Palermo Cathedral
The Kings’ tombs

The Chapel of the Kings

The Chapel of the Royal Tombs, inside the Palermo Cathedral, houses the tombs of the Norman first king of Sicily, Roger II , Constance of Hauteville and Henry VI of Swabia and their son Frederick II , together with his first wife Constance of Aragon .

The Sarcophagus of Constance Aragon
Frederick II’s first wife, Constance of Aragon, daughter of Peter of Aragon, rests in a white marble sarcophagus from the late Antiquity period. The sarcophagus, built into the right wall of the Chapel of the Royal Tombs, has a gable decoration with an exciting hunting scene and a sloping roof. The tomb also bears an inscription identifying the queen, who died in Catania in 1222: “Sicanie regina fui Constantia coniux augusta hic habito nunc Federice tua”. The interior of the tomb was inspected in 1491 at the behest of Viceroy Ferdinand de Acuña. Numerous jewels were found, which are now kept in the Cathedral treasury: the sumptuous crown, crafted in Palermo Tiraz, five rings and a silver plaque.

The sarcophagi, used as burial places by Henry VI and Frederick II , were carved reusing elements of red porphyry , a symbol of royalty, copied from ancient specimens and coming from Rome, where Islamic craftsmen, originally from Egypt and Constantinople, specialised in working the particular material. The two sarcophagi, intended to be placed in Cefalù Cathedral , were commissioned by Roger II , before 1145: one to hold his mortal remains and the other, to be left empty, “for the greater glory of God”.
After the King’s death in 1154, his wishes were not respected as Frederick II had them transferred to the Palermo Cathedral, allocating one for himself and the other for his father, Henry VI. The location of the group of tombs was originally in the area known as the “Cemetery of Kings”, on the right-hand side of the Cathedral Presbytery, opposite the “Cemetery of Bishops”. Its current location is the result of a number of transformations which begun in the last decades of the 18th century. They were designed by Ferdinando Fuga and then completed in a more incisive way by the architect Venanzio Marvuglia . The changes mainly affected the side chapels and the Sanctuary where the Titulo and Antititulo were dismantled. If the latter was the transversal space, the Titulo, on the other hand, included the choir, the space dedicated to the tombs of kings and bishops. The restorations that erased these two areas led to the creation of a transept with a dome in the centre and an extension of the choir to the main apse, where a large central chapel was created. The sarcophagi were then moved to the present-day Chapel of the Royal Tombs.
GRAVES IN GENERAL
The Chapel of the Royal Tombs, inside the Palermo Cathedral, houses the tombs of the Norman Roger II, first king of Sicily, Constance of Hauteville and Henry VI of Swabia and their son Frederick II, together with his first wife Constance of Aragon. Four sarcophagi are placed in corresponding areas of the chapel, with those of Roger II and Constance of Hauteville in the background, and the funerary monuments of Frederick II and Henry VI in the foreground. The sarcophagi, used as burial places by Henry VI and Frederick II, were carved using elements of red porphyry. The two sarcophagi, intended to be placed in the Cefalù Cathedral, were commissioned by (app. historical figure) Roger II, before 1145: one to hold his mortal remains and the other, to be left empty, ‘for the greater glory of God’. After the King’s death in 1154, his wishes were not respected as Frederick II had them transferred to the Palermo Cathedral, allocating one for himself and the other for his father. The two sarcophagi have grey marble and porphyry slab roofs, supported by six porphyry columns. The entablature of the canopy covering the emperor’s sarcophagus contains anthropomorphic protomes. The first King of Sicily rests in a tomb, with a rectangular case, covered with red porphyry slabs and a sloping lid, supported by a sculptural group of four male figures. Queen and Empress Constance of Hauteville lies in a red porphyry sarcophagus bearing the epitaph “Romanorum imperatrix, semper augusta et regina Siciliae”. Both sarcophagi are surmounted by marble canopies; those for Roger II and Constance of Hauteville are in white marble, supported by columns decorated with mosaics with geometric motifs, together with the entablature.

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