The World's Greatest Churches

Course No. 7842
Professor William R. Cook, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Geneseo
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Course No. 7842
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Course Overview

The great churches of Christianity represent some of the world’s most stunning masterpieces of architecture and art.

  • Built by a Byzantine emperor, Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia is an architectural space of overwhelming grandeur, emblazoned with colored marbles and sublime golden mosaics.
  • The monumental Cathedral of Siena boasts massive pictorial floor decoration; the Maestà altarpiece by Duccio; and sculpture by Michelangelo, Bernini, and Donatello.
  • Dreamlike and otherworldly, Gaudí’s Sagrada Família in Barcelona soars toward the heavens, fashioned inside and out as a single, vast spiritual artwork.

But artistic stature is only one measure of the significance of the great Christian churches. In their essential religious role, the buildings themselves instruct, edify, and inspire the communities that worship in them, using iconography, symbolism, and the language of architecture as ultimate expressions of faith.

  • The decoration of Georgia’s Cathedral of Nikortsminda, one of the world’s most glorious religious buildings, unfurls a resplendent theological vision of Old Testament stories, ecstatic angels, and multiple representations of Christ incarnate.
  • The iconography of Chartres Cathedral, apogee of the Gothic style, is a handbook of medieval Christian spirituality written in elaborate carved stone and stained glass.
  • The remarkable Wieskirche of Bavaria uses the carefully calibrated symbolism of its Rococo decoration to teach spiritual lessons of forgiveness, penance, and reconciliation.

In all eras, the masterworks of church building have been focal points for communities, cultures, and nations. A familiarity with the greatest of Christianity’s churches and cathedrals offers you:

  • knowledge of an astonishing spectrum of world treasures of art and architecture;
  • understanding of the symbolism and theology behind these buildings, and how they instruct Christians in living the values of the faith;
  • significant insight into how different cultures adapt the concept of a Christian house of worship to their own ways of expression;
  • comprehension of the political, economic, and intellectual importance of churches; and
  • a deep look into one of humanity’s most important religious and cultural traditions, as it has developed across two millennia and spread across the globe.

In the 24 visually dazzling lectures of The World’s Greatest Churches, Great Courses favorite Professor William R. Cook of the State University of New York at Geneseo takes on the full scope of this compelling subject, leading you in a detailed guided tour of the churches and cathedrals that he, as a celebrated Christian historian and medievalist, considers to be among the most outstanding, memorable, and meaningful in the world.

Beginning in the Holy Land, you’ll travel the globe to find the jewels of this tradition, visiting not only preeminent churches in Western and Eastern Europe, but also in Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, and East Asia. In all, you’ll study churches in 19 countries, spanning 5 continents, in a survey encompassing a range from the grandest metropolitan cathedrals to less-known gems such as the stave churches or Norway, pilgrimage shrines of Latin America, and the mysterious cave churches of Turkish Cappadocia. Lavishly illustrated with breathtaking photos, detailed floor plans, and 3-D models, these lectures take you deeply into the culture and theology of a global faith through its most important and magnificent buildings.

Encounter a Globe-Spanning Tradition

Of central importance within the course’s narrative, you’ll explore the flowering of church building in European Christendom. This area of the inquiry takes you from the Renaissance grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to Western Europe’s foremost Gothic cathedrals to exquisite churches of Russia, Armenia, and Georgia. High points include Sicily’s Cathedral of Monreale, with decorative richness and superlative narrative mosaics that place it among the world’s most beautiful church interiors.

You’ll also discover a strikingly diverse range of churches across the world, such as

  • Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre—Within this icon of early Christian history, visit the church’s multiple chapels marking the Stations of the Cross. Also view the “aedicule,” believed to be the actual site of Jesus’s burial and resurrection.
  • The Painted Churches of RomaniaUnique in the Christian world, the churches of Romanian Moldavia are richly decorated with frescoes on both their interiors and exteriors. Study the phenomenal exterior paintings, their theological themes, and the churches’ dramatic and sumptuous interior decoration.
  • The Rock-Hewn Churches of EthiopiaAn extraordinary wonder of architecture, the churches of Ethiopia’s Lalibela are each carved entirely from a single piece of rock. Learn how these churches were carved down into the rock from the top, creating illusory “vaults” and “columns,” and study their mysterious religious artworks.
  • La Compañía in Quito, Ecuador—Among Christian spaces in the New World, explore La Compañía’s ornately sculpted façade, imposing Spanish Baroque details, and shimmering golden interior, which exemplify the glories of Latin American church building.
  • Iceland’s Hallgrímskirkja—Experience how the architecture and décor of this starkly beautiful modernist church evokes the geology of the Icelandic landscape, and expresses the ethos of Lutheranism and Christian values of humble adoration and simplicity.

