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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Boy was this great! I took this course through Great Courses plus. This is just a fantastic program. Professor Cook is a compelling and incredibly knowledgable lecturer, and the graphics and pictures are amazing! Not to be a spoiler, but "I was moved when I was 17, and I am moved now." Just remarkable. It would be interesting to revisit Notre Dame of Paris after the fire.
Date published: 2020-05-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Educational, after traveling Europe for years it added a lots.
Date published: 2020-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Can't wait for the next lecture! Saw this course several yrs ago when our library acquired it. Checked it out again recently and decided I need this for myself. Prof.Cooks passion for the topic is amazing and inspiring.I've got to go to France and visit these cathederals.
Date published: 2020-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Top-Notch Professor and Great Use of Photography The professor is clearly in love with his subject, and his organization and delivery of the course material is superb. I have not seen a better use of photographs and graphics in a Teaching Company course. Overall an A+.
Date published: 2020-02-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The presentation Just a quick mention of William Cook’s Teaching method. He has a podium and uses it to keep notes and track of his place in the lecture. I like that he is not wondering around on that rug that is part of so many presentations of the great courses. Those teachers look so beleaguered trying to keep track of the instructions that tell them when to turn to the other side of the rug. Then they need to find their place in the teleprompter. That is all so fake. Dr Cook, in contrast, is very animated and steps beyond the podium to gesticulate and emphasize but returns to it. It grounds him and looks like a real class lecture. He is so interesting and does not distract from what he is saying by getting lost on the rug. Also, not to neglect the content, great detail and great visual aids. I love the way he appears in a little window while the subject, usually a building or drawing of the structural elements of a building, appear in a larger window. Why do not the other teachers do more of that. This class is just so good, everyone interested in architecture and engineering should give it a try.
Date published: 2020-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The instructor really knows his cathedrals! The course is very detailed and explaining showing and demonstrating all of the features of the various Gothic cathedrals. I had expected more coverage of how they were constructed and by who, than was afforded in the course.
Date published: 2019-11-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome but Accessible Have you ever had a friend or acquaintance who went on a tour of Europe and came back saying how great it was, but adding that the parade of churches eventually grew tiresome? “If you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all” seems to be the common refrain. Professor William Cook vehemently disagrees, and by the end of this course, you will, too. Although called simply “The Cathedral,” this course mainly focuses on the sort of building many of us think of when we hear that word: Gothic cathedrals. The course does begin with a glance at precursors to Gothic architecture, and concludes with a brief mention of 21st-century Gothic architecture, but the majority of it is concerned with French medieval cathedrals in the Gothic style. It’s a subject Prof. Cook addresses with gusto, a clear object of passion for him. His discussions cover everything from the earliest Gothic at Saint-Denis (ironically, not a cathedral), to Reims, Amiens, and more, including a sweeping, three-lecture-long look at the tremendous cathedral of Chartres. These lectures cover not just the history of specific buildings, but where they stand in the Gothic style, including the development of vaulting, arches, columns, sculptural programs both exterior and interior, and of course the magnificent stained glass that so many of us associate with Gothic cathedrals. Far from mind-numbing minutiae or inane trivia, these architectural and artistic details turn out to be the pulsing lifeblood of the Gothic tradition, and learning to pay attention to them is what transforms a visit to one of these churches from a single, wow-that’s-big moment of shock to a dynamic, rewarding, and even spiritually fulfilling encounter with the minds and work of ages past. This course is rife with photographs that help illustrate the concepts and buildings Prof. Cook is talking about. The camera occasionally sweeps around computer-rendered models of some of the churches, an idea that’s intriguing but ultimately doesn’t amount to much, serving more often as a fancy transition than a real aid to understanding. Prof. Cook himself is, as I mentioned, clearly very passionate about this subject. Yes, he does have a habit of slightly raising his voice: to me, he sounds like a professor who’s used to addressing a plenary room full of students, and imagining myself in a big classroom listening to him speak to a crowd made it feel a bit more natural. In any event, it bothered me for maybe the first two minutes of the first lecture, after which I rarely thought about it again. It is absolutely not a reason to avoid this superlative course. Not only is he engaged, Prof. Cook is engaging, obviously accustomed to introducing this subject to neophyte audiences. He starts with the basics of both the architecture and the history and, as one must with a church, builds up. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know your apse from a hole in the ground: Prof. Cook will give you everything you need to appreciate these great buildings. Although cathedrals of the non-French world unfortunately get somewhat short shrift, by Prof. Cook’s own admission, this is deliberate. By examining a few places in detail, he equips you with the ability to look thoughtfully at any other Gothic structure you might encounter. And by the time you’re done with this course, you’ll want to encounter them. In fact, the only real negative I could mention about this course is that the price might be higher than it appears – because there’s a pretty good chance it’ll inspire you to grab a ticket to Europe and go see some of these churches! And even if you did that, it would still be worth every penny. ~
Date published: 2019-11-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Cathedral This excellent course answers many questions on the evolution of gothic design. As a lay student of architecture, the course is a must have in understanding this evolution and the amount of information that we still don't know. Professor William Cook presented this material with wonder and enthusiasm making the student wanting more at each lecture. His 1st hand observations were as if I was there looking at it the particular detail with him. An outstanding delivery of the material. To get the most from the material, I recommend the video course as there are many photos and graphics enhancing the course. I look forward to someday visiting these wonderful works and before I leave my home, I will be referring back to this course to get the most from my visit.
Date published: 2019-10-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Cathedral I am really enjoying this course as I had previously bought World's Greatest Churches with Professor Cook and he is very interesting and easy to watch and listen to.The only complaint I have is this course was packaged in Mexico it said on the box of dvds and all the dvds were crammed in one case. Luckily none were damaged but I thought that was poor packaging.That was the first time I had encountered that. All the other courses I bought were in cases with slots for each dvd.Anyway I would definitely recommend this course for armchair travelers like me.
