I became interested in cathedral architecture many years ago. I very quickly became curious, as most people do when they look at the great European cathedrals, about a fundamental question. And the question that comes to almost everybody is—Why is this here?
Why did these medieval people want this structure? It was very expensive for them to build. It was very difficult. They didn't have modern construction methods, they didn't have power tools, they didn't have the mathematics to calculate the strains and stresses, etc. So why did they go to all that trouble and expense?
From an abstract interest in the architecture, I was led quite quickly to a fascination with the Middle Ages and what drove Medieval people to their tremendous achievements. Building a cathedral represents aspiration in general and for everybody in Kingsbridge it represents a slightly different aspiration. For some people it is just about the glory of God, but for some people the cathedral is a business draw—it will be good for business, it will draw pilgrims to the cathedral, which means money coming into the town not just to the church, but all the businessmen in town will benefit from pilgrims.
Pilgrim is just a medieval word for tourist. So the cathedral would draw tourists to the town. And of course the building itself generated employment. So although medieval people did not think in economic terms as we do in 21st century, nevertheless they did understand that it was good for the whole town if a lot of people were going to be employed there—several hundred people employed building this church. So it is all about aspiration, but it is a different aspiration for every section of society.
Those builders knew they were likely to be working on the building of this church for most of their lives. And so it is going to be literally their life's work. And so they have this feeling, maybe partly religious, but not necessarily religious, that this is what their life is about. And whether they are building it for the glory of God or whether they just want to do something wonderful, there is a strong impulse in human beings to make something wonderful that will last forever. People talk about that, you know—creative artists always talk about that. Or even if they don't talk about that, it is still what they really want. They want to make something, a painting or a novel or a symphony that will be giving people pleasure for hundreds of years—that is their real measure of success in their creative work.Prior Philip's role in Kingsbridge