Monreale Cathedral
the context 2

Tempus fugit: a strategic project implemented in a short period of time

The young William II’s ambitious project not only represented an important religious testimony in defence of the Papacy, but was also an eloquent example of the sovereign’s self-celebration and the attribution of privileges that only belonged to the Emperor of Constantinople. It also functioned strategically to defend Palermo, the capital of the Norman kingdom, on the stretch of road linking it to the Val di Mazara, where the Saracens were still active. In addition, the Cathedral was intended to become a mausoleum, reserved for the king and his dynasty.
The news about the fast pace, dictated by historical circumstances, as well as political and religious reasons, with which the construction was carried out, also involved Pope Lucius III . In the presence of such a grandiose work, he elevated Monreale to the status of Archbishopric, naming it for the first time in a Papal Bull of 1183. Records show that, as early as 1176, two years after its foundation, the construction of the cathedral was in such rapid progress that about a hundred monks from the Benedictine monastery in Cava, near Salerno,were able to enter the new monastery .A certain clue regarding the speed at which the cathedral was built is the date on the  bronze door of the main portal by Bonanno da Pisa , which is dated 1185.

Door and gateway to paradise
The Monreale cathedral doorway is an example of the reuse of ancient marble. It is made of spoliated marble: Greek marble, Parian marble and Proconnesian marble. It is cusp-shaped and has four ogival rings. It is richly decorated with bands of figurative, geometric and other abstract motifs in relief, and opus sectile inlays with star-shaped polygons. Set into this ancient portal is the bronze door, the work of the artist Bonanno Pisano, who had already distinguished himself in Pisa, where he designed the lost bronze doors of Pisa Cathedral. The authorship of the Monreale work is also indicated by the inscription: “Anno / D(omi)ni / MCL / XXXVI / i(n)dictio(n)e / III Bon(n)a / nus ci / vis Pis / anus / me fe / cit”. The bronze door of Monreale, with two doors carved in relief or agemina, was cast and then arrived on site in 1185 (1186 according to the index). In the 44 panels, scenes from the Old Testament are depicted in the five lower registers, with scenes from the New Testament in the five upper registers. Being a kind of Biblia pauperum, the two registers are united by the representation of the twelve prophets. Further panels are found at the bottom with pairs of lions and griffins facing each other and at the top with Mary and Christ in glory. The gate is also known as the Gates of Paradise, and going through it meant reaching the splendour of the Heavenly Jerusalem and being able to enjoy the beauty and magnificence of the mosaics. Like most of the bronze doors of the time, the one designed by Bonanno was probably rectangular, but was adapted to the doorway with a pointed-arch crowning. This could be the reason why the upper representations of the Madonna in Glory and Christ in Glory are partly hidden by the doorway. The portal was therefore made before the Pisano panels.

In that year, we can deduce that the construction was completed and the interior decoration was in full swing. It is likely that the architectural part of the grandiose complex consisting of the church, the  monastery and the royal palace had to be completed before the king’s premature death in 1189. From this date onwards, historical events partly compromised William II’s religious and political dream, which only a few centuries later attracted unrelenting attention in praise of its magnificence.

Beyond the harmony of proportions

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

The longest aisle

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

The side Portico: a combination of elegance and lightness of form

A Northern population

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

A remarkable ceiling

Under the crosses of the Bema

The Bible carved in stone

Thirteenth-century iconography decorates the nave’s wooden ceiling, designed with new solutions

Survey of the royal tombs

The side aisles

Roger II’s strategic design

The Kings’ Cathedrals

The stone bible

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

The architectural modifications ti the cathedral building after the death of Roger II and the transformations of the cloister

The chapel of the crucifix: an artistic casket based on a previous model

A space between the visible and the invisible

A new Cathedral

The cemetery of kings

The Virgin Hodegetria

Transformations over the centuries

The senses tell Context 1

A palimpsest of history

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

Biblical themes enlivened by the dazzling light of the stained – glass windows overlooking the naves

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

A compositional design that combines nordic examples with new artistic languages, over the centuries

The marble portal: an intimate dialogue between complex ornamental aspects and formal structure

The columns of the nave: the meticulous study of the overall order

The beginning of the construction site

The chapel of St. Benedict

The paradisiacal “Conca d’oro” that embraces Palermo: a name with countless faces through time

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

From the main gate to the aisles: an invitation to a journey of faith

Palermo: the happiest city

Squaring the circle

The plasticism of the main portico and Bonanno Pisano’s Monumental Bronze Door

The balance between architecture and light

A tree full of life

A controversial interpretation

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

The Gualtiero Cathedral

The towers and the western facade

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

The Great Restoration

The mosaics of the presbytery

The Cathedral over the centuries

Interior decorations

The southern portico

The Cefalù cathedral: a construction yard undergoing a change between a surge of faith and control over the territory

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

Ecclesia munita

The king’s mark

The lost chapel

The rediscovered chapel

The Chapel of the Kings

The area of the Sanctuary

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

The original design

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

The links between the hauteville family and the monastic orders in Sicily

Mosaic decoration

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

The mosaics of the apses

Tempus fugit: a strategic project implemented in a short period of time

The decorated facade

Worship services

The cultural substrate through time