The Cathedral

Watch The Cathedral

  • 2010
  • 1 Season

The Great Courses offers a fascinating exploration of one of the most iconic architectural wonders of the world with their course, The Cathedral. This course is designed for anyone looking to deepen their understanding of the architectural, historical, and cultural significance of Gothic cathedrals and how they came to be built. Over the course of 24 lectures, The Cathedral covers everything from the basics of Gothic architecture to the intricacies of the building process, and even the spiritual and sociological significance of these magnificent structures.

The course is led by Dr. William R. Cook, a distinguished professor of history at the State University of New York. Drawing on decades of experience studying the history of medieval Europe, Dr. Cook leads a thorough exploration of these masterpieces of human creativity from their origins in the 12th century to the present day. He provides context for the political, economic, and social realities of the time, and explains how these factors impacted the design and construction of the cathedrals.

One of the most impressive aspects of The Cathedral is its focus on the intricate details of these buildings. Dr. Cook takes the viewer on virtual tours of the most famous Gothic cathedrals in Europe, including Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres Cathedral, and Salisbury Cathedral, among others. He explains the symbolism and meaning behind every aspect of these structures, from the elaborate stained-glass windows to the soaring arches and ribbed vaults. His explanations are accompanied by stunning visuals, including detailed 3D models, high-resolution photographs, and even drone footage of the buildings from above.

Throughout the course, Dr. Cook offers a wealth of interesting anecdotes and historical tidbits about the cathedrals and the people who built them. For example, he explains how the process of building a cathedral could take over a century, and how the skilled craftsmen who worked on the structures would often pass down their knowledge through generations of apprentices. He also discusses the important role that religion played in the creation of the cathedrals, and how they were designed not just as places of worship, but also as physical embodiments of the Christian faith.

In addition to the architectural and historical aspects of the cathedrals, The Cathedral also explores their enduring cultural significance. Dr. Cook discusses how these buildings served as cultural and artistic centers, fostering the development of music, literature, and other creative endeavors. He also explains how the cathedrals became powerful symbols of national identity, and how they were eventually adopted by other religions and cultures as a model for their own houses of worship.

Overall, The Cathedral is a fascinating and engaging course that will appeal to anyone interested in Gothic architecture, European history, or cultural studies. Dr. Cook is an excellent instructor, with a deep knowledge of his subject matter and a talent for making complex concepts accessible to a general audience. The course is well-organized and easy to follow, with clear explanations and stunning visuals that bring the cathedrals to life. Anyone who has ever been awed by the beauty and complexity of these magnificent structures will find The Cathedral to be a richly rewarding exploration of their history and significance.

The Cathedral is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (24 episodes). The series first aired on October 29, 2010.

The Cathedral
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Gothic Architecture in Today's World
24. Gothic Architecture in Today's World
October 29, 2010
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.
Gothic Styles in Iberia and the New World
23. Gothic Styles in Iberia and the New World
October 29, 2010
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.
Gothic Churches in Italy
22. Gothic Churches in Italy
October 29, 2010
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.
Gothic Churches in the Holy Roman Empire
21. Gothic Churches in the Holy Roman Empire
October 29, 2010
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 Kutn'á Hora's cathedral in the Czech Republic.
Decorated and Perpendicular English Gothic
20. Decorated and Perpendicular English Gothic
October 29, 2010
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.
Early Gothic Architecture in England
19. Early Gothic Architecture in England
October 29, 2010
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.
Late Gothic Churches in France
18. Late Gothic Churches in France
October 29, 2010
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.
New Developments in Gothic France
17. New Developments in Gothic France
October 29, 2010
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.
Cathedrals: Who Builds? Who Pays? How Long?
16. Cathedrals: Who Builds? Who Pays? How Long?
October 29, 2010
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.
Reims: The Royal Cathedral
15. Reims: The Royal Cathedral
October 29, 2010
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.
Amiens: The Facade
14. Amiens: The Facade
October 29, 2010
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.
Amiens: The Limits of Height
13. Amiens: The Limits of Height
October 29, 2010
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.
Chartres: The Windows
12. Chartres: The Windows
October 29, 2010
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.
Chartres: The Sculpture
11. Chartres: The Sculpture
October 29, 2010
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.
Chartres: The Building
10. Chartres: The Building
October 29, 2010
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.
Early Gothic Style: Laon
9. Early Gothic Style: Laon
October 29, 2010
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.
Notre Dame in Paris
8. Notre Dame in Paris
October 29, 2010
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.
The Urban Context of Cathedrals
7. The Urban Context of Cathedrals
October 29, 2010
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.
Saint-Denis and the Beginning of Gothic Style
6. Saint-Denis and the Beginning of Gothic Style
October 29, 2010
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.
Romanesque at Its Best
5. Romanesque at Its Best
October 29, 2010
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.
Vaulting?A Look at Roofs
4. Vaulting?A Look at Roofs
October 29, 2010
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.
Romanesque?A New Monumental Style
3. Romanesque?A New Monumental Style
October 29, 2010
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.
Early Christian Architecture
2. Early Christian Architecture
October 29, 2010
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.
What Is a Cathedral?
1. What Is a Cathedral?
October 29, 2010
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.
Where to Watch The Cathedral
The Cathedral is available for streaming on the The Great Courses website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch The Cathedral on demand at Amazon Prime and Amazon.
  • Premiere Date
    October 29, 2010