Discover the Rich Meanings of Christian Architecture

A historian, scholar, and award-winning teacher who has traveled extensively and studied Christianity throughout the world, Professor Cook is ideally qualified as your guide on this unique journey into faith, art, and history. Through his enthralling commentary, and nearly 2,000 vivid photos he personally shot, you’ll learn how to observe and interpret the theological meanings of Christian churches through careful attention to details of their architecture and art.

In the majestic pilgrimage church of Sainte-Foy in France, you’ll study the key theological lessons aimed at pilgrims, depicted in the elaborate carvings on its façade. In the Bavarian Wieskirche, you’ll see how each element of the church’s decoration, from its symbolic color scheme to its narratives of Jesus and imagery of the Prodigal Son, illustrates themes of repentance and forgiveness. And you’ll grasp how the elegant simplicity of a Quaker meetinghouse speaks deeply of the values of Quaker spirituality.

You’ll also study how widely differing cultures have adapted the concept and building type of a church to their own contexts and experience. In the fascinating cave churches of Turkish Cappadocia, you’ll see how the concept of a Christian sacred space was modeled by a lineage of hermetic monks who carved their churches into the sides of mountains, adorning them with richly expressive frescoes. At the great shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico, you’ll learn how one of the world’s most important pilgrimage centers was founded on a local peasant’s extraordinary visions of the Virgin Mary. And you’ll observe how Korean architect Kim Swoo Geun built great churches that reflect Christian faith and meaning in a culture far from our own.

In The World’s Greatest Churches, you’ll come to understand the architecture, art, and theology of some of the world’s most beautiful buildings, as they express Christian spirituality across an astounding range of cultures and periods. Join a brilliant historian of Christianity in discovering these architectural masterworks that rank among the most revered, most beloved, and most iconic buildings of world civilization.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    The Earliest Churches
    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. x
  • 2
    The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
    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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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). x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 17
    St. Peters 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 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. x
  • 23
    Icelands 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. x
  • 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. x

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  • 192-page printed course guidebook
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Your professor

