About this Course
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Subtitles: English, Spanish

100% online

Start instantly and learn at your own schedule.

Flexible deadlines

Reset deadlines in accordance to your schedule.

Beginner Level


Subtitles: English, Spanish

Syllabus - What you will learn from this course

1 hour to complete

Introduction & Saint-Denis I

An introduction to the history of Paris in the centuries of chaos following the death of Charlemagne in 814 and the building of the first Gothic cathedral at Saint-Denis, just north of Paris. The old abbey church, where the kings of France were buried, was inadequate, and so a new building project was undertaken by Abbot Suger, who financed the new building through efficient land management and the commercial Fair of Lendit along a trade route between northern and southern Europe.

7 videos (Total 36 min), 1 reading
7 videos
1.2 Paris4m
1.3 Notre Dame de Paris and the Wave of Cathedral Building7m
1.4 What We'll Study5m
2.1 The Old Church6m
2.2 Royalty Reposed5m
2.3 The Fair of Lendit4m
1 reading
Pre-Course Survey10m
3 hours to complete


Here we encounter the portrait of Abbot Suger via his account of how and why he built Saint-Denis, what is portrayed on the West façade of the cathedral, and how the doctrine of God as light, encountered in a book which had come from Byzantium to the abbey centuries earlier, was translated into architectural form. We see some of the objects that are part of the treasury of Saint-Denis and discuss the Abbot’s notion of “anagogical uplift” as a way of moving—via stained glass—between the Old and New Testaments and from the material to the spiritual plane.

8 videos (Total 57 min), 3 readings, 2 quizzes
8 videos
3.2 Reasons, Spiritual and Worldly8m
4.1 The Central Portal, Saint-Denis9m
4.2 The North and South Portals, Saint-Denis5m
5.1 God is Light7m
5.2 Saint-Denis, a Storehouse of Treasure7m
5.3 The Uplifting Church4m
5.4 The Anagogical and Moses Windows5m
3 readings
On What was Done in his Administration by Abbot Suger30m
Life of Saint Denis by James of Voragine10m
The Celestial Hierarchy by The Pseudo-Dionysius10m
1 practice exercise
2 hours to complete

Architectural Innovation

Filling in the background of Romanesque churches that preceded Gothic buildings, we discuss the origins and engineering innovations of the new style of religious architecture. These include ribbed vaults, reinforced pillars, pointed arches, flying buttresses, and a modular system of bay construction; all of which permits the construction of higher and lighter, thinner walls filled with stained glass.

4 videos (Total 32 min), 1 quiz
4 videos
6.2 Gothic Origins3m
6.3 Gothic8m
7.1 Architectural Innovations12m
3 hours to complete

Notre Dame de Paris

Moving to the heart of Paris, we explore the initial construction of Notre-Dame and the innovations that were undertaken almost as soon as the building began. We discuss the sculptural programs of Notre-Dame’s West façade, including the portal which depicts the life of Saint Anne, Christ’s grandmother, and Mary, his mother and the central portal of the Last Judgment. Along the south side, we discover the story of the stoning of Saint Stephen; and, along the North, the miracle of Theophilus and the Virgin. Moving inside the cathedral, we encounter the stunning rose windows of Notre-Dame.

10 videos (Total 67 min), 3 readings, 1 quiz
10 videos
8.2 Renovations7m
9.1 Influences and Innovations4m
9.2 St. Anne’s Portal11m
9.3 Coronation Portal7m
10.1 Central Portal: The Last Judgment6m
10.2 Notre Dame’s Roses7m
11.1 St. Stephen’s Portal4m
11.2 Theophilus and the Virgin3m
11.3 Truth Set in Stone8m
3 readings
The Nativity of Mary by James of Voragine30m
The Assumption of Mary by James of Voragine30m
The Miracle of Theophilus by Rutebeuf30m
1 practice exercise
Notre Dame de Paris10m
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Top reviews from Age of Cathedrals

By CLJan 8th 2019

I thoroughly enjoyed this course. I learned so much about cathedrals and their history. The professor was engaging, the forums were lively, and the imagery and music was beautiful and inspirational.

By DJApr 5th 2019

Thank you soo much for providing this great course online. I am almost at the finish line, and it’s been a great learning experience for me soo far. Thank you Coursera :), and Yale University.



Howard Bloch

Sterling Professor of French

About Yale University

For more than 300 years, Yale University has inspired the minds that inspire the world. Based in New Haven, Connecticut, Yale brings people and ideas together for positive impact around the globe. A research university that focuses on students and encourages learning as an essential way of life, Yale is a place for connection, creativity, and innovation among cultures and across disciplines. ...

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