An unforgettable fresco of a golden age in fourteenth-century Barcelona, Cathedral of the Sea is a thrilling historical novel of friendship and revenge, plague and hope, love and war.
Arnau Estanyol arrives in Barcelona to find a city dominated by the construction of the city’s great pride—the cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar—and by its shame, the deadly Inquisition. As a young man, Arnau joins the powerful guild of stoneworkers and helps to build the church with his own hands, while his best friend and adopted brother Joanet studies to become a priest.
With time, Arnau prospers and falls secretly in love with a forbidden woman. But when he is betrayed and hauled before the Inquisitor, he finds himself face-to-face with Joanet. Will he lose his life just as his beloved Cathedral of the Sea is finally completed, or will his brother save him?
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Medieval Spain's caste system can't keep a good man down in this absorbing epic, a Spanish-language bestseller. Arnau Estanyol, son of a fugitive peasant, starts out in 14th-century Barcelona as a lowly porter who carries stone blocks to a cathedral construction site and ends up a rich moneylender who saves the city from pillaging and frees the serfs of a barony he acquires by marriage. Alas, his dizzying social assent and defiance of the feudal order provoke enraged aristocrats his status-obsessed wife included into siccing the Inquisition on him. Arnau is a kindhearted, somewhat passive figure who combines piety, industry and cosmopolitanism to challenge a corrupt, dogmatic church and a parasitic nobility. The plot features thwarted romance, war, plague, immolations and self-immolations, set in a Machiavellian world ruled by privilege, cronyism and brute force. The melodrama is sometimes laid on thick, but Falcones's rich portrait of medieval society is fascinating.
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The history of Barcelona is amazing! I realize this book is historic fiction, but its dates are rooted in fact, and so are the events it’s built on. It makes me realize how young my own country (USA) is, and how, by comparison, Barcelona is rich in history and culture.
I envy the citizens of Barcelona and their ability to visit the real Santa Maria Del Mar anytime they choose, knowing that the cathedral was built by hand, one stone at a time. I find myself fantasizing about the church bells in the city, and how when they rang, every citizen would *eagerly* take up arms in via fora, an alarm that rallied citizens to defend Barcelona’s honor, simply out of pride and love for the place they call home.
To be a part of a culture so rich and proud is incredible. I fully understand now why the Catalans I’ve met are so adamant that they are Catalonian and not Spanish. I wish I knew what it was like to be so fiercely proud of my country. With today’s political climate, I find this task increasingly difficult.
Cathedral of the Sea exploits nonsensical real-world laws from the 14th century to drive the plot forward and illustrate the cruelty of noblemen from its time period. Laws such as: if a peasant/serf gets married, the lord he belongs to, by right, is allowed to lay with the new bride on his wedding night against her will. In fact, the novel opens on such a scene, setting the tone for the hellish journey its characters are forced through.
I’m also shocked at how badly Jewish people were treated in the city, and how religion drove paranoid Barcelona citizens to raze Jewish homes and murder innocent women and children during the outbreak of the plague. In a lot of ways, these barbaric knee-jerk reactions remind me so much of today’s mob mentalities and how easy it is to spread fake news.
Have we learned nothing from our past? Are people still this fkng dumb and bloodthirsty? :(
TL;DR: this book is fkng awesome, and I wish it never ended. I have so much respect for Catalonians and the rich history of Barcelona now, and I’m not surprised this novel won so many awards. Bravo.
Cathedral of the Sea
This book was fantastic. I could not put it down and read it in three days.
Cathedral of the Sea
The main character is unconvincing. He is like a twentieth century superhero, complete with all the modern sensitivities towards women and slavery. His only fault is that he can't resist being seduced by a beautiful woman who can't keep her hands off him. Oh brother. Cheesy.