Date published: 2019-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Glad I chose this course I haven't finished the course yet, but I am very pleased with what I have seen so far. The professor is extremely knowledgeable and detailed in his presentation, and the visuals are excellent. I was especially drawn to the lecture on Notre Dame in view of the recent fire.
Date published: 2019-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Adventure in Wonder This course was far more beautiful and informative than I anticipated! I deeply appreciated not only the in-depth knowledge of Professor Cook, but also the manner and content of his lectures. The abundant photographs, videos, and incredible graphics all gave visual evidence of the incredible architecture and skill of those who constructed and decorated these marvelous buildings. I was raised Roman Catholic in the '40s and '50s, and the cathedral in my hometown is in the "hall Gothic" style that is apparently typical for Catholic and Episcopal cathedrals in the Americas. As a young man, I had the privilege of touring some of the churches discussed in this course, including Notre Dame in Paris, Notre Dame in Chartres, and Westminster Abbey in London and, although I marveled at their size and intricate sculptures and carvings, I did not understand the "depth" of what I had the privilege to visit. Dr. Cook's course conveys a welter of different but intertwined areas of knowledge: some of the essential beliefs and practices of the Christians at the time these churches were built, for instance, but also the evolution of cathedrals from the basilica structures modeling the civic buildings of ancient Rome, to the Romanesque and then to several periods of Gothic. I learned how Gothic architecture began -- a development from, rather than a rejection of, Romanesque -- and also how it varied within and between countries. It was also fun to see how its architecture moved from the necessity of function -- how to most successfully up hold up very heavy roofs of stone of stone, which is how the invention of flying buttresses came about -- to the more fanciful and even whimsical creations of late Gothic in which pillars and arches combined function with beauty. This was one of the most informative and enjoyable of the more than 120 courses I have enjoyed from the Teaching Company. Even if one is not a Christian, but is nonetheless interested in architecture or just wanting to know more about these most "Middle Age representative" structures, I think you will enjoy this course and come away with renewed admiration for the skills, work, and beliefs of our ancestors in faith. Well done!
Date published: 2019-08-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating material, engaging professor I'm still watching these lectures, but I already know I will watch them over again. The material is beautifully illustrated and the professor seems to speak directly to you, only occasionally glancing at his notes. You feel like you are actually in a class with this professor.
Date published: 2019-08-02
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Misleading title: mainly gothic in France I found the course disappointing. The title does not reflect the course material. I was expecting an introduction of Cathedrals of the world, but the course mostly covers medieval gothic cathedrals in France. How about other architectural styles, e.g. Roman, Byzantine, Renaissance, Baroque, Victorian, etc., and the vast number of Cathedrals in other countries, such as Italy and Spain? It is like a course with a title, Economics, but only covers the economics in France from 15th-18th century. Why don't just use a title, Gothic Cathedrals in France, intead?
Date published: 2019-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting Great blending of photographs with CGI. Professor Cook is very dynamic and not only knowledgeable of architechure by but of Catholic theology.
Date published: 2019-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exactly what I wanted One of the best on-line courses I've taken. Clear lectures with excellent examples and graphics. The flow is perfect, that is, specific topics with excellent compare-and-contrast examples. I experienced many Aha moments. After this course, I feel ready to explore and identify European gothic architecture.
Date published: 2019-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Super I have seen many of the cathedral that Professor Cook talks about, but wish that I had taken his course before I went. Not only is Professor Cook very knowledgeable, but the pictures and visuals are outstanding
Date published: 2019-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I had looked at this before and decided to purchase a copy because of the portion on Notre Dame. Visited Notre Dame several times and want to be able to remember how it looked before the fire.
Date published: 2019-06-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good lectures I just returned from Europe and on this trip I visited the 5 main Cathedrals that are talked about in this series of lectures. I have also visited at least 8 other cathedrals in other visits. Unfortunately after Nov1 until spring all of these cathedrals only offer lectures in French so this course covered things that I was unsure of the significance of until I watched it. The crypts under the cathedrals were also Closed during the winter. The professor is knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the subject but he does repeat him self in several of the lectures I would imagine to emphasize a certain point. He also glosses over the wide spread destruction of the cathedral interiors by the revolutionaries and by later groups such as during the commune period in Paris 1872 and by the lack of restoration work done by the French until recently. Other than those minor point the lectures a well done and the visual aids were really helpful in understanding his lectures. The course is well worth the money
Date published: 2019-05-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A good history of the cathedral This course provides a good history of the cathedral from its beginnings to the gothic style. As a lover of cathedrals, I found it interesting. It was fun when I visited England after viewing the series to see many of the styles that were discussed (however, the course is mostly focused on mainland Europe and France, in particular). If you enjoy history, architecture, or churches in general, you will probably like this course.
Date published: 2019-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and informative I have enjoyed the way the professor presents the material. The combination of photos and some computer generated, 3D graphics makes the various cathedrals easy to visualize.
Date published: 2019-03-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fine survey I bought this about a decade ago. It was great. I highly recommend it. They had a title on evolution by an amateur and it got nasty when I complained about it. I sent it back for a refund. By the way, I am a professional evolutionary biologist. I just happen to like cathedrals too.
Date published: 2019-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Clear I have had this series for a month and I find the integration of history, architecture and church culture presented in a thorough story. The photos enhance the presentation an since they are the passenger's own photos he brings them alive in a way that engages the audience. It is the fifth topic I have purchased and I have not been disappointed.
Date published: 2019-01-14
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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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