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The Pillars of the Earth

Kingsbridge: Real or fictional?

There are several villages or small towns called Kingsbridge in Britain. However, the place in The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End is fictional.

It is roughly where the present-day country town of Marlborough is located. I chose this approximate location because there is no real-life cathedral nearby. Also, the area is within a few days’ horseback ride of several important medieval cities mentioned in “Pillars”, especially Winchester, Gloucester, and Salisbury.

At the beginning of “Pillars”, Kingsbridge is a village, but during the course of the story it prospers, thanks to the wool trade, and grows to be a medium-sized city – by medieval standards, that is. In those days typical cities had five to ten thousand inhabitants.

Kingsbridge Cathedral is fictional, though as I was writing the story I had two real-life cathedrals in mind: Wells and Salisbury. In its architecture the finished Kingsbridge Cathedral is like Salisbury, with rows of narrow, pointed “lancet” windows.

A lot of people ask about the difference between a cathedral and a church. The word “cathedral” is really an adjective – we should say: “It is a cathedral church.” The cathedra is the bishop’s throne, and a cathedral church has the throne of a bishop inside. It is always the leading church of the region ruled by the bishop. In theory, a bishop could decide to put his throne in a small out-of-the-way church. But in practice cathedrals are usually bigger and more lavishly built than other churches.

In medieval England many cathedrals formed part of an abbey or priory. This led to disputes about who was boss: the bishop or the prior? Such conflicts form part of the drama of “Pillars”. In France and Italy it was not normal for cathedrals to be run by monks. Instead they had canons and deans, senior priests working under the bishop, a less quarrelsome arrangement.

If you are interested in learning more about cathedrals, there is a wealth of information on the web. See: