Cloisters of Saint John Lateran, Rome. Source:

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Monreale Cathedral (Part Two).

Text and Illustrations from Wikipedia - the free encyclopaedia,
unless otherwise stated.

The Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, Italy, is one of the greatest extant examples of
Norman architecture in the world. It was begun in 1174 by William II, and in 1182,
the Church, dedicated to The Assumption of The Virgin Mary, was, by a Bull of
Pope Lucius III, elevated to the Rank of a Metropolitan Cathedral.
Illustration: SHUTTERSTOCK

Monreale Cathedral,
Palermo, Sicily.
The outside of the Arab-Norman Cathedral is plain, except the Aisle Walls,
and three Eastern Apses, which are decorated with intersecting Pointed Arches
and other ornaments inlaid in marble.
Photographer: Bernhard J. Scheuvens aka Bjs.
Photo: August 2004.
(Wikimedia Commons)

"Monreale" is a contraction of "Monte-Reale", "Royal Mountain",
so-called from a Palace built there by Roger I of Sicily.

The Church's Plan is a mixture of Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic arrangement. The Nave is like an Italian Basilica, while the large Triple-Apsed Choir is like one of the early Three-Apsed Churches, of which so many examples still exist in Syria and other countries. It is, in fact, like two quite different Churches put together end-wise.

The Basilican Nave is wide, with narrow Aisles. Monolithic Columns of grey oriental granite (except one, which is of cipolin marble), on each side support eight Pointed Arches, much stilted. The Capitals of these (mainly Corinthian) are also of the Classical Period. There is no Triforium, but a high Clerestory with wide Two-Light Windows, with simple Tracery, like those in the Nave-Aisles and throughout the Church, which give sufficient light.

The other half, Eastern in two senses, is both wider and higher than the Nave. It also is divided into a central space with two Aisles, each of the divisions ending at the East with an Apse. The roofs throughout are of open woodwork, very low in Pitch, plain construction, but richly decorated, with colour now mostly restored.

At the West End of the Nave, are two projecting Towers, with a Narthex (Entrance) between them. A large open Atrium, which once existed at the West End, is now completely destroyed, having been replaced by a Renaissance Portico, by Giovanni Domenico and Fazio Gagini (1547–1569).

Monreale Cathedral,
Palermo, Sicily.
The outsides of the principal doorways, and their pointed Arches, are magnificently
enriched with carving and coloured inlay
a curious combination of
three styles; Norman-French, Byzantine and Arab.
Photographer: Bernhard J. Scheuvens aka Bjs.
Photo: August 2004.
(Wikimedia Commons)

It is, however, the large extent (6,500 m²) of the impressive glass mosaics covering the Interior which make this Church so splendid. With the exception of a high Dado, made of marble slabs with bands of mosaic between them, the whole Interior surface of the walls, including Soffits and Jambs of all the Arches, is covered with minute mosaic-pictures, in bright colours on a gold ground.

The mosaic pictures are arranged in tiers, divided by horizontal and vertical bands. In parts of the Choir, there are five of these tiers of subjects or single figures, one above another.

The Half-Dome of the Central Apse has a colossal half-length figure of Christ, with a seated Virgin and Child, below. The other Apses have full-length figures of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Inscriptions on each picture explain the subject or Saint represented; these are in Latin, except some few which are in Greek.

The subjects in the Nave begin with scenes from the Book of Genesis, illustrating the Old Testament types of Christ and His scheme of Redemption, with figures of those who prophesied and prepared for His coming. Around the lower tier and the Choir, are subjects from the New Testament, chiefly representing Christ's Miracles and Suffering, with Apostles, Evangelists and other Saints. The design, execution, and choice of subjects, all appear to be of Byzantine origin, the subjects being selected from the Menologion of Basil II, drawn up by the Emperor, Basil II, in the 10th-Century.

Monreale Cathedral's
religious images in the Nave, circa 1200 A.D.
Photo: December 2007.
Author: Jerzy Strzelecki.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The tomb of William I of Sicily (the founder's father), a magnificent porphyry sarcophagus contemporary with the Church, under a marble pillared canopy, and the founder William II's tomb, erected in 1575, were both shattered by a fire, which, in 1811, broke out in the Choir, injuring some of the mosaics, and destroying all the fine walnut Choir-fittings, the organs, and most of the Choir roof. The tombs were rebuilt, and the whole of the injured part of the Church restored a few years after the fire.

On the North of the Choir are the tombs of Margaret of Navarre, wife of William I, and her two sons, Roger and Henry, together with an urn containing the viscera of Saint Louis of France, who died in 1270.

The pavement of the triple Choir, though much restored, is a specimen of marble and porphyry mosaic in opus alexandrinum, with signs of Arab influence in its main lines. The mosaic pavement of the Nave was completed in the 16th-Century, and has discs of porphyry and granite with marble bands intermingled with irregular lines.

Two Baroque Chapels were added in the 17th- and 18th-Centuries, which are shut off from the rest of the Church. The bronze doors of the mosaic-decorated Portal, on the left side, was executed by Barisano da Trani in 1179.


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