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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
Why does Aliena force Richard to kill the outlaw?
Between Aliena and Richard, who do you think the promise to their father to reclaim his lands rests most heavily upon?
Do you think Ellen should have returned to Tom?
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?
More from the complete reading guide to The Pillars of the Earth.
Plot Points Part 2: 1136–1137 Tom envisions the possibilities for a modern cathedral and presents his sketches to Prior Philip. Philip says Tom can be master builder if King Stephen agrees to pay for rebuilding.
Before meeting the king, Philip must rendezvous with Waleran Bigod at Shiring. Philip discovers Aliena, Richard and their steward Matthew in hiding and promises to keep their location a secret. Waleran shows Philip that Shiring's quarry can provide stone for the new cathedral and says he will ask the king to grant the church control of Shiring's earldom.
Philip and Waleran then meet with King Stephen's brother, Bishop Henry, the wealthiest and most well-connected clergyman in England. They learn King Stephen has "virtually promised" the earldom to the Hamleighs but has not made a final decision.
While they wait for the king's ruling, Regan Hamleigh pulls Philip aside. Her son, William, was spying at Shiring and knows what Waleran is after—he is already building a castle at Shiring and wants the quarry for himself, not Philip's cathedral. Caught between a selfish bishop and a power-hungry family, Philip decides to make a deal with the Hamleighs to split the land—Kingsbridge Priory will get the quarry and the forest for building materials and the Hamleighs will control all farmland, the market and the sheep. Waleran gets nothing.
King Stephen agrees to the compromise, but puts the Hamleighs in charge of the forest and quarry. However, the priory is free to use unlimited timber and stone. Waleran is furious—Philip has made an enemy for life.
Now that that the king has given the Hamleighs control of the earldom, William confronts Aliena, Richard and Matthew at Shiring. Matthew is killed, Richard is severely beaten and Aliena is assaulted. They manage to escape and steal William's horses.
On their way to ask for the king's help, Aliena and Richard learn their father is in a nearby jail. They cannot afford to bribe the guard, but a woman named Meg lends them the money. Her husband, a wool merchant, is also imprisoned and she is running his business for him.
On this deathbed, the former earl makes his children swear to honor his last wish: They will not rest until Richard rules over Shiring. Desperate to make money, Aliena uses the last of her father's money to become a wool merchant like Meg. No one will give her a fair price until Prior Philip buys it from her.
Meanwhile, work is underway at the cathedral. When the Hamleighs deny Kingsbridge the right to mine stone, Philip takes possession of the quarry, making another enemy in Regan Hamleigh.
Waleran and the Hamleighs team up to cripple Kingsbridge. They want to move the new cathedral to Shiring. Because such decisions are up to the archbishop of Canterbury—and it appears that Bishop Henry is the next in line—they ask Bishop Henry to inspect the slow progress in Kingsbridge.
Prior Philip gets word of Bishop Henry's visit and promises his entire congregation forgiveness of their sins if they work on the cathedral the day of the bishop's inspection. Hundreds of villagers—including Aliena, who has become a successful business woman, and Richard—come to work. The bishop is pleased with the busy site. Waleran and the Hamleighs are defeated again, and William swears revenge.
Ellen and Jack return to Kingsbridge that same day. Tom convinces Ellen that Philip will forgive her and will marry them. He also promises to hire Jack as an apprentice. Jack is not pleased with the idea of staying at Kingsbridge—until he sees Aliena.