Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Cathedral of the Sea by Idelfonso Falcones


Proud Spanish families, medieval times, the feudal system, lords, serfs, peasants, submission, the plague, and, of course, beautiful Barcelona....all of this and more are the makeup of Cathedral of the Sea.

Beautiful Barcelona was the salvation and dream of all peasants and serfs...it promised freedom if you lived there for one year and a day. Bernat Estanyols and his infant son Arnau fled to Barcelona to obtain their freedom after they lost everything to the Llorence de Bellera, lord of Navarcles. Llorence was a brutal, greedy man.

Luckily Bernat's sister lived in Barcelona and was married to a wealthy potter. His sister allowed him to live in their complex....Bernat worked for his brother-in-law but had to live with the peasants and slaves. Arnau was educated along with his cousins and was allowed to live in the mansion.

Bernat and Arnau achieved their year and one day in Barcelona with hardships and heartaches happening in that time frame and then Arnau was forced out of the house because of an incident, became sad because of the incident, and was no longer allowed to live in the mansion and be educated along with his cousins. Arnau has nothing to do during the day but watch his cousins play. One day he meets a tattered young boy with nothing to do either, and they become friends. During their daily searches and playtime, they find the Santa Maria church under construction. They are fascinated with the way the HUGE stones are pulled to the top and put into place. They spend their days at the site providing water to the workers and enjoying their company.

As much fun as they were having and despite the friendships they were making, Arnau's father was still despised by his brother-in-law's NEW wife and so was Arnau. She tried to get them in trouble and forced her serfs to do things that would make Bernat and Arnau look like the guilty party. Misfortune continued to plague Arnau and his father as everyone in Barcelona except the rich and noble were starving because there was no wheat to feed anyone or it was at an unreachable price.

Arnau gets into some trouble of his own, and the heartache continues in beautiful Barcelona....serfs were never respected and blamed for things they didn't even commit. One piece of good fortune does come to Arnau through his friendships with the bastaixos, the workers who carry the giant boulders for the building of the great cathedral, and Father Albert's kindness and feelings for young Arnau.

Arnau becomes favored among his fellow bastaixos and his adopted brother, Joan, studies for the priesthood. Arnau becomes enamored by a girl whose father won't let him marry her and then marries another since his brother said he won't go into the priesthood until Arnau is married and has someone to take care of him. Arnau can't refuse his brother or let him not become a priest so he marries someone he really doesn't love. His wife, Maria, was so kind, affectionate, loving, and trusting and Arnau was not being faithful. He got tired of being unfaithful to his wife since she was such a good person and decided the only way to get away from his mistress was to join the army. His wife was accepting, but his mistress was not.

Adventures continue for Arnau...good and bad adventures that include his mistress.

When the war was over, Arnau came back home to his wife but happiness still avoided him...the plague had arrived in Barcelona. The Jewish people were blamed for the plague...the citizens of Barcelona were killing the Jewish children and adults...Arnau came between three small children and a citizen who was going to kill them. Arnau was hurt while defending the children, but it turned out to be the best thing that happened to him. The Jewish family nursed Arnau back to health and became very fond of Arnau. To repay Arnau for saving his children, the children's father helped Arnau become a money changer.

Another Jewish child had no parents and Arnau was asked to adopt her. Mar lived with Arnau and was educated and very happy. Mar was devastated when the King demanded that Arnau marry his ward, Eleanor, for repayment of saving Barcelona from another invasion. He didn't want to get married, but couldn't refuse the King so he married. As you can imagine, it wasn't a happy union...in fact, they rarely talked to each other or slept together. Eleanor got tired of waiting to consummate their marriage not because she loved Arnau, but because she was worried what would happen to Arnau's fortune if he died. She didn't want Mar to receive all the riches, and that could be done because under the law at that time, if a marriage was not consummated, then the wife had no right to anything. Because of this concern, Joan and Eleanor devised an unthinkable plan for Mar.

Everything went downhill for Arnau after the incident with Mar...friends betrayed him, the de Belleras came back for revenge along with others, and his business was in jeopardy, but his beloved church was progressing and his Virgin of the Sea was still there for him.

The book was a little slow at first, but the history of Barcelona, the building of the church, and the way people lived and were ruled was fascinating. It also makes one glad to not be living during that era.

It is a long book, but it gets better so don't give up. I enjoyed the history lesson and, of course, the descriptions of ancient Barcelona...what a beautiful, historical city then and now. 5/5

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