The World's Greatest Churches

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Cook does an outstanding job bringing the details and background of "the world's greatest churches" to light. The visual aspects of the course are essential and beautifully illustrate the point of each lecture.
Date published: 2020-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Cook is so insightful and provides lots of insightful information. I have been to many of the churches and now need to go again with the information I have learned. I wish he could do a second course to present more churches. I also bought this as a gift for my mom and she equally enjoyed it.
Date published: 2020-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful art, mosaics, frescos, etc. Great explanations by an enthusiastic teacher. We are Catholic, so we enjoyed the respect shown the beliefs of the the church. For an open minded non-Catholic, the lectures would be informative.
Date published: 2020-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Survey The Greatest Churches is a wonderful course. It looks at Christian churches through the ages and throughout the world. Professor Cook looks at the architecture and art objects, but also focuses on how each church relates to the people and time of when it was built. One can argue with what “greatest churches” means. Perhaps a better title might be "A Survey of Christian Churches Throughout the Ages” or something similar. So how does Professor Cook do? • Knowledge and Presentation: A+ • Enthusiasm for Subject: A+ • Visuals and Animation: A+ If you liked his Cathedrals course you will also like this one. If you like this one don’t fail to check out the other.
Date published: 2020-05-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such enthusiasm! I opened the first lecture and was so drawn in that I listened to the first three back-to-back. While I find the topic interesting, Professor Cook is so enthusiastic that it is even more fascinating.
Date published: 2020-04-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome course Thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile, as I had hoped. Opportunity for worldwide armchair travel to places I'm not likely to be able to experience firsthand was what I expected at a very minimum. This was way more than that in terms of art, architecture, and history woven together in interesting ways. Obviously photos in the little study guide could not be expected to do justice to the slides, but even a simple list of churches covered in each video might have been nice. Minor detail, however. Next time I view some of these as a refresher I'll just take more notes! Dr. Cook did a fantastic job with this topic.
Date published: 2020-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Intriguing Survey What do you think of when you hear the word “church”? A towering Gothic cathedral? Perhaps an unassuming white building with a modest spire in an idyllic countryside setting? Or even a modern mega-church with amphitheater seating? All of those are fair pictures. But how about a cave in a mountainside? Or even a building hewn clear out of the rock? What about a place that’s a Christian church and a Muslim mosque at the same time? Professor William Cook examines all of these and more (well, except the mega-church) in his course “The World’s Greatest Churches.” It consists of twenty-four lectures, each profiling a different Christian church (or sometimes several) in a wide variety of denominations and in locations as varied as Jerusalem, France, Iceland, and Korea. The buildings come from across the span of Christian history as well, from some of the earliest basilicas to churches that have been built within the last fifty years, and even some on which construction is still ongoing! Just as in his other church-related course, “The Cathedral,” Prof. Cook’s enthusiasm for his subject is infectious. (In fact, he took most of the thousands of photographs used in the presentations himself, traveling around the world to get the best images to share.) He still tends to sound a bit like he’s shouting, and it still doesn’t bother me. One thing I will say in comparison with the other course (and it feels inevitable to compare the two) is that because The Cathedral was ultimately about just one type of building, it was naturally more focused, and I came away feeling I had a much better grasp of how to “read” and understand a building than I did before I started. If I had begun with Churches instead, I’m not sure I could say the same. Prof. Cook’s affection for small details remains a constant, but having only thirty minutes at most to spend discussing any given site means there isn’t always as much time to contextualize them. In fact, I often felt this course was at its best when it gestured beyond the architecture. Early on, Prof. Cook makes the point that “a church” is not just a building, but includes and indeed is constituted by the community that created that building and uses it for worship and sometimes for social or civic life. His most interesting remarks frequently had to do with the way a local culture had interpreted and represented specific parts of Christian doctrine (sometimes mingling them with local non-Christian beliefs), or with how the church related to, sprang from, or was used by the people who built it. This point seems somewhat muted in the first half(-ish) of the course, though it receives more attention in the final third. Despite my suggestion above that there’s a little less theoretical grounding here, I’m not saying the course is insufficient; just that it has other goals. You’ll almost certainly discover churches you’ve never heard of, and learn some surprising things about those you have. “The World’s Greatest Churches” offers a worthwhile lesson in the broad stream that is Christian art, architecture, and thought. ~
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worlds Greatest Churches Excellent course. Great presentation with many pictures
Date published: 2019-11-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An enjoyable lecturer This is the second series of Dr. Cook's lectures I have purchased. I enjoyed seeing churches from different cultures and countries. Dr. Cook provides good background to each location and respects the different expressions of faith. You can tell he really enjoys his topics.
Date published: 2019-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I very much enjoyed the professor. Dr Cook is knowledgable, enthusiastic and interesting. I have visited several of the churches in the course but didn't see nearly as much as he saw. I can tell he is a mainstream Christian but was impressed by his broad-minded outlook.
Date published: 2019-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing diverse architecture I'm only part way through this course. I've done a number of them before and so far this is easily my favorite BY FAR. I had done the professor's other course on the Gothic Cathedral and found his presentation clear, well delivered and most importantly dynamic. This course is extremely interesting because of the unbelievable diversity of the architecture ! It's really amazing.
Date published: 2019-06-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great entertainment and education I bought this course having watched the Cathedrals course ans enjoyed it. Cook's depth of knowledge and his enthusiastic presentation is very engaging and the graphics and photography are beautiful. As well as being educative this is a thoroughly entertaining experience and recommended to all ages and all levels of learning.
