The interior is magnificent; the great span of the
nave gives an air of spaciousness, and the treatment of
the east end is superb. In the apse
is a huge figure of Christ in mosaic, which dominates
everything; marble lines the lower walls, and mosaic
the rest. The wooden roofs are modern, replacing those
that were burnt not long ago, of which I assume they
are a copy. They are rich in gold and colour, and the
effect is splendid. (..)
The interior of Monreale, with its blaze of colour and interior
gold, its rich marbles, its delicate sculpture, and its ample
and spacious dimensions, has no rival.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Gothic architecture in France, England, and Italy - 1915
(left) Northern wall of the nave; (right) detail of a capital
This Edifice, which displays the best style of Norman architecture, not very long since suffered considerably from fire, but is now completely and judiciously repaired in a style corresponding with the rest of the Structure. Here are superb ancient Columns of Granite each of which has a Cornucopia and the Head of a Female Divinity in its Capital; here also are Columns of Porphyry and a profusion of Gothic Mosaics.
Mariana Starke - Travels in Europe for the Use of Travellers on the Continent and likewise in the Island of Sicily - 1838 Edition - based on a travel to Sicily made in 1834.
The interior being well lit, it is much better seen and enjoyed than the Capella Palatina (but that was before modern lighting). But this effect which now delights us was not the intention of the original architects. The Sicilian churches, says Professor Salinas (Director of the Archaeological Museum of Palermo in 1873-1914) were originally lighted dimly by windows filled either with sheets of lead pierced with small openings, or with traceries of plaster, at first tinglazed, and afterwards glazed with coloured glass. This lead-work was employed in the cathedrals of Monreale and Palermo, so that the scarcity of light might "strike a sacred horror". (..) The nave is eight bays long, with nine columns on a side, of which one to the right on entry is of cipollino and the rest are of granite. Some of the capitals are evidently Roman antiques misfitting the columns; but half of the number are rather puzzling. They consist of cornucopias forming volutes above acanthus leaves, and between the cornucopias is a disc with a classical female head. They are admirably carved, and yet so perfect and free from any sign of age or any mutilation that one can at first sight hardly accept them as antique. And yet it is impossible they can be works of the Renaissance, which is the only alternative, for such an introduction of new capitals would not have escaped the historian. One can only suppose that the columns were taken from some Roman building, and as the capitals fit them perfectly, they probably belonged to one another and were brought here together. This seems to be the opinion of the local archaeologists. All the arches are pointed and stilted, and spring from a pulvino (a piece in the form of a truncated pyramid, see those at Ravenna), which is encased in mosaic like the rest of the superstructure. No string-course or cornice of any kind breaks the smooth surface of the wall above, which is only divided by the bands of the mosaic patterns. There is a clerestory window over each arch, and the aisles are well lit by similar openings. T. G. Jackson
Mosaic in the apse showing Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Almighty). You may wish to see a similar mosaic at St. Saviour in Chora at Constantinople which was made after that at Monreale
The great half-length figure of Christ in the pointed semi-dome of the apse resembles that at Cefalu, with the right hand in the same act of benediction, and a book in the left, inscribed with the same text in Latin and Greek. (..) No one, I think, can fail to see the superiority of the Christ at Cefal¨ to that at Monreale, which was obviously copied from it, and though a fine work, has not the expressive dignity of the original. T. G. Jackson
Mosaic showing St. James, St. Peter, St. Michael the Archangel and the Virgin Mary holding Jesus Christ. She is indicated by the letters MP OY (Mother of God) and by the title "Panagia" (All Holy). This word is used by Greeks to indicate a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, e.g. Panagia Halkeon (St. Mary or Our Lady of the Smiths) at Thessalonica
There are only two zones of figures here in the
drum of the apse, of which the upper one has a seated
Madonna with the child Jesus in her lap, between two
angels, beyond whom are figures of saints. T. G. Jackson
The inscriptions of the first mosaics to be completed were written in Greek which was the ceremonial language used by the Christians of Sicily during the Arab rule. The Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches split in 1054; at that time parts of southern Italy, especially those along the coasts, were under direct Byzantine rule (Catepanate of Italy with Bari in Apulia as capital). Nicodemus, Bishop of Palermo at the time of the Norman conquest was a Greek and was loyal to the Patriarch of Constantinople. The portrayal of St. Peter in a central position in the mosaic of the apse shows that the Norman kings promoted the acceptance of the primacy of the Popes.
