The World's Greatest Churches

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Jam-packed With Fascinating Information Dr. Cook is so enthusiastic about sharing his love of his subject that he makes you want to watch the entire set of episodes in one sitting. He is knowledgeable, energetic, and he clearly wants to impart his knowledge to those of us who want to take the journey with him. I'm saddened to read that some people think he's obnoxious. I would have loved to have had a professor like him when I was in school. I never even knew of the churches in Romania or Armenia before, and what a rich history they have. If you have the slightest interest in this subject, you will be so glad you signed up for this course.
Date published: 2021-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from SOME of the World's Greatest Churches Of course, I'm the one to blame. TGC allows prospective buyers of courses to see beyond the title and to know what each of the lessons will be. I should have seen that this course is not really about the world's greatest courses. It's about some of the world's greatest courses plus many of the professor's favorite churches that he has chosen to show the diversity of churches across the globe. A proper title might have been: My Favorite Churches, or the Diversity of Church Experience Across the Globe, or some such. Why am I making a big deal of this? I think it's because I was expecting and wanting to see a full dose of the truly great churches, including many more in Europe - churches that by virtue of their history, art, architecture, and the like qualify under objective criteria as the great churches of the world. Make no mistake - the professor picked 16 or so of these churches, and for that, I'm grateful. He just fell away from standard for a dozen or so to get the geographic and cultural spread he wanted. Fine. Some may have wanted that, and that's fine, too. But, as I said above, the course should've had a title that more accurately and honestly fit the course. I'm rating the course 4 stars because when the professor got to the business of describing and visually demonstrating the finest aspects of the great churches, there was very good value here. A few nits: the professor 1) uses the word, "extraordinary," so many times, it begins to connote, "ordinary," 2) relies too much on his feelings about beauty and less on real aesthetic standards that are available in the academy, and 3) uses a few too many of his own snapshots while traveling that are of lesser quality. Nevertheless, though critical in these ways, I would still recommend the course.
Date published: 2021-02-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful content Probably the most enthusiastic professor of any course I've seen here. Not only did he travel the world to personally visit every church on the list in preparation of the course but he took thousands of photographs and spoke to locals all to get the fullest knowledge he could about each church. Then he presented as much as he could in 24 half hour lectures. It's clear that he could have gone on for many more lectures, and I'm sure he would have loved to. I can't imagine anyone else giving such a well-rounded and informative presentation on great Christian churches throughout the world.
Date published: 2020-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Breathtaking It expands your horizons by understanding a different time when great churches were a central part of society. It also exposes what was going on politically at the time of construction and how powerful and rich the christian churches were then. I have seen two of these churches and the architecture takes your breath away. This way you can experience the best of the best.
Date published: 2020-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is easily one of the best courses I have followed. The professor is very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and a good communicator. The pictures and illustrations are mostly his, and that is a welcome aspects. Some negative comments I read mention that he does not talk enough about structure, architecture and that he uses too many adjectives like nice, fabulous, excellent etc too often. Honestly, despite all these supposed shortcomings, I thoroughly enjoyed the course and I highly recommend it.
Date published: 2020-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Magnificent! This course is remarkable. Dr. Cook presented ideas superbly. He is an impressive scholar. I have never learned so much about churches and Christianity as happened here. He evidently traveled extensively to research the course and then delivered the content in ways that resonated with me. The lectures were so intriguing that their time flew by!
Date published: 2020-09-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Worlds Greatest Churches This Could Be Called Worlds Most Esoteric Churches. Some Of The Professors Selections Were A Little Of The Beaten Path But Interesting Never The Less.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Visually enthralling! Love the historical and cultural information that fills out the pictures
Date published: 2020-07-05
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The World's Greatest Churches
Course Trailer
The Earliest Churches
1: The Earliest Churches

In visiting this iconic church of the Holy Land, trace the history of the building and of the medieval reconstruction we see today. Study the church's unusual structure, incorporating the "aedicule" believed to be the site of Jesus's burial and resurrection, as well as individual chapels reflecting events of the passion of Christ....

