- "The massive dome and towers of the Great Sept of Baelor can be seen from anywhere in the city, but not from the vast countryside that paid for it. Its seven bells can be heard as far as Dragonstone whenever a king dies. But none tolled for the stonemasons, glaziers and smiths who built it."
- ―High Sparrow
The Great Sept of Baelor, also called the Great Sept or just the Sept of Baelor, was a massive sept, the center of religious worship for the Faith of the Seven and the seat of the High Septon of the Faith. It was located in King's Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, and was the largest single building in the city, though the Red Keep complex sprawls over a larger area. Great religious ceremonies were held there. It was also the sept personally used by the royal family, thus royal weddings were held at the Great Sept in massive ceremonies.
The sept was named after King Baelor Targaryen, a king noted for his religious piety and pacifism, who ordered its construction. A statue of King Baelor was located in the square in front of the sept.
The Great Sept was decorated with paintings of the seven-pointed star and sculptures depicting the Seven different aspects of the godhead. Votive offerings and lit candles were placed at the bases of the statues of the Seven.
The Great Sept was built on top of a small chapel that existed long before Baelor. The High Sparrow preferred to work there instead of in the sept above it, calling the latter a "gilded monstrosity" and accusing Baelor of being vain.
The Great Sept was built above an underground chapel built long before King's Landing was raised. It also hosts the remains of past kings who are usually (unless they have a personal preference) buried here after they die, including Aerion Targaryen (who foolishly drank wildfire thinking it would turn him into a dragon).
When Eddard Stark agrees to falsely confess to the crimes of treason to ensure the safety of his children, Queen Regent Cersei Lannister decides to hold the confession on the steps of the Great Sept in front of a large crowd. However, rather than allow Eddard to take the black and join the Night's Watch as agreed, King Joffrey Baratheon rashly orders that Eddard be beheaded. This order is quickly carried out by the King's Justice, Ser Ilyn Payne, over the objections of Cersei and the King's other counselors. The High Septon and others regard this as blasphemy against the gods, as the shedding of blood is forbidden in and around the sept, but Joffrey is undeterred.
King Joffrey Baratheon visits the Great Sept along with Margaery Tyrell, Queen Cersei and Lady Olenna Tyrell, as part of the preparations for the royal wedding. Joffrey gleefully narrates to Margaery the circumstances of the deaths of the members of House Targaryen buried in the sept, while Cersei and Olenna discuss the seven hundred people the Great Sept can hold. Cersei also mentions that although most of the Targaryen kings and queens are buried in the Great Sept, Robert Baratheon's remains were returned to Storm's End as per his instructions. Tyrion Lannister and Sansa Stark are married at the Great Sept of Baelor.
The marriage ceremony of King Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell takes place at the Great Sept of Baelor. When Joffrey is poisoned at his own wedding feast, his funeral is held at the Great Sept.
After Tywin Lannister is assassinated by his son Tyrion, his funeral is held at the Great Sept of Baelor. Lords and ladies from all over the Seven Kingdoms line the steps and wait to pay their respects.
Following the death of his brother, the marriage ceremony of King Tommen Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell takes place at the Great Sept, to noticeably more cheer and rejoicing than Joffrey's.
King Tommen attempted to access the Great Sept of Baelor to discuss the release of his brother-in-law Loras Tyrell and Queen Margaery, who had recently been arrested by the Faith Militant. The Faith Militant blocked his path, at which point the Kingsguard offered to kill them. Balking at the thought of shedding blood on holy ground, and too timid to confront the militants otherwise, Tommen retreated to the Red Keep.
After Myrcella was poisoned by Ellaria Sand and is brought back to King's Landing, her funeral is held at the Great Sept. Jaime Lannister and his son King Tommen Baratheon stand over her body, with Tommen remarking that she has grown up.
Loras Tyrell's trial takes place in the Great Sept, where he confesses his crimes, begs the gods' forgiveness, and joins the Faith Militant in the presence of Mace and Margaery. Cersei's trial is supposed to be held next, but she is nowhere to be seen, nor is Tommen. Margaery correctly guesses that this is because Cersei has no intention of standing trial, that the Queen Mother has planned some treachery, and that everyone should leave the sept immediately. She was unaware, however, that Cersei has arranged to have the Mad King's cache of wildfire beneath the Great Sept detonated. The resulting explosion causes the sept to collapse from the inside and out and kills everyone inside, including Queen Margaery, her father and brother, and the High Sparrow. The shockwave also wipes out half the city surrounding the sept for a mile in all directions, killing hundreds more. One of the giant bells housed in the sept is seen flying out into the city, crashing in a square some distance from its origin. The sept's remains are still burning when Jaime Lannister and Bronn return from the Riverlands, with the sky polluted with black smoke.
Hot Pie remarks to Arya that one of Cersei's cruelest acts was the destruction of the sept. Whilst he is in disbelief that anyone could commit such a horrid act, Arya remarks with dark certainty that it is something Cersei would do and has done.
Cersei later claims to Tycho Nestoris that the sept's destruction was a tragic accident (presumably the Crown's official position on the disaster is the wildfire stored there by the Mad King spontaneously detonated) after he commends her for doing away with the Faith Militant and other "elements who sought to subvert the rule of law".
While reading through High Septon Maynard's writing, Gilly asks Sam how many windows are in the Great Sept, to which the irritated Sam replies "None anymore", indicating news of the sept's destruction have reached Oldtown and the Citadel.
The ruins of either the sept or the Dragonpit are seen in the background, as Cersei observes the Battle of King's Landing from the Red Keep.