Splendid as is their general effect in the interior, the mosaics at Monreale, when carefully examined, will be found inferior in design to those we have described in the choir of the Palatine Chapel, at Cefalu, and at La Martorana. It is suggested that they were not the work of Greek artists, but of Sicilians who had learned from them. Most of the inscriptions are in Latin. (..) An extensive repair of the mosaics took place between 1811 and 1847. T. G. Jackson
It is widely believed that some of the mosaics were made by Byzantine craftsmen in ca 1180-1190. They were accustomed to decorating small domes and apses as at Christ Pantokrator, the largest XIIth century church in Constantinople and they had to adjust to the wide flat surfaces of the walls of the Cathedral. A few years later in 1204 the conquest of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade led to the destruction of many churches, so perhaps those at Monreale can be regarded as the swansong of the Byzantine mosaic tradition. You may wish to see a XIIth century mosaic at Hagia Sophia.
(left) Jacob wrestling with the Angel; (right) St. Paul handing over his epistles to Sts. Timothy and Silas
Among the mosaics appears the figure of the King offering his church to a seated Madonna. Two angels with outstretched arms float above, and the divine hand is extended in benediction. (..) Also
in mosaic is a coronation of William II by Christ, who is
enthroned with a book in his left hand, and by
his right hand, is placing the crown on the King's
head. T. G. Jackson
You can see these mosaics in the introductory page.
Details of the XIIth century floor. The image used as background for this page shows an Arabic-style marble inlay on the walls
The presbytery retains the original XIIth century floor. In Rome this type of marble inlays is known as Cosmati work with reference to the family of craftsmen who made use of them in the decoration of many churches of the city, e.g. S. Maria in Cosmedin.
Over the archbishop's throne is the portrait of William the Good, who lies interred in a tomb at the feet of his father, William the
Bad. The latter monarch is deposited in a monument of porphyry, exactly similar to those in the cathedral of Palermo.
Henry Swinburne - Travels in the Two Sicilies. 1777-1780
Monreale and Palermo are two distinct archiepiscopal sees although the two towns are only a few miles away. The Archbishop of Monreale could rely on the revenues of large estates. In the XVIth century it was a very sought after appointment. Cardinal Alessandro Farnese managed to be appointed Archbishop and he enjoyed the income of the archdiocese from 1536 to 1573. He was succeeded by two members of the de' Torres Spanish family by the same name (Ludovico). The second one was eventually created cardinal and he is known for having restored S. Pancrazio in Rome.
Cappella del Crocifisso or Roano: (left) The Jesse Tree (a not very common subject in Italian churches of the XVIIth century, you may wish to see it in a church at Kastoria in Greece) and a wooden Crucifix; (right) details of the decoration
In 1692 Archbishop Giovanni Roano felt that at least a corner of his Cathedral should be decorated in line with the fashion of his time. The religious purpose of the new chapel was that to properly house a wooden Crucifix which was assumed to have been donated to the church by King William II (today it is dated XVth century). The decoration is typical of contemporary churches of Palermo. It was based on marmi mischi (mixed marbles) as at SS. Salvatore.
Cappella del Crocifisso or Roano: (left) 1690 floor marble inlay depicting Jonah being thrown overboard; (right) marble inlay of a hand basin in the sacristy
The long inscription on the sail explains why Jonah was regarded as a symbol of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It then goes on to say that Archbishop Roano was buried underneath. The decoration of a tomb by a large floor marble inlay can be noticed also in some Roman churches of the same period e.g. Tomba Spinola at S. Andrea al Quirinale.
Cappella del Crocifisso or Roano: walnut cupboard in the sacristy with scenes depicting the Deposition and the Entombment of Jesus Christ
Return to Monreale.
Plan of this section:
Agrigento - The Main Temples
Agrigento - Other Monuments
Catania - Ancient Monuments
Catania - Around Piazza del Duomo
Catania - Via dei Crociferi
Catania - S. Niccol˛ l'Arena
Palermo - Gates and City Layout
Palermo - Norman-Arab Monuments
Palermo - Martorana and Cappella Palatina
Palermo - Medieval Palaces
Palermo - Cathedral
Palermo - Churches of the Main Religious Orders
Palermo - Other Churches
Palermo - Oratories
Palermo - Palaces of the Noble Families
Palermo - Public Buildings and Fountains
Palermo - Museums
Piazza Armerina and Castelvetrano
Reggio Calabria - Archaeological Museum
Selinunte - The Acropolis
Selinunte - The Eastern Hill
Syracuse - Main Archaeological Area
Syracuse - Other Archaeological Sites
Syracuse - Castello Eurialo
Syracuse - Ancient Ortigia
Syracuse - Medieval Monuments
Syracuse - Renaissance Monuments
Syracuse - Baroque and Modern Monuments
Taormina - Ancient Monuments
Taormina - Medieval Monuments
Villa del Casale