William R. Cook

About Your Professor

William R. Cook, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

The World's Greatest Churches is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 75.
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
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Again, a winner. Dr. Cook does it again with a really great course. He illustrates a good sampling of churches within the Christian world (mostly Catholic). The covering of not so well known buildings enhances this (Cappadocia, Hallgrimskirja, & Borgund). If you like churches or their architecture get this. Also his Great Cathedrals course. He is a concise and energetic presenter.
Date published: 2016-12-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Prof. Cook aces the Great Churches Great information from Prof Cook. His discussion is so organized by countries and regions. He discusses some history and presents the outside and inside of these great churches. He higlights what is unique and special about each church. I like the fact that he included very rural, unknown yet unique churches with beautiful photos to drive home his point. He inspires me to dream and aspire to travel more so I could see some of these churches. What a great way to learn. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to expand his knowledge of history, architecture and the arts.
Date published: 2016-12-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The course was well done and I enjoyed seeing a wide variety of churches. So much beauty. However, the iconography and stories of Christianity are repeated in all the churches. This is just the nature of the beast and not the fault of the instructor. It was an informative course and I'll be sure to go back to certain lectures when I travel to any of the locations.
Date published: 2016-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Magnificent. Completely Wonderful. This course is a sheer joy, regardless of your own religious beliefs or lack thereof. It displays the remarkable achievements that humankind is capable of, when motivated by love and caring instead of divisiveness and hatred. Whether you are religious or not (I am not), there is spiritual food here. Yes, it is ironic that the spiritual is here manifested in the material, but we are the kinds of beings for whom, imho, these cannot be separated. It is as if one is the window to the other. And yes, Professor Cook is a devout Catholic, and often delivers bits of doctrine, ostensibly describing the beliefs of those who built the churches, as universal truths. But these are brief and readily passed by if they are not congenial to your personal views. Professor Cook is a wonderful speaker; he would have made an outstanding sermonizer. (It's also worth a look at his personal web page, btw.) His enthusiasm, clarity, and organization, and his speaking voice, make him a pleasure to listen to. Clearly, this course has my highest recommendation for all.
Date published: 2016-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The World's Greatest Churches-World Class Lecture! This course simply exceeded my expectations in every way! The content is rich and explores not only the architectural structures of so many Churches throughout the world - it also explores the religious, social and civic aspects that are inextricably woven within. Dr. Cook is the best lecturer I have ever encountered! His mastery of the subject matter, coupled with his amazingly passionate delivery and personal commentary (visiting each Church!) captivated me from start to finish. I want to learn more from Dr. Cook. I will never walk in a Church henceforth without turning my attention to the detail that has now come alive to me from this lecture series. Dr. Cook is a shining example of a gifted educator and passionate learner. I highly recommend this course to everyone.!!! Kudos Dr. Cook and The Great Courses!!!
Date published: 2016-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Much more than expected Not only does this course thoroughly explore the exquisite architectural features of the chosen churches, it also situates the churches within their historic and cultural periods, so we also acquire knowledge of early Christian Church history. Professor Cook is terrific and obviously loves his field.
Date published: 2016-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Engaging Professor Professor Cook has to be one of the most engaging and entertaining professors of any course I have taken so far. He is not only knowledgeable, but has a great deal of enthusiasm for his subject matter. He is thorough without being pedantic and has a nice balance of visual materials to lecture.
Date published: 2016-07-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from More to the church then first meets the Eye ... Having just completed Dr William R Cook's 'The World's Greatest Churches," I thought I would add my reflections of this well executed course. With over 2,000 images displayed throughout the 24 lecture series, this is definitely a visual course. This is one of the two things that attracted me to this course; the other being the good Professor (Dr Cook's 'History of the Catholic Church' was outstanding). Through this course, I was able to virtually visit places, with an excellent tour guide, that I will likely never have the opportunity to see in person. This lecture series will take you around the world: Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas to see churches that reflect the history and culture of the people who built them. This course is primarily a "virtual tour," although you will get some history with each lecture. With just a few exceptions, the churches presented in these lectures are Christian (there is one church that was converted into a mosque and a mosque that has been converted into a Christian church) and the overwhelming majority of those Christian churches are Catholic churches. You will see a Quaker church and a few Protestant churches but most are Catholic. Professor Cook is Catholic and, while I am not Catholic, I did enjoy each of the churches that were highlighted in this series. The Gothic Cathedrals held particular appeal for me and made me wish that I could someday see them in person. The lectures are well organized with plenty of visuals. Professor Cook pointed out many design elements and artistic features that I would likely have overlooked, were I to have visited these places on my own. With so many churches in the world, no doubt some people may take exception that their favorite church was not included on Dr Cook's list, but that is the nature of a course such as this. Any course that purportedly includes "The Greatest" (moments in history, works of art, ancient battles, presidents, etc) is necessarily going to come under fire for excluding something from it's list. If you go into these lectures with the understanding that the churches on Dr Cook's list are (essentially) Christian churches and most of those are Catholic churches or Cathedrals, then you should not be too disappointed. This past weekend, I attended a wedding in Nashville, TN at the Catholic 'Cathedral of the Incarnation.' I found myself wanting to explore every part of the Cathedral and to take in every inch of the Cathedral with my eyes. After this course, I will never look at any church the same way. I have a much deeper appreciation of how the building reflects the local culture. I also found myself much more aware of the beauty of the Cathedral than I would have been prior to this lecture series. While this course is a survey (a tour) and not a history or theology course, it was well prepared and expertly delivered and I enjoyed it from beginning to end. If you have an interest in churches, church architecture, Christian history or church art, I can definitely recommend this course to you.
