1. As Part 4 begins, we learn that Waleran Bigod and Bishop Henry have switched political sides, realigned once more with King Stephen. Waleran will not give William absolution until he, too, joins King Stephen's side. Waleran already has an alliance with Bishop Henry, a direct link to the king. Why do you think he still needs William? What can the bishop gain from him?

  2. Tom's death has a profound impact on young Jonathan, even though Prior Philip has been more of a father figure to him. Do you think Jonathan somehow knows that Tom is his father?

  3. After Aliena loses everything in the Kingsbridge raid, Richard tells her he cannot take care of her, even though she has cared for him for six years. Is Richard being selfish, or simply being practical? If you were Aliena, how far would you be willing to go to honor the oath she swore to her father?

  4. Ellen has a tendency to curse situations she thinks unjust. Do you think her curse on Alfred and Aliena's marriage has an impact on their problems? Could Ellen really be a witch?

  5. There are many explanations for the cathedral's collapse. Some said Alfred was not a competent master builder, others blamed it on Philip's rush to finish, and Waleran blames Philip's arrogance. Why do you think the cathedral collapsed?

  6. While in Spain, Jack is offered the hand of a wealthy merchant's daughter. How are Aysha and Aliena similar? How are they different? Why does Jack make the decision that he does?

  7. Through Jack, we get a glimpse of the building of the greatest cathedral of the time—Saint-Denis in France. Ken Follett has said: "When I started to look at cathedrals, I wondered: Who built them, and why? The book is my answer to that question." Why do you think the great medieval cathedrals were built? How does the building of Kingsbridge cathedral satisfy the ambitions of the main characters—Tom Builder, Prior Philip, Aliena and Jack? How does it affect the lives of other important characters in the story?

  8. Philip is preaching the story of Job when Jack and Aliena return to Kingsbridge. Why do you think Ken Follett chose to include the story of Job? What omens does the tale hold for Kingsbridge?

  9. Do you think the Weeping Madonna truly brought about a miracle for Meg? Or is it the miracle that Philip prayed for so long ago?

  10.  Jack doesn't learn the truth about his father until he is 20 years old. Ellen says she didn't want him to spend his life avenging his father's death. Do you think she had other reasons for not telling Jack the entire story? If you were Jack, would you want revenge? How far would you go to get answers?

  11.  Richard brings news of William Hamleigh's impending raid to Kingsbridge, but Jack is the one who makes sure protective walls are built in time. Who do you think is the bigger hero? Does Richard grow as a man after assuming some responsibility in his life?

  12.  William Hamleigh sees absolution as a "get out of hell for free" card. Waleran Bigod uses his position in the church to help William take his revenge on Jack and Aliena. How have faith and religion been twisted to justify the plans and ambitions of each main character? Is God's will responsible for the various stories in this novel, or is it simply man's will at work?
Part 4 plot points

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Part 4: 1142–1145
William Hamleigh fears he will burn in hell after his brutal attack on Kingsbridge, but Waleran will not grant him absolution unless he again pledges allegiance to King Stephen. Waleran and Bishop Henry have aligned with the king to gain more power, and William agrees to switch sides and hopes that Stephen will name him earl of Shiring instead of Richard.

Prior Philip is shaken to the core by the burning of Kingsbridge and the death of Tom Builder. He loses all motivation to run Kingsbridge—but Jack steps up. Planning the new town brings Philip out of his depression. Weeks after the fire, new homes are built and work starts again on the cathedral. Life slowly returns to normal, but grief still overwhelms the townspeople—especially Jonathan and Ellen, who miss Tom. As building continues, the masons look toward Alfred for leadership, though he lacks the intelligence of his father.

Aliena has been anxious, knowing she can no longer support Richard. Just as Richard arrives home to learn his family is penniless, Alfred again proposes marriage and promises to support Richard. Later, Aliena tells a devastated Jack that she must marry Alfred.

