Season 1 of La Catedral Del Mar (or The Cathedral of the Sea) arrives on Netflix Saturday, Sept. 1. This show follows a peasant in 14th Century Barcelona named Arnau Estanyol (Aitor Luna). The lowly Spaniard escapes serfdom and is put to work building a large Catholic church called Santa María de la Mar. The show follows Arnau as he grows up and becomes caught in the midst of the Spanish Inquisition and classist struggles. But since it was such a huge production for Spanish television, it's doubtful that La Catedral Del Mar will return for Season 2.
This most recent offering from Spain to be on Netflix will join the ranks of Catalan dramedy Welcome to the Family and the popular workplace comedy, Paquita Salas, among others. However, Netflix's latest will be much different in tone than its Spanish predecessors. As was previously mentioned, La Catedral Del Mar is set in medieval Spain and is more similar to Game of Thrones than the plucky, down-on-her-luck Paquita.
"If you are strong enough to carry stones, you will be one of us," Ramón (Andrés Lima) tells a young Arnau and his adopted brother, Joan, in the trailer. The protagonist grows up carrying rocks for Santa María de la Mar, which is still standing in Barcelona today. However, there's more to the show than just the church (although that's the crux of it). Arnau also falls in love, fights in a battle, and — above all — tries to survive.
As a bit of background, the series La Catedral del Mar was based on a 2006 book by Ildefonso Falcones. Falcones is a lawyer by trade, per Catalan News, but he's published two other novels — The Barefoot Queen and The Hand of Fatima. The author said that it took him five years to write La Catedral, which makes sense, as it's over 600 pages long. However, since 2006, the author has established himself as a historical novelist. "I've always liked reading this kind of genre and therefore I decided to set The Cathedral of the Sea in a splendid period for Barcelona — the 14th century," he told Catalan News.
In a translated interview with the Spanish paper El País, the show's director, Jordi Frades, said their show is a very faithful adaptation of the book. "[T]he novel is very cinematographic," he said, "and because when you do The Cathedral of the Sea, you have to leave the egos aside because you are telling a thing that people have read."
The eight episodes of La Catedral Del Mar began airing in May 2018 on the Spanish channel Antena 3, according to the paper 20 Minutos. In Spain, the show garnered an impressive 22.8 percent and 3,859,000 of viewers in its season premiere. Per another article from 20 Minutos, the series took four months to film, and they had 70 filming locations in the Spanish cities of Extremadura, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla y León, Madrid, Aragon, and Catalonia.
But before La Catedral even got to shooting, there were years of conflicts behind-the-scenes. One of the show's screenwriters, Rodolf Sirera, told Vanitatis — the culture section of El Confidential — that he was initially approached to write the script back in 2012. The creative team also had issues finding people to help finance the project, which is where Netflix comes in.
However, it's important to note that the rights for La Catedral are a bit confusing. Per El Español, the show was produced by Diagonal TV, aired first on Antena 3 (which is owned by Atresmedia Televisión), and now Netflix has the rights to stream all eight episodes. "[I]t is one of the most expensive [scripted shows] that the Atresmedia Televisión group has ever produced," Sonia Martínez, head of scripted programing (or what they call "fiction") at Atresmedia, told El Español. And while both Netflix and TV3 co-financed the production, the streaming platform footed a large portion of the bill, according to Jaume Banacolocha, the CEO of Diagonal TV.
Indeed, producing La Catedral del Mar was wildly expensive and a huge undertaking. Per the same article from El País, the show employed 170 actors and over 3,500 extras. Not only did they have to recreate portions of the Santa María, but they had two extravagant battle scenes (one of which is seen briefly in the trailer as Arnau helps storm a castle).
So will La Catedral del Mar be returning for more seasons or not? So far, there have been no announcements from either Atresmedia or Netflix. Fortunately, a sequel to the first book was published in 2016, so there is more material. But the fact that this eight-episode installment was such a financial headache may give the studio pause. So even if it does return, they'll have to start the whole production process over again.
Correction: A previous version of this article omitted the fact that Ildefonso Falcones wrote a sequel to La Catedral dal Mar; in fact, Los herederos de la tierra was published in 2016.