Date published: 2016-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A truly interesting and well presented course. I was uncertain as to what to expect from this course, but my wife and I found Professor Cook's presentation to be absolutely fantastic. He is a man who not only knows his topic thoroughly (and has personally visited all of the great churches he discusses), but he also loves the topic and loves to share it with others. What a difference his enthusiasm made to our enjoyment of the course. He took us to many places that we had never heard of, and yet showed us the rich blend of theology and culture that shaped the building of the various churches (some quite plain, others very ornate) on every continent on the planet - except, sadly, our native Australia. I would highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in church architecture, but also to those with in interest in the interplay of life, tradition, culture, and belief.
Date published: 2016-03-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic Course and Lecturer I won't go into detail as others have already done that. But I have to share with possible purchasers of this course how incredibly great it is. Prof. Cook has that rare gift of speaking to the viewer as if the camera didn't exist and he's talking directly to you. His enthusiasm comes through, his attention to detail, and his recounting his visits to these churches all bring these buildings to life. For the traveler who may visit churches, this course will help you enjoy your visits so much more. He points out what to look for and how to interpret what you see. Bravo, Prof. Cook!
Date published: 2016-02-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from a Great Course for Selected Great Churches My wife and I were happy we attended this excellent course! Even if one is not a Christian or a churchgoer, churches bring unique richness to large parts of our world cultural heritage, and provide a unique blend of aesthetics, spiritual values, and architectural engineering. We hope you enjoy it too. DESCRIPTIVE COURSE IMPRESSIONS: Rather than arbitrarily listing civilization’s "top" churches, the author selected important Christian or formerly Christian churches within specific regions, and then explored ones he thought exemplified spiritual aspirations and aesthetic value. This meant that some regions – European Gothic churches, for example – required some tough selections. The author focused on appreciation and not conversion -- he observed his personal favorite church was the one he finds value in attending, and his lectures reflected this eclectic, appreciative spirit. For further exploration, the Guidebook’s Bibliography not only gives good books, but also provides useful online resources. GOOD POINTS: The author brings notable enthusiasm and knowledge to each lecture. We thought he gave a reasonable level of information without overloading us or making us feel uncultured when we were unfamiliar with a specific region or style. The artwork’s overwhelming value and variety kept our attention and we found ourselves returning to sections of the video throughout the course, while the author’s regional focus added breadth to our understanding. Traveling to even a quarter of these widely separated, wonderfully peaceful buildings would be challenging, given modern travel's stresses, and we don't know of a similar course or travelogue series where we could experience so much so comfortably with such an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. This is among the finest values of the Teaching Company's travel series. WEAKER POINTS: Our “weak list” is sparse. The author’s criteria implies at least one or two of your personal favorites will be missing, and that some lectures will probably appear more valuable than others. Some (occasional) regional background music or vocal performances might have been a nice addition at a few selected points in the visit. The Guidebook’s lecture summaries were a bit skimpy and the quality of its photos was much inferior to the lecture videos, although his suggested online sites should help overcome this.
Date published: 2016-02-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A genuine feast This worldwide tour of magnificent churches enriches the viewer in the realms of art, history, and faith. The lectures are lucid and direct, and the photography exceptional. The professor's enthusiasm for his subject is evident throughout.
Date published: 2016-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. William Cook does it again Dr. William Cook's The World's Greatest Churches continues his tradition of excellence as a professor teaching The Great Courses series. His knowledge and incredible ability to keep the viewer's interest makes him an international gem. Of all my years as a student through Doctor of Medicine, I consider Dr. William Cook among my very top teachers. C. Thomas Cook M.D.
Date published: 2016-01-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fantastic tour for those interested in Churches In this course, I learned about amazing Christian churches I would never have known existed. I feel as if Professor Cook and I took a trip around the world, and saw many amazing places. I would offer this warning: you really have to be interested in Christian churches, their symbols, their art, and their context - to enjoy 24 lectures about it. This isn't a 12-lecture survey course for people who can't think of what to listen to next from the Teaching Company; you might get bored with all the details. I had previously watched another course of his, "The Cathedral," which I enjoyed immensely. It was in that course that I got to know Cook's style and appreciate it. A note on Professor Cook's style: he is a very unusual older man. He has an incredible enthusiasm for life and beautiful places. It is utterly sincere. His zeal for the subject, and his patience in looking at details - get you through the course. There were a few churches where I wasn't as interested in the details, but his love for what he found got me through. Also, he is a master of the subject matter and shows connections between different churches, so you know that you're not going to miss anything, and you will learn to trust him. While Cook points out many architecture features and shows many floor plans, this is not an architecture class. (For that, consult Professor Ressler and his wonderful courses here!) Lastly, I wanted to thank Professor Cook for his extraordinary effort to travel the world, watch, photograph, and document these amazing churches. It was an incredible journey we took together, and my appreciation for Christianity around the world is greater and richer than before.
Date published: 2015-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Fascinating "Cook's Tour" My very first Great Course was Prof. William Cook’s exploration of “The Cathedral.” His knowledge and enthusiasm for sacred spaces guaranteed that this new offering, “The World’s Greatest Churches,” would be another winner. This is not a detailed course about architecture. I suppose we could call it a cross between a travel series and a history of the development of Christianity. In the spirit of “inclusivity,” the Prof takes us to many unlikely places to look for “great churches” – not just the cathedrals of Europe. He compares and contrasts the way that local craftsmen approached the task of building a church, using local resources and iconography. Many of the photographs were taken by the Prof himself, and he clearly loves his subject. (You will hear him say many times that you need to visit the same building at many different times and seasons to appreciate it thoroughly – and it seems like he’s done that himself!) Cook is a friendly and engaging lecturer and enhances his presentation with personal observations and anecdotes. My only two criticisms would be: 1) would someone at TGC please hire a tailor to get Prof Cook some clothes that fit him? and 2) the accompanying guidebook is fairly lightweight. The chapters could have a lot more material in them, and many pages are wasted with drab, ill-reproduced black-and-white photos taken from the lectures. The “slimming down” of TGC course books is an unfortunate trend I’ve noticed over the past couple of years. Professor Cook is one of my favorite TGC profs, and I always look forward to something new from his fertile brain.
Date published: 2015-08-01
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