35 min
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
2: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Begin by considering what defines a church, encompassing both its religious uses and its functions as a place of assembly. Learn how the first churches came into being, based architecturally on the secular pagan "basilica." Study some of the best surviving basilica-type churches in Italy, noting their structural features and their remarkable mosaic decoration.

31 min
Hagia Sophia
3: Hagia Sophia

Learn about the dramatic past of this jewel of Constantinople, which served as a church for 1,000 years before becoming a mosque. Discover one of the world's most extraordinary architectural spaces, highlighting its awe-inspiring dome and grand interiors. Also linger over its superlative mosaics, carved columns, and decoration in colored marbles....

31 min
The Cave Churches of Cappadocia
4: The Cave Churches of Cappadocia

Here, ponder the highly unusual churches of Turkish Cappadocia, elaborately carved into the sides of mountains within a mysterious and otherworldly landscape. Glimpse the lives of the monks and hermits who lived here, and study the churches' astonishing frescoes that richly illustrate biblical scenes and the life of Jesus....

30 min
Great Churches of Russia
5: Great Churches of Russia

Discover the extraordinary beauties of the churches of the Russian Orthodox tradition. Learn about the religious culture that inspired these structures, with their characteristic gilded domes and striking decoration of sculpture, frescoes, and tile work. Visit outstanding cathedrals in Vladimir, Suzdal, and Yaroslavl, as well as the Kremlin churches of Moscow....

31 min
The Painted Churches of Romania
6: The Painted Churches of Romania

The churches of Romanian Moldavia, unique in the world, are richly adorned with frescoes both inside and outside. Explore examples of the extraordinary exterior paintings, noting how narrative themes are consistent on north, west, east, and south-facing walls. Study the three-room church interiors, and the frescoes' remarkable range of religious themes....

32 min
The Churches of Armenia
7: The Churches of Armenia

This lecture takes you deeply into the Armenian artistic heritage of Christianity. In visits to a spectrum of beautiful churches and monasteries, encounter the rich detail and ornate elaboration of stone carving depicting religious iconography, as well as architectural traditions such as unusual vaulted domes and "khachkars" (free-standing stone monuments)....

31 min
The Churches of Georgia
8: The Churches of Georgia

Continue with the superlative decoration of the historic churches of Georgia. In Mtskheta, Santavro, and Ruisi, study exterior stone carvings evoking striking Christian imagery. Delve into the extraordinary theological vision and stunning frescoes of the Ateni Sioni church, the cathedral of Nikortsminda, and the World Heritage site of Gelati....

30 min
The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ethiopia
9: The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ethiopia

Visit the monolithic churches of Lalibela, each completely carved from a single piece of rock, creating the illusion of columns and vaulted ceilings. Study their mysterious architectural details and their interior artworks, rich with religious symbolism, and learn about Ethiopia's links to the Old and New Testaments....

32 min
The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba
10: The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

Contemplate the remarkable history of this hybrid religious structure, a medieval cathedral built entirely within a majestic former mosque. Explore the striking Islamic archways and scalloped dome, leading to the Renaissance/Gothic cathedral with its imposing vaulting, sumptuous decoration, and monumental wood-carved choir-a compelling and unforgettable juxtaposition of cultures....

30 min
The Stave Churches of Norway
11: The Stave Churches of Norway

Journey to the picturesque landscapes of rural Norway, which are home to a unique tradition of wooden churches dating from the 12th century. Study the complex, multi-tiered construction of the churches, featuring intricate carving, painted sculpture, and a strikingly beautiful blending of indigenous Norwegian decoration and medieval Christian art...

32 min
The Pilgrimage Church of Sainte-Foy
12: The Pilgrimage Church of Sainte-Foy

Walk in the shoes of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in this visit to the magnificent church at Conques. View the bejeweled reliquary of the martyred Sainte Foy, pause to appreciate soaring Romanesque vaulting and extraordinary carved capitals, and decipher the imagery of the superlative tympanum that vividly dramatizes the Last Judgment....

33 min
The Cathedral of Monreale
13: The Cathedral of Monreale

Uncover the cosmopolitan character of this beloved Sicilian cathedral that encompasses Muslim, Byzantine, French, Italian, and Jewish influences. Delve into the remarkable decoration of the great cloisters, 12th-century doors, and above all the cathedral's ceiling and sublime narrative mosaics, comprising one of the world's most beautiful church interiors....

