The Cathedral

Rated 4 out of 5 by from more to come I have not finished the whole course... so far so good.
Date published: 2020-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from From pagan temples to the great cathedrals... I can’t tell you how much my husband and I learned about Gothic architecture around the world from this course. Since we had recently finished a course on Italy, this was a perfect follow up. The Great Courses Plus is getting us through the time of this novel coronavirus.
Date published: 2020-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Knowledgeable but occasionally dry Professor Cook is clearly enthusiastic about his subject. He dealt effectively with the genesis of the gothic cathedral and I learnt a lot, but he tended to dwell over long on French Cathedrals when there are many more that would have benefitted from his attention. Three lectures on Chartres alone, whilst Canterbury, Salisbury, Wells and Lincoln were crammed into a single lecture. You might have guessed that I am English, but nonetheless I feel it was slightly unbalanced. In spite of this quibble, it was a largely engaging, and consistently informative course.
Date published: 2020-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Program My husband and I are extremely pleased with the program. We find the instructor to be informative and entertaining. We have both been interested in cathedrals since our visit to France several years ago. The instructor’s explanations and descriptions are very detailed and only enhance our desire to return the Europe to visit all the cathedrals.
Date published: 2020-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Visuals A very enjoyable and well presented course. Professor Cook was enthusiastic about the subject and provided wonderful pictures of many different cathedrals. This course compares very favorably with a PBS show on English cathedrals.
Date published: 2020-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Catheral We've visited many catherdrals in Europe over the years. I thought I knew a fair amount about catherdrals. Professor Cook goes into great detail on the history of catherdrals. He has a passion and decades of knowledge. I would highly recommend it.
Date published: 2020-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course This course is excellent! Professor Cook is always entertaining and informative. I love the way he explains the symbolism in the cathedrals. This is the third time I've bought this course. It makes a good gift for anyone interested in Gothic cathedrals and architecture. Equally informative and interesting is another course by Professor Cook entitled The World's Greatest Churches. I've found that a person can't go wrong when they purchase a course by Professor Cook!
Date published: 2020-06-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Cathedral I enjoyed this course. The speaker was very enthusiastic about his subject, and his photographs were beautiful. Professor Cook has clearly spent a lot of time in France, and loves that country. At times, Professor Cook delivered his talks at a fast pace, and did not give enough time for me to fully enjoy these amazing buildings, many of which I have visited personally. Although I appreciate that this type of architecture originated and developed in France, I felt that professor Cook spent far too much time on France, giving 2 - 3 lectures to individual cathedrals. After 18 lectures I felt that he was describing the same features in each of the buildings. It was only on the 19th lecture of 24 that he introduced cathedrals outside France, so variations from the classical Romanesque or Gothic in France were rushed and superficially covered, almost as if they were an addendum to make up the remaining lectures. This was a big disappointment for me, as cathedrals elsewhere in Europe, and even in the New World were given very little time, and I felt that he had missed so many, although I do understand that it is a vast subject, and inevitably cannot be covered in so short a time. Having said all this, I learned a lot from this course, and it has enabled me to view cathedrals in a new light, and pick out details that I have previously missed on my travels.
Date published: 2020-05-30
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The Cathedral
Course Trailer
What Is a Cathedral?
1: What Is a Cathedral?

Start your tour of great Gothic cathedrals with this introductory lecture. Discover the important role these buildings play in both spirituality and society, and learn how their origins lie in the 1st century A.D. with the emergence of the office of the bishop, whose throne is known as a "cathedra."

32 min
Early Christian Architecture
2: Early Christian Architecture

Go back to the 4th century A.D, when Christians first began to erect large buildings for public worship. Taking you to the dawn of the 11th century, Professor Cook leads you through the most important examples of surviving ecclesiastical buildings from this period, including Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome and the Hagia Sophia in modern-day Istanbul.

31 min
Romanesque-A New Monumental Style
3: Romanesque-A New Monumental Style

By 1100, many churches in western Europe were built using a range of local styles, all of which in some manner hearkened back to classical Roman forms. Here, explore the development of the Romanesque style and survey impressive examples of Romanesque cathedrals in France, Germany, Italy, and England....

