The Cathedral

Explore the evolution, majesty, and intrigue of cathedrals worldwide, as you embark on 3-D tours with a noted medieval historian.
The Cathedral is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 160.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from the cathedral Wonderful! As in full of wonder. Course is not just about buildings, but geography, history, religion, architechture, biographies, sculpture, art. Dr. cook's enthusiasm is catching. No reading off a prompt. Best thing: More pictures than any other course I've bought.
Date published: 2021-06-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from It's All in the Details Wonderful course. Love the presenter's dry wit and attention to detail about the different features that make each cathedral unique. Loved learning about the symbols in the cathedrals as well as how to identify different saints, biblical stories, and more in the artwork.
Date published: 2021-05-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Cook Brings Cathedrals to Life So glad we chose this course! I was really interested in it because of the art and architecture, but I had no idea just how much I would enjoy it. Dr. Cook brought in ALL aspects...history, art, architecture and religion. He is not only extremely knowledgeable on all those aspects, but he is engaging, enthusiastic, humorous, and an EXCELLENT presenter.
Date published: 2021-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gothic Adventure I took a Gothic Cathedral course in college and loved learning about the various elements and how they combined to form a soaring experience of faith. Therefore, when I saw this course being offered, I was excited to revisit these edifices. Professor Cook surpassed my expectations! He updated and added to my knowledge and appreciation for this exuberant form of architecture. He is incredibly knowledgeable about the influences, forms of, and variations of the Gothic style. His enthusiasm for the beauty of the space as a whole as well as the sculptural and glass details makes the course feel like a tour through some of the most inspiring spaces in our world. He uses accurate vocabulary easily with clear definitions. His humor and asides bring a sense of understanding to the subject, a fun way to emphasize important points.....'Stone is heavy!' I highly recommend this course to anyone planning to visit Europe and to anyone just interested in this magnificent form of building.
Date published: 2021-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very informative ! The course is very interesting and informative. I learned a lot and cannot wait till the pandemic is over to go back to Europe to see the Cathedrals again. This time I will stay inside the churchs much longer than before.
Date published: 2021-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous walk through history I've always wanted to know more about cathedrals and this was perfect! The professor is not only knowledgeable, but very engaging. I've been through many of these churches, but failed to notice must of what was there. I'm eager to go back and take another view with all of the new knowledge I know have. The course lived up to my expectations!
Date published: 2021-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just fantastic This is probably the best 'Great Course' I have completed. The professor provided amble illustrations, reconstructions and site visit photos mixed with relevant history to place each cathedral in context. I had just finished Foundations of Western Civilization 2 and split the course up as I viewed Great Tours 1. France 2. England, Scotland and Wales. The cathedral lectures reinforced and added depth to some of the other content. The quality of the visuals were very high quality and the professor did not rush in his descriptions. In 24 lectures he left me wanting more. I will definitely look for other courses by this quirky but passionate teacher.
Date published: 2021-01-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hugely Enjoyable Although not a practising Christian, like many people I enjoy visiting churches and consider them an essential part of our heritage. In recent years I have made use of various guides to the best churches in the UK and visited most of the churches within striking distance of my home, yet despite this interest I knew very little about the architectural features or even the names for different parts of these buildings. This course has changed that, and the enthusiasm of Prof. Cook is thoroughly infectious. I feel like I now have a good grounding in both the layout and architectural features of these buildings, plus a bit of insight into how to look at the more detailed decorative features. I intend to follow up on what I have learned with more reading material and I am now looking forward to the end of the pandemic when I can resume my visits armed with much more knowledge about the buildings. I think I shall also make a point of undertaking some longer journeys to see some of our great Cathedrals...even Chartres is probably only a day's travel away across the channel. It's fair to say the course exceeded my expectations and has been a real pleasure.
Date published: 2021-01-07
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Tour the world's most captivating cathedrals from the comfort of your own home with these 24 lavishly illustrated lectures by Professor William R. Cook. An exciting, immersive, and multidimensional learning experience, The Cathedral brings you closer to cathedrals like Notre Dame in Paris and those in Amiens, Chartres, and Canterbury than any on-site tour could hope to do. With high-definition 3-D modeling and imagery, you'll travel around and inside the world's great Gothic cathedrals from fascinating new perspectives.


William R. Cook
William R. Cook

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


State University of New York, Geneseo
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.

By This Professor

The Cathedral


What Is a Cathedral?

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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