Behind the scenes
Early concept art for the Great Sept looks very different from the final version. Instead of a large but more or less traditional-looking medieval cathedral, it consists of seven huge spokes leaning in against each other, somewhat like the real-life Cathedral of Brasília in Brazil. Another different design was also used in the "Complete Guide to Westeros" animated featurettes from the Season 1 Blu-ray set. Within the TV series itself, the odd spoke-like design can be briefly glimpsed in a few establishing wide-shots of the entire city (specifically, the opening of the first King's Landing scene in the first episode, "Winter is Coming") - but in these few cases, it was always in the background, small and out of focus.
While the Great Sept of Baelor was mentioned since Season 1, its inner and outer designs did not prominently appear until Season 3, when the entire structure was given a full introduction in "And Now His Watch Is Ended". Even when Ned Stark is executed on the steps of the Great Sept in Season 1, the scene is filmed in such a way that there is no establishing wide-shot of the entire building. The design was still in flux until early Season 3.
In a minor inconsistency, Cersei tells Olenna that the main sanctuary (presumably the room with the statues of the Seven they are standing in at the time) can comfortably seat 700 people. Yet during every wedding seen to take place in the same room, not only are there clearly fewer than 700 people, but everyone present remains standing for the duration of the ceremony, before adjourning back to the Red Keep for the wedding feast. Cersei may have been referring to a different space, or the details of wedding ceremonies weren't yet finalized by the time the script was written. A great many more people were seen to crowd into the sanctuary during Loras's trial, so another possibility is that the guest list was shorter than the room's capacity.
The large hole in the dome of the roof of the main sanctum is known as an Oculus, like the one in the roof of the Pantheon in Rome. Oculi by definition are open to the sky, so rain or snow will enter the building through them. Usually, buildings that utilize oculi are so tall that light rain and snow will evaporate long before they hit the floor although a drain should be used in the event of heavy rain.
The demo video by visual effects company Rodeo FX revealed that while most of the Great Sept's interior is a fully realized set, the giant statues of the Seven are digital creations added in during post-production. The pedestals for each of the statues are real, and taller than the actors, while the statues on top of them (which are usually out of frame) are CGI creations.
In the books
In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Great Sept of Baelor is located atop Visenya's Hill in King's Landing. It consists of the traditional seven-sided structure, albeit on a huge scale, with seven slender towers topped by crystals rising from it. There is a grand square in front of the Sept, from where the High Septon can address the masses.
Before the invasion of Aegon the Conqueror, the center of the Faith in Westeros was the Starry Sept of Oldtown. When Aegon's army advanced towards Oldtown after his great victory on the Field of Fire, the High Septon advised Lord Hightower to surrender the city and swear fealty. The High Septon had received a vision from the Seven advising him to bless Aegon's cause. Aegon, his family, and his followers converted to the Faith, burning the idols of the old gods of Valyria, but refused to give up the ancient Valyrian practices of polygamy and incest. When Aegon died and the throne passed to his son, born of incest, the Faith launched a bloody uprising against him which was eventually crushed.
Relations between House Targaryen and the Faith greatly improved over a century later, when King Baelor I Targaryen ascended the throne. Septon and king, Baelor was holy and devout and ordered the building of a huge sept in King's Landing for the glory of the Seven. The building, completed after Baelor's death, was named in his honor. Thus by the time of the War of the Five Kings, the Great Sept of Baelor has only been the seat of the High Septons for about a century and a half - though it is much more grand and vast than their previous seat at the Starry Sept.
In the TV series, the High Sparrow prays at a humble altar in the underground levels of the Great Sept and explains that it is what is left of a humbler sept that the Great Sept of Baelor was later built over (which he regards as a display of pride and opulence). The novels haven't specifically mentioned such a location in the underground levels, but the Great Sept was indeed built over a humbler, earlier sept on Visenya's Hill. Certainly, King's Landing must have had some other sept or septs to serve its population in the century and a half after its creation before the Great Sept of Baelor was constructed. According to The World of Ice and Fire, the original boomtown that grew up around the Targaryen army camp at the mouth of the Blackwater was served by a cog moored on the riverbank and converted into a sept. As the city was constructed, the High Septon sent Aegon I funds to construct a sept on Visenya's Hill to serve the people of the new city. After Rhaenys died in Dorne the Sept of Remembrance was built on Rhaenys's Hill, but within three decades it was destroyed by King Maegor, and the Dragonpit was built over its ruins. If the original sept on Visenya's Hill had a name of its own it hasn't been mentioned.
According to the tradition of the Seven and the laws of the city, blood is not allowed to be spilled on the site of the Great Sept. Joffrey's execution of Eddard on the steps breaks this law and custom, to the distress of the High Septon. Tensions between the Crown and the Faith remain high long after the execution, mainly due to the outrage of the faithful who believed Stark's execution profaned the sept. The series does not discuss this particular detail but, but it is likely still true, as Tommen balks at the idea of his Kingsguard battling and potentially killing the Faith Militant on the stairs of the Sept.
According to the TV series official pronunciation guide developed for the cast and crew, "Baelor" is pronounced "BAY-lor".
- "And Now His Watch Is Ended"
- "The Gift"
- "Fire and Blood"
- "Second Sons (episode)"
- "The Lion and the Rose"
- "Breaker of Chains"
- "The Wars To Come"
- "High Sparrow (episode)"
- "Sons of the Harpy (episode)"
- "The Winds of Winter"
- "The Queen's Justice"
- Roberts, Josh (March 26, 2012). 'Game of Thrones' in the Real World: See Where the HBO Hit Was Filmed SmarterTravel.com.
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Great Sept of Baelor · Starry Sept
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