Date published: 2019-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding This was an excellent video course, and I thoroughly enjoyed every lecture. The professor is a compelling speaker, has expert knowledge, and provides outstanding photographic documentation of the churches. Apparently he is also an accomplished photographer, because many of the pictures he took himself. In my opinion, he has an excellent, relazed presentation style that is conversational in nature. He is fun to listen to, his photographs are excellent, and I really liked everyting about the course.
Date published: 2019-03-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful The lecturer was really engaged in the subject. Especially enjoyed the lessons on Armenia and Georgia.
Date published: 2019-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding video You must view the appropriate lectures before you visit any of the churches described in this course. The photos are spectacular along with the explanation of each one. For the non-traveler, this course is a great substitute for actually being at the sites. In fact, I have visited some of these churches and now wish I had seen the lecture on those churches prior to my visits. I would have appreciated what I was seeing much more.
Date published: 2019-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's a great course on the structures of churches I thoroughly enjoyed this course as it enabled me to see and explore churches that I wouldn't have otherwise never knew existed and I enjoyed the simple chimney style churches as well as the cathedrals... I just wish it could have been a long series or at the very least have two parts.
Date published: 2019-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great summary of some great churches The professor provides an enthusiastic look at numerous old churches. He concentrates on the Gothic style, while including great old structures, could have been expanded to more on other styles, including some more modern. The professor is quite animated which adds to the enjoyment of the presentations. The series uses the older Great Courses technique of a lectern rather than teleprompter, which also adds to the natural feeling of the lectures.
Date published: 2018-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great material and photos This has fascinating material and such a great variety of churches! Love the photos and the architectural and historical discussion as well as learning the liturgical names of places and features. I look forward to each lecture and am not disappointed. I will have to say the professor needs to vary his inflection a bit because he sounds over-the-top about everything. But he is very well versed and his excitement can be contagious. He mixes in just enough of the religious aspect to give that dimension, which would be unfinished if left out. I an totally enjoying this one!
Date published: 2018-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the Best! I have purchased several classes from Great Courses but I have to say this is one of my favorites. It took me to many places in the world I have not been and probably won't be going. The church structures and embellishments were fascinating. I learned so much about Christianity in those different places too. I have never written a review but couldn't pass up the opportunity to say how wonderful this course is.
Date published: 2018-09-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed this course I really enjoyed the course even if I disagreed with many of the choices. Notre Dame? But how I wish a whole lesson could have been devoted to The National Cathedral. I have spent time there and so much was missed.
Date published: 2018-09-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great exposure to these church treasures! I am such a fan of this course and Dr. Cook that I have purchased three more of his courses. I have learned so much. Every day I can't wait to share the stories, history, and lessons I learn with my husband and son. Absolutely fantastic! I want to be Dr. Cook's assistant so I can travel with him. I am creating a folder of new places I must go. I highly recommend the video download. Super easy to use and I end up watching again and again. I use iPhone or my iPad mostly.
Date published: 2018-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful exploration of the Christian diversity I recently added this to my collection of Great Courses and was wonderfully surprised at its comprehensive and enlightening evaluation of the history and imagery of these magnificent architectural gems. It helps to put into perspective the development of western civilization with all its complexity and nuance. A great complement to the many other courses on cultural development.
Date published: 2018-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful photos I bought this because I'm always taking pictures of churches locally and on varioius trips. It was so beautifully illustrated that I couldn't do anything else when it was playing in case I missed something. I have raved about it to my friends. The presenter really was knowledgeable and created many excellent pictures so you felt you were at the sites also.
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greatest Church Buildings? The greatest churches, places for Christians to worship God, encourage us not to focus on the structure of the buildings but encourage us to focus on the greatness of God; the greatest churches encourage us not to focus on the beauty of art adorning the buildings but encourages us to focus on the beauty of God. Are the churches presented in this course truly the greatest churches?
Date published: 2017-12-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Visuals!!! This is the best of the many courses I have taken from The Great Courses. The photography was absolutely outstanding. It included various types of churches from different religions all over the world. You won’t go wrong with this course. Enjoy!!!
Date published: 2017-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent Course! Prof. Cook has chosen to highlight a wide and diverse array of beautiful and fascinating churches from around the world in this exceptional course. Not only does the course feature over 2,000 wonderful photographs, many taken by Prof. Cook himself, but the Great Courses' computer graphics and modeling are outstanding and prove invaluable in helping the viewer understand each of the churches as structures, and as houses of worship. Prof. Cook is passionate about his subject and wears very well over the course of 24 lectures. Highest marks for this one!
Date published: 2017-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A tour of amazing churches all over the world I am about halfway through this course, and each lesson impresses me with information and photos of significant churches that I knew nothing about. This is a fascinating tour of art, architecture, history, culture and religion.
Date published: 2017-07-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from EXCELLENT! Wonderfully well organized - very thorough and informative. I'm delighted with it.
Date published: 2017-02-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Covers the world with pictures Some lectures are a bit disorganized, jumping from one church to another. Prof Cook is more at home with the gothic cathedrals of France and England
Date published: 2017-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding This is a truly outstanding course. I decided to watch it because it was close to Christmas, and I thought that it would be a good way to get into the spirit of the season even though I was reluctant that the course might be dry or boring. I am very glad that I decided to watch this course. It is outstanding on many levels. The professor is very knowledgeable, a great communicator, and obviously interested in the topic. His interest in the churches is infectious, and i looked up many of the churches to learn more about them because he sparked my interest. The professor did a great job blending history, art, architecture, and culture to create a fascinating and informative look into these marvelous churches. This is a great course for a fan of history in general, someone interested in Christianity or church history, an art lover, or an architecture enthusiast.
Date published: 2016-12-20
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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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