30 min
Vaulting - A Look at Roofs
4: Vaulting - A Look at Roofs

What's the best way to build a church's ceiling? This lecture takes you through the evolution of church roofs—from flat wood ceilings to stone barrel vaults to magnificent ribbed vaulting. Without these developments, you'll discover, there could have been no Gothic cathedrals.

31 min
Romanesque at Its Best
5: Romanesque at Its Best

Sainte Foy in Conques. Saint Mary Magdalene in Vézelay. Saint-Lazare at Autun. Focus on these three French churches as definitive examples of Romanesque style and decoration. In particular, investigate how sculptural masterpieces on columns and over entrances rendered biblical stories into simple, visually arresting messages to instruct the faithful.

30 min
Saint-Denis and the Beginning of Gothic Style
6: Saint-Denis and the Beginning of Gothic Style

Scholars agree that the first Gothic building in history is the Abbey Church of Saint-Denis, located outside of Paris. After learning about this building's role in French history, tour the building's facade and interior, noting in particular the ribbed and pointed vaults, large stained glass windows, and extraordinary infusion of sunlight.

30 min
The Urban Context of Cathedrals
7: The Urban Context of Cathedrals

Place the power of cathedrals in a more urban context as you explore the factors that led to the widespread reemergence of cities as the religious centers of Europe. Then, take a brief look at three "experimental" Gothic cathedrals in northern France: Sens, Senlis, and Noyon.

31 min
Notre Dame in Paris
8: Notre Dame in Paris

In the first of two lectures on early Gothic cathedrals, focus on perhaps the most famous cathedral in the world: Notre Dame in Paris. Gain new insights into how this magnificent building was created and learn the importance of features from its justly famous facade to its dramatic flying buttresses.

30 min
Early Gothic Style-Laon
9: Early Gothic Style-Laon

Located in a much smaller town, the Cathedral of Laon is a quite different Gothic experiment than Notre Dame-but just as fascinating. Learn what's so unusual about the style, substance, and placement of the three arches on its facade, the statues of oxen on top of its towers, and more.

30 min
Chartres-The Building
10: Chartres-The Building

Notre Dame de Chartres is perhaps the most influential Gothic cathedral-so influential that Professor Cook devotes three lectures to exploring it. In the first, focus on the building itself, including its systematic use of flying buttresses, groundbreaking three-layered elevation, and rich interplay between verticals and horizontals....

30 min
Chartres-The Sculpture
11: Chartres-The Sculpture

Continue your virtual tour of Notre Dame de Chartres with a closer look at the cathedral's three porches, whose sculpted portals contain the largest collection of statuary of any Gothic cathedral. With their precise details, hidden narratives, and coordinating themes, these sculptures teach, inspire, and even evoke fear.

31 min
Chartres-The Windows
12: Chartres-The Windows

Professor Cook concludes his in-depth look at Chartres with a handsomely illustrated lecture on its famous stained glass windows, as well as a description of how these brilliant works of art are created. Of the 175 glass windows in the cathedral, about 150 of them contain their original medieval glass.

31 min
Amiens-The Limits of Height
13: Amiens-The Limits of Height

Enormous. Soaring. Awe-inspiring. Find out why the Cathedral of Amiens-Professor Cook's favorite cathedral-deserves these and other titles by surveying the structure of the building and its dizzying heights. It's a chance to find out why Amiens takes visitors to the limits of what a Gothic building can do.

30 min
Amiens-The Facade
14: Amiens-The Facade

The front of the Cathedral of Amiens is the single greatest sculptural display in all of Gothic decoration. Here, make sense of the complexities and details of the cathedral's facade by approaching its larger-than-life sculptures from the point of view of the 13th-century people for whom they were built.

30 min
Reims-The Royal Cathedral
15: Reims-The Royal Cathedral

Another of France's most beautiful-and important-cathedrals is located in the city of Reims. Survey the building's long and dramatic history, from the time of Joan of Arc to the bombardments of World War I, and look closely at examples from its statues, spires, and stained glass windows.

