Monreale Cathedral
the chystro

The Bible carved in stone

The most common theory, which attributes the sculptural work to workers of different origins, has been countered by a more recent hypothesis alleging that the decorations were made by a single team of master stone masons who came to Sicily from the south of France.
he aisles, the sides of which form a perfect square (47×47 m), are marked by twenty-six ogival arches, supported by 228 smooth, inlaid, coupled columns. The columns’ bases bear motifs of stylised leaves, rosettes, lion’s paws, beasts, men and animals in groups, frogs and lizards. Capitals rest on the columns, decorated and historiated with biblical episodes, followed New Testament and genre scenes, in addition to those inspired by medieval symbolism and bestiaries.

Of particular importance are the decorations on the capitals of the Monreale Cathedral cloister. The capitals, supported by twin columns, depict various scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as symbolic, zoomorphic and natural world representations. One of the most original is the capital located between the refectory and the fountain, the nineteenth on the west side, depicting the scene of the dedication of the Cathedral. This moment is also visible inside the Cathedral, in the magnificent mosaic cycle that adorns the entire building. The capital shows King William II, assisted by two angels, offering a miniature model of the Cathedral to the Baby Jesus, seated in the loving arms of the Virgin Mary. The king is dressed in lavish clothing and wears the crown of the Kingdom of Sicily on his head. Mary holds the blessing Child in her arms, entirely wrapped in a thickly draped mantle.

The sculptural work also alternates figurative decorations with mythological, botanical, symbolic and allegorical themes and floral elements that, not present in the cloister garden , instead remain impressed in the marble.

The central courtyard of the cloister is canonically defined as a garden, in which no flower essences are planted because they are deciduous; instead, the flowers are sculpted in the capitals, in the eternal nature of the stone. The garden, according to tradition, is divided into four parts where four symbolic trees are planted, the fig, the pomegranate, the olive and the palm. The first two plants, the fig and the pomegranate, refer to the Old Testament, as they are considered to be historical. The fig tree is located in the south-east and symbolises the Garden of Eden. The pomegranate tree is located in the north-east the garden of the Song of Songs. For the New Testament, the presence of symbolic plants is notable. The Olive tree, an allegory of Gethsemane and the future Easter, is located to the north-east, while the Palm tree, in the garden of the Apocalypse, is located to the south-west.

Among the scenes sculpted on the capitals, the following are depicted: the Original Sin, the Expulsion (of the progenitors) from Paradise and the killing of Abel, taken from the Old Testament; the Resurrection of Christ, the Annunciation, the Flight into Egypt, the Presentation in the Temple, the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth, St. Joseph receiving the Announcement from the Angel, the Annunciation to the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi from the New Testament.
There is also a special “Cycle of the Months”, arranged according to the four seasons: winter, spring, summer, autumn. In the south-west corner, the Mission of the Apostles is depicted and, in the south-east corner, isolated figures representing the church and the prophets are shown.
A scene with great political significance is that of the “dedication”. Mirroring what is already depicted in the mosaic cycle in the apse area inside the Cathedral, King William is depicted kneeling while offering the model of the Cathedral as a gift to the Virgin Mary.

In the mosaic cycle of the Monreale Cathedral, the representation of the sovereign, who commissioned the complex, occurs twice: above the wall of the royal throne and on the wall of the archiepiscopal throne. In the second mosaic, the King of Sicily is shown kneeling and offering the Cathedral to the Virgin Mary. The king, dressed in royal and silk robes, specifically with the dawn, dalmatic and superomeral crossed over his chest, is kneeling in front of the Madonna and holding a model of the Cathedral. Mary is dressed in blue and brown robes and is depicted majestically seated on a gem-covered throne as she holds out her hands towards this special gift. From above, two angels hover and move towards the archetype while a hand, that of God Almighty, blesses the entire scene.

The classical and Romanesque Provençal style is combined with an Islamic architectural style, which is reflected in the ogival arches , which have a characteristic archway made up of an all-round curb, with a truncated base.

A tree full of life

The cemetery of kings

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

The decorated facade

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

The balance between architecture and light

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

The mosaics of the apses

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

The side aisles

Mosaic decoration

A Northern population

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

Squaring the circle

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

The chapel of St. Benedict

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

A palimpsest of history

The rediscovered chapel

A controversial interpretation

The beginning of the construction site

Roger II’s strategic design

Ecclesia munita

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

The Great Restoration

The Kings’ Cathedrals

The king’s mark

The lost chapel

The original design

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

Under the crosses of the Bema

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

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

The towers and the western facade

Interior decorations

Beyond the harmony of proportions

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

The stone bible

The longest aisle

Worship services

The Bible carved in stone

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

The Chapel of the Kings

A new Cathedral

The Gualtiero Cathedral

The southern portico

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

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

The Cathedral over the centuries

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

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

The senses tell Context 1

The cultural substrate through time

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

The Virgin Hodegetria

A remarkable ceiling

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

The area of the Sanctuary

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

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

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

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

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

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

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

Survey of the royal tombs

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

A space between the visible and the invisible

The mosaics of the presbytery

Transformations over the centuries

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers