On the set of The Pillars of the Earth
Photo: Egon Endrenyi
Sticks and stones are the stuff great cathedrals are made of, but it wasn't until Ken Follett's novel The Pillars of the Earth that mere words could capture the painstaking detail and extensive personal and financial costs of completing man's masterpiece to God. Ken's more than 900-page labor of love hit shelves in 1989 after more than three years of toil and remains his most popular work to this day. Book clubs everywhere—including Oprah's—have devoured the epic with a passion Ken has never before seen. "It's becoming a cult," he says on his website.

So when it came time to rebuild Kingsbridge Cathedral onscreen, a feature-length film simply wouldn't do. A sweeping tale of good, evil, violence and beauty set against the backdrop of war, religious strife and power struggles, the story has been blown out into a must-see miniseries event, premiering July 23 on STARZ. At its helm are powerhouse producers Ridley and Tony Scott (CBS' The Good Wife, Robin Hood, American Gangster) and a stellar cast headed by Donald Sutherland (M*A*S*H*, Ordinary People), Rufus Sewell (CBS' Eleventh Hour, Ian McShane (HBO's Deadwood and Matthew Macfadyen (Pride and Prejudice, Robin Hood).

Meet the entire cast of characters 

Under the direction of Sergio Mimica-Gezzan, hundreds of crew members set up shop in Austria and Budapest, Hungary, for a 113-day shoot of epic proportions. Between cavalries of horses, an army's worth of armor and action sequences that could give 300 a run for its money, German actress Natalia Wörner, who plays woman of the forest Ellen, can only describe filming as "intense." "Viewing the call sheet was like reading a Bible almost," she says. "So many people and animals and technicians—you name it."

The town of Kingsbridge itself also became larger than life. The set's appropriately filthy medieval streets led cast and crew alike to Shiring Castle, the bishop's palace, peasants' living quarters and, of course, a half-finished cathedral. "The size of the sets that were built really made you not have to act so much. You could look up in awe," says actor Eddie Redmayne, who plays Jack. "You weren't having to imagine a huge moment."

Divine intervention and the cast of The Pillars of the Earth