31 min
Cathedrals-Who Builds? Who Pays? How Long?
16: Cathedrals-Who Builds? Who Pays? How Long?

You've witnessed the majesty of some of Europe's great cathedrals. But how on earth were they actually built? This lecture separates myth from reality, using models, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows, and other sources to reveal the technical process of creating impressive buildings that would inspire millions.

31 min
New Developments in Gothic France
17: New Developments in Gothic France

Using the abbey of Saint-Denis; the cathedrals at Bourges, Troyes, and Beauvais; and the chapel of Saint Chapelle as case studies, examine the progression in the Gothic style that took place during the late 13th century. Among these are advanced buttressing systems, even higher vaults, and the addition of still more windows.

31 min
Late Gothic Churches in France
18: Late Gothic Churches in France

Witness the evolution of Gothic architecture in the 14th, 15th, and early 16th centuries. Looking closely at a series of French cathedrals, abbeys, and churches, you'll find powerful examples of the flamboyant style, including more elegant stone tracery and glass windows that are more painted than stained.

31 min
Early Gothic Architecture in England
19: Early Gothic Architecture in England

Cross the English Channel into England, where you tour four classic examples of the country's Gothic style: the cathedrals at Canterbury, Salisbury, Wells, and Lincoln. In addition, investigate the major and subtle differences between these and the French cathedrals you looked at in earlier lectures.

31 min
Decorated and Perpendicular English Gothic
20: Decorated and Perpendicular English Gothic

Continue your virtual travels through England, this time paying particular attention to specific cathedrals, abbeys, and chapels that feature developments unique to the English Gothic style. Highlights of this lecture include Westminster Abbey, Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, and Ely Cathedral.

31 min
Gothic Churches in the Holy Roman Empire
21: Gothic Churches in the Holy Roman Empire

Venture into the former territory of the Holy Roman Empire in this highlight of the most famous Gothic cathedrals from this part of Europe. Here, study the Gothic cathedrals of Strasbourg, Cologne, and Prague, as well as the exuberance of Kutná Hora's cathedral in the Czech Republic.

31 min
Gothic Churches in Italy
22: Gothic Churches in Italy

While the term "Gothic" is rarely used in an Italian context, Professor Cook pinpoints both traditional and unique Gothic elements present in the cathedrals of Siena and Orvieto, as well as in the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi. He also guides you through other buildings, including the most Gothic cathedral in Italy, Milan Cathedral.

32 min
Gothic Styles in Iberia and the New World
23: Gothic Styles in Iberia and the New World

Turn west to the Gothic cathedrals of Spain, many of which exhibit a unique mixture of Roman, Muslim, French, and German influences. Then, go across the ocean to see how Spanish churches developed in the New World, including a visit to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, the oldest cathedral in the Americas.

31 min
Gothic Architecture in Today's World
24: Gothic Architecture in Today's World

With the spread of Renaissance ideas and styles, Gothic architecture eventually subsided, only to experience a vibrant revival in the 19th and 20th centuries. In this concluding lecture, sample neo-Gothic churches in countries like Ecuador, China, South Africa, and the United States.

33 min
William R. Cook

In some ways, being detached from the world allows you also to be united with the world.


Cornell University


State University of New York, Geneseo

About William R. Cook

Dr. William R. Cook is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1970. He earned his bachelor's degree cum laude from Wabash College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa there. He was then awarded Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Lehman fellowships to study medieval history at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor Cook teaches courses in ancient and medieval history, the Renaissance and Reformation periods, and the Bible and Christian thought. Since 1983 Professor Cook has directed 11 Seminars for School Teachers for the National Endowment for the Humanities. His books include Images of St. Francis of Assisi and Francis of Assisi: The Way of Poverty and Humility. Dr. Cook contributed to the Cambridge Companion to Giotto and edits and contributes to The Art of the Franciscan Order in Italy. Among his many awards, Professor Cook has received the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 1992 the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education named him New York State's Professor of the Year. In 2003 he received the first-ever CARA Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Medieval Studies from the Medieval Academy of America.

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