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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 171.
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Rated 2 out of 5 by from Maybe one-third of the story. The title of the course is deceptive, it sounds expansive and comprehensive. In reality, it is primarily about Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals, mostly in France. (I should have read the Course Overview more carefully.) Professor Cook uses his own photos and computer-generated models to great effect to define the architecture and make one familiar with the language of the architecture. He focuses on the elaborate entrances, their themes, and how to “read” and appreciate many details found at the entrances. The lectures are a decent place to start if you are planning on visiting a cathedral on vacation, but they are certainly not thorough. I found myself getting bored as the course went on. It felt I was looking at Uncle Bill’s vacation photos. Everything was about vaulting, arches, and windows. “Here’s another picture of the vault from a different angle.” It would have been nice if he had used some of those CGIs to explain the physics of how those varying vaults and buttresses worked. And sometimes didn’t work. (The buttresses at the cathedral at Amiens were insufficient to hold the building together, so a Spanish iron chain was installed and encircles almost the entire cathedral at the triforium level as a reinforcement. But there is a lot more about cathedrals. There are the furnishings – the archbishops’ thrones, the baptismal fonts, and the altars. These are rarely mentioned. And examples, even if Romanesque and Gothic ones were at the cathedrals highlighted, were not featured. And what about what goes on in and around the cathedral, especially in the medieval world? What is the history of chapels? What about the services performed in cathedrals vs. churches? The history of royal coronations and cathedrals is quite interesting. There are contemporary medieval paintings that could have been used as visuals. How about addressing the installation ceremony of an archbishop? The guidebook has abridgements of the lectures. The appendices – a diagram illustrating cathedral vocabulary and a glossary, a Timeline of church architecture, an excellent list of notable Gothic churches, and very brief biographical notes – are very useful. I found Professor Cook’s “The World’s Greatest Churches” far more interesting.
Date published: 2022-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful! I wish I had this back in the 80s when I toured many cathedrals in Europe. Now I need to dig out my photos and look at them with my new understanding of the architecture and history. I really enjoyed this course and the enthusiasm of the instructor.
Date published: 2022-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Learning for seeing It has been my good fortune to travel a lot. The problem is understanding in detail what you're seeing. Seeing a cathedral is awe inspiring enough but knowing how they're built the features like flying buttreses domes and rock roofs enhances the experience. This course does it all
Date published: 2022-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So interesting I am certainly not religious but the history and architecture of the cathedrals are so well explained that you develop a much greater appreciation of them!
Date published: 2022-04-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Cathedral I thought this course was amazing! I only have time for one lecture a day. I couldn't wait to sit down to hear the next lecture. Dr. Cook is very engaging and funny at times!
Date published: 2022-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Cathedral As an architect, I have studied the building form of the Cathedral but I learned many new things while auditing this course. The Professor was very clear in explaining the structural and artistic concepts and his delivery was very enthusiastic. I thoroughly enjoyed this course.
Date published: 2022-01-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Interesting, but definitely not amazing I have a deep fascination and interest in medieval gothic cathedrals, but presentation barely touched my level of interest. While I learned things such as different types of vaulting, and types of windows, I really didn't get what I really wanted to know - how they were built, the social/religious issues and history of why they were built. The lectures moved a long quickly, but really didn't say much. After about election 7, I started skipping through some of the lectures, and didn't bother with several others.
Date published: 2022-01-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Course! Prof. Cook brings real passion and infectious enthusiasm to this magnificent tour of the most beautiful and significant medieval Gothic Cathedrals in the world today. Prof. Cook is an exuberant lecturer--no need to turn up the volume with him--and he combines extraordinary subject matter expertise with a marvelous array of photos, videos, and animations that make this course a truly delightful learning experience. I began the course with limited expectations--and without great confidence that the subject matter would hold my attention for 24 lectures. What I found was that I eagerly anticipated each lecture and could have easily watched many more after the final lecture was over. A truly terrific course; highly recommended!
Date published: 2021-12-18
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Overview

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.

About

William R. Cook

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

INSTITUTION

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 World's Greatest Churches
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The Cathedral
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The Cathedral

Trailer

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