1. Tom convinces Prior Philip that he is more than just a "jobbing mason" but doubts his own abilities. As he passes the rubble of the old church he thinks about how many years it will take to build the new one. "He wondered if he was really capable of it. Then he thought what a thrill it would be to create something from nothing; to see, one day in the future, a new church here where not where was nothing but rubble, and to say: I made this" (p. 291). Have you ever been intimidated and inspired by something? How did you rise to the challenge in front of you?

  2. When Prior Philip sees what has happened to Earl Bartholomew's castle, he feels responsible. How would you expect a man of God to rectify the situation?

  3. Describe the relationship between Waleran Bigod and the Hamleighs. Are they friends, or in an uncertain alliance? Why does Bishop Waleran Bigod really want control of Shiring? Why do the Hamleighs?

  4. In a time when women were often considered subordinate, Regan Hamleigh and Ellen seem to operate outside of social norms. Why do you think this is? How are the two women similar? How do they differ?

  5. What do you make of William Hamleigh's penchant for violence, yet fear of hell? Is character a result of his upbringing and situation, or is he pure evil?

  6. While riding with William Hamleigh, Philip says, "Heaven and hell is what I deal in. Virtue and sin, forgiveness and punishment, good and evil. I'm afraid I can't shut up about them" (p. 316). Philip may see the world in black and white, but he later makes a deal with Regan Hamleigh. Do you think that is a gray area? What other gray areas do you see in the novel?

  7. Why does Aliena force Richard to kill the outlaw?

  8. Between Aliena and Richard, who do you think the promise to their father to reclaim his lands rests most heavily upon?

  9. Do you think Ellen should have returned to Tom?

  10.  There are many deals made in Kingsbridge. Does Philip always operate in the best interests of the Church, or does he make selfish bargains? If he continues to get what he wants, is he any better than Waleran Bigod?

Part 2 plot points

Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

More from the complete reading guide to The Pillars of the Earth.

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