An intriguing mystery is unfolding in the beautiful, ancient market town of Kingsbridge in the South Hams. People are visiting on the look out for a c12th Cathedral, which does not exist.
Both Kingsbridge Tourist Information and local residents confirm that people often come to Kingsbridge looking for its Cathedral. Helen Jean Tillot, one-time manager of local restaurant The Shambles which itself dates back to Tudor times, was made aware of the story by an American tourist. Another local resident recounts a recent time in the Pyrenees, when a French Doctor became very animated on the subject of the putative Cathedral. So why do tourists as far away as America and France think that this Cathedral exists?
The answer has everything to do with the bestselling book ‘Pillars of the Earth’ written by popular suspense author, Ken Follett. This sweeping novel throws the reader in an instant into the cold, damp, difficult lives of central character Tom Builder and his family as he tries to keep starvation from their door. Although penniless, Tom harbours a life long dream to put his talent for building to work on the most ambitious project available to a man of his time; the building of a Cathedral in Kingsbridge, Follett’s fictional town set in a beautiful corner of South West England.
This book has so captured the imagination of people around the world that filming of an eight hour television adaptation is well underway, produced in association with Ridley and Tony Scott who are already responsible for epic movies such as Nottingham, Gladiator and Enemy of the State. Well loved British actor Ian McShane, no strange to sinister roles, is slated to play the villain of the piece. The story has a wealth of intriguing, heroic and duplicitous characters for the cast of actors including Donald Sutherland, Matthew Macfadyen and Sarah Parish to get their teeth into.
In real life, the modern town of Kingsbridge is made up of two medieval towns, Kingsbridge and Dodbrooke, originally a quarter of a mile apart. Kingsbridge and the lands around it passed into the possession of the Abbots of Buckfast Abbey some time after the Norman Conquest. The Abbot of Buckfast was granted the right to hold a market in Kingsbridge in 1219, his monks selling their produce of honey, fruit, vegetables and thick cream, and so began the tradition of Kingsbridge as a market town, which continues to this day.
Thankfully, visitors to Kingsbridge and the surrounding area have a wide choice of churches with historical significance to explore. St. Thomas of Canterbury, Dodbrooke is one fine example, itself in the town of Kingsbridge. St Thomas, also featured in Follet’s ‘Pillars of Earth’, is a colourful and tragic figure who in many ways personifies the Mediaeval battle between church and state.
There are many wonderful examples throughout Devon of the grit, determination and courage that enabled ordinary people like Follet’s fictional stone mason, Tom Builder, to create the most extraordinary monuments to their faith. So for those of you who like to step outside of our hurried world for a while, why not visit one of Devon’s many historic local Churches, Abbeys or the Cathedral at Exeter and take some well-earned time out to enjoy what they built for us.
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