. The bag said it was Hawkeye, but…?
He has a Tony Stark goatee, generic hair, and a squinty eye. He does not have a bow or a mohawk, and is not wearing any costume that Hawkeye or Ronin wears in any movie. His superpower: he lights up. He LIGHTS UP. WHAT? Why?
Had they just made a generic superhero figure and didn’t want to waste it, so they labeled it Hawkeye because no one cares about Hawkeye? Of course not, but that idea makes me laugh. This is apparently the “Team Suit” version, though it barely resembles the team suits they wear in the movie.
So, of course my kid doesn’t care at all and loves the Light-Up Generic Superhero. And my husband refers to it as “Hawk Guy.” Poor Clint.