Summary of The Spire

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Jocelin, Dean of a medieval cathedral, has had a vision which he believes reveals that he must add a four hundred foot spire to the cathedral. The decision is a controversial one, especially as the work proves disruptive and the master builder, Roger Mason, discovers that the building lacks the requisite foundations to support the spire. Jocelin is insistent that faith will be sufficient and accuses the master builder of being timid, and of playing for time in order to keep himself and his men in employment. Jocelin is maintained in his belief that the spire will stand by the news that his bishop is sending a Holy Nail (from the crucifixion) from Rome to protect the spire.


The cathedral’s caretaker, Pangall, hates the disruption and the workmen’s mockery which he suffers. There are early hints that he is impotent. Jocelin is horrified when he notices that Roger and Goody, Pangall’s wife, are sexually attracted to each other. However, he realises that, if he does not intervene, their adultery will prevent Roger from leaving. Roger’s wife Rachel reveals that she and her husband are childless because she finds sex makes her laugh.


Jocelin climbs to the roof to inspect the work and finds it exhilarating. However, he has what is eventually revealed to be tuberculosis of the spine, and this illness gradually becomes worse. He is also increasingly troubled by sexual dreams relating to his own attraction to Goody.

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A pit has been dug in order for the master builder to look for foundations, and there is a crisis when the earth in it is seen to be creeping. The stones start to make a high-pitched whine and to splinter. Roger wants to stop work, but Jocelin forces him to continue. The result is that the anxious workmen become a mob and – as only later becomes apparent – they pursue and murder Pangall, burying his body beneath the cathedral pavement as a pagan charm to keep the spire from falling.


Jocelin becomes increasingly obsessed with the ...

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