To step inside a Gothic cathedral is to step inside the visual essence of the Christian faith—a world filled with vaulted ceilings that direct the visitor's gaze toward heaven, stone sculptures that bring to life both the blessings of salvation and the horrors of damnation, and stained glass windows that illustrate powerful religious stories in dazzling bursts of color.
Since the Christianization of Europe in the 4th century, cathedrals have served as
- centers of ecclesiastical authority;
- marvels of architectural genius and innovation;
- places to instruct communities about cherished Christian values and lessons, and
- sites of political, cultural, intellectual, and economic importance.
Whether they're located in the heart of a major city or on the outskirts of a rural town, cathedrals possess a spiritual, artistic, and historical grandeur that deserves to be experienced and felt by Christians and non-Christians alike. But rather than traveling around the world to get just a cursory, ground-level glimpse of their greatness, bring these captivating buildings—in their entirety—right into your own home with The Cathedral.
In this course, noted medieval historian and award-winning Professor William R. Cook has crafted an exciting, immersive, and multidimensional experience that will bring 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. These 24 lavishly illustrated lectures make use of high-definition 3-D modeling and imagery to not just show you the world's great Gothic cathedrals, but to take you around and inside them, revealing new perspectives you can't enjoy anywhere else.
Explore the Evolution of the Cathedral
Of all architectural styles, the Gothic style is the most successful, the most prevalent, the most iconic, and the most closely associated with these magnificent buildings. Picture a random cathedral in your mind, and what you conjure up undoubtedly bears some resemblance, in look and feel, to a Gothic cathedral.
And while you can find Gothic cathedrals throughout the world, there's no better place to witness their glory than in the cities and towns of France, as well as in other European countries, including Germany, Italy, and England. It's only in this part of the world that you can witness the birth and development of these architectural wonders—and the reason Professor Cook has made Europe's Gothic cathedrals the focus of his course.
As you follow the fascinating story of how the Gothic cathedral evolved, you'll get a keen look at each of the major stages of Gothic architecture.
- Romanesque: The roots of Gothic cathedrals lie in the Romanesque style, a catchall term to describe a range of Roman-influenced styles that developed in the 11th and 12th centuries and that can be found in cathedrals such as Saint-Lazare in Autun, France.
- Early Gothic: Early Gothic cathedrals, such as Notre Dame in Paris, blended traditional Romanesque elements with a new aesthetic that included experimental features such as large rose windows and six-part ribbed vaulted ceilings.
- High Gothic: The Gothic style reached the apex of engineering and artistry with Chartres Cathedral, which features dramatically sculpted portals, facade towers, and the extensive use of flying buttresses for added support.
- Late Gothic: During the 14th and 15th centuries, many cathedrals and churches were finished or remodeled in a more "flamboyant" decorative style, reflected in everything from stonework to sculpture to stained glass windows.
- Neo-Gothic: There was a great revival in the 19th and 20th centuries that blended Gothic elements with more modern architectural styles. One of today's most famous neo-Gothic cathedrals is the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York.
You'll also get a chance to find answers to a range of questions:
- Who built the first cathedrals? Why? How?
- What makes a cathedral Gothic and not something else?
- What are the symbolic and structural purposes of vaulted ceilings, flying buttresses, archivolts, jamb statues, and other parts of a cathedral?
- How are these buildings meant to be experienced by the people for whom they were originally built?
Tour the World's Greatest Cathedrals
The heart of The Cathedral lies in the sweeping tours of the buildings themselves. With the eye-popping technology featured in these lectures, you'll be able to travel from the deepest crypt to the tallest tower, viewing these buildings from angles and vantage points no tour can offer.
Here are some of the great Gothic cathedrals you'll explore in depth in these lectures.
- Notre Dame in Paris: With its famous facade and its iconic status as one of the world's foremost cathedrals, Notre Dame has been remodeled more often than any other cathedral (most notably after the French Revolution). With an estimated length of 400 feet, the cathedral features an innovative double-aisled nave and soaring vaults that make it a breathtaking sight—despite its surprisingly dark interior.
- Chartres Cathedral: Equally as important as Notre Dame in Paris, this cathedral set the architectural standard for French cathedrals built after the late 12th century. Professor Cook devotes three lectures to this impressive cathedral, providing you with fascinating looks at many aspects of its brilliance, including its basement crypt (the largest of any Gothic cathedral), its three richly sculpted portals, and its jaw-dropping windows (nearly all of which contain stained glass from the 12th and 13th centuries).
- Amiens Cathedral: It's at Amiens Cathedral where one truly sees the full splendor and the limits of Gothic engineering and construction. Professor Cook's favorite cathedral, this cathedral was (rather unusually) built from west to east. As a result, the different ends of the cathedral offer you a true lesson in the development of the Gothic style.
- Reims Cathedral: The cathedral at Reims is closely tied to the country's history, having served as the location for more than 800 years' worth of coronations and having survived German bombardment during World War I. One of the many aspects of this building you'll learn about are its more than 2,000 statues—some small, some terrifying, and some among the most important in all of medieval sculpture.
While you focus on these and other French cathedrals, you'll get a chance to visit those from other European countries as well, including York Cathedral, the Cathedral of Cologne, and the Cathedral of Siena. You'll also get glimpses of less familiar Gothic cathedrals outside of Europe, in countries like China, Mexico, and the United States. Among these: the Dominican Republic's Santo Domingo (the oldest cathedral in the New World) and Washington, DC's National Cathedral (which incorporates distinctive American elements into its decoration).
An Immersive, Insightful Learning Experience
Of course, it's one thing to learn about all these cathedrals, but to actually tour them all would be extremely expensive. Yet with its extensive 3-D tours, The Cathedral is the perfect and affordable way to visit and explore the world's great Gothic cathedrals—whether you simply want to take an armchair tour of these masterpieces, whether you want to prepare for cathedrals you may visit on an upcoming trip, or whether you just want to learn more about this sometimes mysterious, always intriguing art form.
Yet as dynamic as the visuals are, every single lecture is rooted in the detailed scholarship and fascinating insights of Professor Cook himself. A lifelong scholar of cathedrals, he's traveled the world to learn about these magnificent structures. And every lecture is a way for him to share, with the characteristic passion and engagement that have made him one of our most popular professors, his comprehensive knowledge of cathedrals: how they're built, how they've evolved, and what they mean to people both in the past and today.
So embark on an unforgettable experience with The Cathedral. Dynamic, comprehensive, and immersive, it's a Great Course that will finally illuminate these powerful buildings—their intricate structures, their hidden secrets, and their undeniable importance to art, faith, and history.