The night before the marriage, Jack tries to sneak out of the monastery to stop Aliena from marrying Alfred. He is caught and ordered to solitary confinement for two days. He falls asleep but awakens to find Ellen in his cell—the same cell his father was held for allegedly stealing a jeweled cup.

Ellen helps Jack escape and he asks Aliena to not marry Alfred. She reveals the real reason she pushed him away at the mill. Jack comforts her and although they make love, she says she will still marry Alfred. Angry and hurt, Jack wishes her luck and leaves. He flees to the forest, where his mother gives him a horse, some money, food and Tom's tools. He decides to find the jongleurs in Spain and learn more about his father, promising to return some day.

Ellen curses Aliena and Alfred's wedding and leaves town. That night, Alfred is unable to consummate the marriage and bans Aliena to the floor. As winter progresses, Aliena grows sicker and sicker. Philip spends the winter wracked with guilt over Jack's disappearance, worried about the priory's debt and the townspeople's morale. Just as he prays for a miracle, Alfred tells him he can finish the cathedral sooner than expected. Waleran hears the news and tells William he will speak to Bishop Henry about announcing his earldom as a blow to Philip.

The morning of Whitsunday, Aliena goes into labor as the rest of the town is at the new cathedral. As she pushes her way into the service to look for Martha, there is a deafening rumble and the roof collapses. Through the rubble, a baby's cry fills the church, and Philip finds Aliena and her newborn son. More plot points...

Part 4 reading questions

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Alfred leaves Aliena in Kingsbridge to build stone homes in Shiring. That summer, Aliena sets out with her son to find Jack, tracking him all the way to the Saint-Denis cathedral in France. They name the baby Tommy, after Tom Builder.

As Jack works at Saint-Denis, a ceremony is held for the new cathedral. The king himself is to be there, so Jack brings his family to see him. As the crowd pushes to see the procession, a riot breaks out. Desperate to get his family to safety, Jack has an idea. He takes a statue of the Virgin Mary that weeps—a gift from a friend in Toledo—from his bag and orders the crowd to revere the Madonna. The crowd proclaims a miracle, and Jack tells them the statue is on a journey from God to Kingsbridge.

As they make their way back home, Jack collects men who want to work in Kingsbridge as well as donations for a new cathedral inspired by the Weeping Madonna. When Jack and his family arrive at Cherbourg, France, to sail home, people accuse Jack of being a ghost. Jack has found his father's family, who thought their son, Jacques Cherbourg, had drowned in a shipwreck.

Home again in England, Jack and Aliena disrupt Prior Philip's mass with a procession of the Weeping Madonna. Jack tells the congregation he has been sent to help Kingsbridge and ushers in the men who came with him from France, who are carrying chests of money. Philip is wary of Jack's miracle until he sees the Weeping Madonna effect on one of his parishioners. Philip welcomes Jack back to Kingsbridge and the monks agree to hire Jack as master builder as long as he lives apart from Aliena—who is still technically married to Alfred—and apply for an annulment.

Jack finds his mother in the forest to tell her that he met his father's family and demand to know who set up his father. Ellen finally reveals their identities—the monk was Philip's predecessor, James; the knight was Percy Hamleigh and the priest was Waleran Bigod.

In the meantime, William and Regan visit Waleran at his new castle with the news of the Weeping Madonna. William is not happy because the men from his farms are moving to Kingsbridge for work on the cathedral. William vows to attack the market, but their meeting is interrupted by Jack who has come to confront Waleran about his father. He gets no answers, but his suspicions are confirmed before he is ordered away. William, Regan and Waleran then decide that Jack must die in the next raid.

Back at Kingsbridge, Aliena tells Jack she is pregnant again. Suddenly, Richard bursts into the house with news that William will attack on Sunday. They mobilize the town to build a protective wall, and Philip hires Richard to organize town defenses. Caught off guard by Kingsbridge's preparedness, William's men are defeated.

William vows to attack again, but Waleran urges him to forget his private war. Still craving revenge on Jack, William asks Waleran to oppose Aliena's annulment.

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Part 4 reading questions

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