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The World's Greatest Churches

Discover sublime masterpieces of architecture, art, and faith in this enthralling journey to the greatest Christian churches, basilicas, and cathedrals around the world.
The World's Greatest Churches is rated 4.9 out of 5 by 103.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from I will be using this course when planning trips. This is a good, but not great, course that covers Christian architecture through the ages and across the European continent and beyond. Professor Cook more or less takes a chronological approach, and many of the earliest Christian churches that still exist may surprise and delight you. He is still enamored with pillars, arches, and vaults; but in this course, there is so much history and variety that it usually does not become tiresome. Again, I have quibbles about the title and Professor Cook’s rankings. From my perspective, his lecture on the four American churches is a misnomer. While the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. is very interesting to Americans, I would never classify the Old North Church in Boston, the First Church of Guildford, CT, and the Quaker meetinghouse in NY as being among the “World’s Greatest Churches.” I have no idea why Professor Cook didn’t discuss the fascinating history of Christianity in Iceland when he was tediously focusing on Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik. And he continues to ignore the churches of Ireland. Some are from the 12th century, and some of the “modern” ones, like the Honan Chapel in Cork, have exquisite mosaic floors and stunning stained-glass windows. The guidebook is rather disappointing. Each chapter has an introduction that broadly outlines the history of the church(es) but does not go into the specific details that make each church so impressive. There are generally six to eight black-and-white photos following the text and Professor Cook does reference a book and a website for further information. In spite of the flaws, including some factual slips, (St. Elizabeth of Hungary was never a queen, and Joseph had a younger brother, Benjamin), I found the course quite interesting. I certainly will review a lecture if I plan on visiting one of the churches in my future travels.
Date published: 2022-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great lecture series We very much enjoyed Dr Cook’s series on the Greatest Churches. He presented a fascinating blend of history, theology, art, architecture and local cultures in depicting why he felt each of the selected churches met his criteria. He is passionate and enthusiastic about this topic, which makes for an engaging series.
Date published: 2022-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great survey tour course Given the number of churches in the world and the length allotted for each lecture, this course can only be a survey course at best. I thought the selection of churches provided a broad range of Christian expression, reflecting different geographic locations, time periods, and cultural traditions. Dr. Cook's lectures are profusely illustrated from his personal travels. He is a true student of the places he presented, visiting most for several days. And because of this, one learns interesting details a casual viewer would miss. Dr. Cook's passion and enthusiasm shine in every lecture. The course does include material about Christianity as churches are expressions of the faith community which they house. The course does include information about architecture, sculpture, mosaics, and frescoes, but not in enough detail to please serious architectural or art historians. For example, one could do an entire course just on St. Peter's in Rome. A 30-minutes lecture gives an overview of the history, structure and sampling of what's inside, but many details are not included. The lecture did not take viewers up the cupola, where one gets a spectacular view of the Vatican. Some other interesting facts not present: The Baldacchino was made from the bronze roof of the Pantheon; the window with the dove is made not of glass, but from amber. The restored Pieta is now behind bullet proof glass because an unstable individual damaged it with a hammer in 1972. As an introduction to a church, Dr. Cook did an admirable job in the time frame allotted for the lecture, but know in advance, that each lecture is not a definitive work on each church. The term "greatest churches" is subjective. Some of what I consider great churches were not included on Dr. Cook's final list. Santa Maria del Fiore got a mention in passing, although it boasts the world's largest masonry dome and is the third largest church in the world. The story of Brunelleschi and the dome is a riveting tale. Dr. Cook selected instead the church in Siena, a worthy candidate as well, and although I have visited there, I learned many new details from his lecture. Churches in the series came from five continents. I wondered about Australia; are there no great churches there? Perhaps the title for the series is not entirely fitting for the content. The lectures were a comparative study of great churches across time, place, and culture. Perhaps "Great Churches Across Time, Place and Culture" would better encapsulate the scope of this series. From this perspective, one can appreciate the similarities and differences from churches around the world, without getting into the justification for its greatness.
Date published: 2021-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Church History and photographs I have taken several Great Course's history courses given by Professor Cook and have liked and been educated by all of them. He knows his subjects well. This one was different given its focus. However, Dr. Cook did not disappoint. By self admission he is a Catholic but this did not affect him in providing an unbiased telling of the history of the chosen churches. In the very first lecture he states clearly that the church choices were primarily his own and so, to some degree, were affected by his pedagogical taste and that of his colleagues. Clearly this did not detract from the breadth of the resulting informed discussions he gave on the subject matter. Similarly, the photographs were his own but also were done to a highly professional and detailed standard. The fact that he personally visited each church rather than relying on library shots is a credit in itself. Finally, the Great Courses' people provided their usual excellent coordinating visuals to make the streamed end products edifying and definitely worth the cost.
Date published: 2021-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating I have many Great Courses, some of which I watch again and again. The World’s Greatest Churches is just such a course. In the middle of my first viewing, I was already looking forward to a second. Stunning photography beautifully presented.
Date published: 2021-08-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a personal look Even though I am not Christian, I bought this course because I have seen quite a number of these churches on my travels and also studied several more in art history courses. I am very impressed with Dr. Cook's wealth of knowledge, the historical background he gives, the detailed explanations of architecture and decorations, and the fact that he visited every single one himself! I am enjoying seeing these places again and learning much more about them.
Date published: 2021-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Course!!! Dr. Cook has done a terrific job taking us through some of the most important and beautiful churches in the world. His knowledge of history, architecture, and art has made this course most enjoyable. His sincerity and passion for his subject come through and make this course outstanding. Most of the pictures in the course were taken by Dr. Cook and shouw his first hand knowledge of his subject.
Date published: 2021-08-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthusiasm is catching This professor makes me wish I had traveled along with him. It is commendable that after receiving the contract to teach this course, he used the money to personally visit all the places he would be talking about. Unlike some reviewers, I really love his personal photos instead of just using internet shots. His loving appreciation of the art and architecture is so contagious. He makes me joyful.
Date published: 2021-07-10
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Overview

The great churches represent some of the world's most stunning masterpieces of architecture, art, and faith. In The World's Greatest Churches, go on a guided tour of the most outstanding, memorable, and meaningful churches in the world. Lavishly illustrated with breathtaking photos, detailed floor plans, and 3-D models, these lectures take you deeply into Christianity through its most important buildings.

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 World's Greatest Churches

Trailer

The Earliest Churches

01: 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

02: 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

03: 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

04: 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

05: 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

06: 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

07: 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

08: 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

09: 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