32 min
Chartres Cathedral
14: Chartres Cathedral

This grand edifice is widely considered the most outstanding cathedral of the Gothic style. Look deeply into its huge and complex decorative scheme, highlighting the explosion of biblical sculpture on the façade and side porches, and the masterful stained-glass rose and lancet windows, a richly detailed view into medieval life and theology....

32 min
Winchester Cathedral
15: Winchester Cathedral

Winchester Cathedral stands as a virtual handbook of later medieval architecture, blending decorative elements of extraordinary beauty and rarity. In particular, study the breathtakingly ornate "fan" vaulting, uniquely important tombs, rare medieval frescoes and woodcarving, and the spectacular illuminated pages of the Winchester Bible....

32 min
The Cathedral of Siena
16: The Cathedral of Siena

Discover how Siena's wondrous cathedral, in its construction and decoration, reflects the civic pride and history of the Sienese. Explore masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque art, from the elaborate, inscribed marble floor and Duccio altarpiece to sculpture by Michelangelo and Bernini, and the phenomenal carved pulpit by Nicola Pisano....

32 min
St. Peter's Basilica
17: St. Peter's Basilica

Experience the splendor of the world's largest church and the seat of the papacy, among the most iconic creations of the Christian world. Trace the history of the complex as you take in the resplendent dome by Michelangelo and the Renaissance grandeur of statuary, monuments, papal tombs, and the grand baldacchino by Bernini....

32 min
The Wieskirche in Bavaria
18: The Wieskirche in Bavaria

This dazzling church in southern Germany embodies the joyful exuberance of the Rococo style. In studying its almost overwhelming decoration of florid ornamentation, lyrical paintings, and animated statuary, observe how the detailed symbolism of the artworks ingeniously expresses the church's themes of repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation....

32 min
La Compania and Las Lajas Sanctuary
19: La Compania and Las Lajas Sanctuary

In this first look at New World churches, visit the Spanish Baroque "La Compañía" in Quito, Ecuador. Study the elaborately sculpted façade, the stunning golden interior, and the profusion of sumptuous artworks. Also encounter the remarkable Las Lajas, a neo-Gothic pilgrimage church built to enclose a cave painting of the Virgin Mary....

31 min
Guadalupe and the Cathedral of Mexico City
20: Guadalupe and the Cathedral of Mexico City

Journey to one of the most important pilgrimage centers in the world, the Mexican shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, followed by Mexico City's great metropolitan Cathedral. At both sites, observe how the buildings' construction, art, and iconography vividly convey the mixture of Christian, indigenous, and Spanish cultures in the New World....

32 min
Four Great American Churches
21: Four Great American Churches

On our own soil, explore two classic churches of the New England tradition, whose characteristic features form part of the American landscape. Then observe how the elegant simplicity of a Quaker meeting house embodies Quaker values, and how the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. expresses both its Anglican roots and a distinctly American character....

31 min
La Sagrada Familia
22: La Sagrada Familia

This spellbinding creation by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí interprets the Gothic cathedral through Gaudí's visionary, modernist style. Study the striking sculpted decoration of the exterior portals, the dreamlike interior with its columns fashioned as stylized trees, and the powerful Christian iconography of this unique melding of the traditional and the radically new....

31 min
Iceland's Hallgrimskirkja
23: Iceland's Hallgrimskirkja

Discover how the dramatic exterior of this contemporary basilical church reflects the geological features of the Icelandic landscape. Investigate the themes of the church's decoration, as they express the Passion-centered character of Lutheranism, the stark beauty of Iceland, and a Christian spirituality based in simplicity and humble devotion....

31 min
Two Churches in Seoul, Korea
24: Two Churches in Seoul, Korea

In the final leg of your journey, grasp how Korean architect Kim Swoo Geun blended elements of Buddhist temples, modern Western architecture, universal church practices, and Korean Christian history to create beautiful and meaningful Christian spaces. Conclude with reflections on the diversity, cultural adaptations, and ultimate universality of the great buildings you've studied....

35 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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