Monreale Cathedral
the Great Presbytery

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

Looking back over the centuries, one naturally wonders about the atmosphere that permeated this place, introduced by the long rows of the central nave’s columns , which accompany the gaze in an ever closer succession of ogival arches culminating in the apse with the grandiose image of the Blessing Redeemer .

In the central apse of the Monreale Cathedra, Christ Pantocrator emerges from a rich golden background. Hieratic and solemn, Christ Pantocrator is depicted as a half-length figure and, like a casket of divine light, emanates light. The Pantocrator, from the Greek word for ruler of all things, blesses the faithful with his right hand: the two arched fingers symbolise Christ’s dual nature, divine and earthly, while the other three, joined together, are an allegory of the Holy Trinity. This hand pose was also used in ancient times by Roman emperors when they asked for silence. With his left hand, he firmly holds the Gospel. The volume has an open page, either in Greek and Latin, which contains the phrase: “I am the light of the world; Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. Christ Pantocrator, majestic and with a stern but benevolent gaze, facing to the right, is crowned with a crusader’s nimbus in memory of his sacrifice, richly decorated with gems and jewels. He has long, flowing hair and a rosy complexion. Christ Pantocrator is the Almighty, the King of Kings. He has a golden/red robe, symbolic of divinity, and a blue mantle, symbolic of humanity. With his great, 11-metre long embrace, which spreads through the apse, he represents both God and man, welcoming and saving the faithful. The iconography, of classical Byzantine derivation, is often found in the Christian Middle East, and is widespread throughout the south of Italy in frescoes, while in Sicily it was mosaicked in Monreale, Cefalù and Palermo. The tiles are arranged in an almost concentric way around the Pantocrator. This is done so as to create two-dimensional and abstract backgrounds that make the whole depiction appear symmetrical, mystical and precious. Christ is immersed in a golden and luminous sky, a casket of light to which every believer, once inside the Cathedral, approaches on this journey towards Salvation.

The Cathedral’s choir is inserted in a large square space, which faces the high altar and bordered in the last part of the nave, already included in the presbytery, by an iconostasis , a Greek Orthodox liturgical element, removed in 1658.
From the very beginning, the Fabbrica not only represented the heart of the sacred celebrations in the presence of the Benedictine monks, but also the tangible signs of the Norman monarchy and archiepiscopal authority, as evoked by the location of the bishop’s chair, located to the south and of the royal seat, placed on the north side, near the apsidal area.
At the same time, the biblical and evangelical tradition is also majestically depicted in the mosaic ornaments which decorate the walls and the clipei of the four ogival arches, arranged in a crescendo and pervaded by images of kings and prophets , visible from the triumphal arch .
In the Byzantine iconography, present in the Choir, the figure of William II , commissioner of this magnificent Temple, is represented in mosaic as he is crowned king of Sicily by Christ ,

mosaic of William II
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. The first mosaic shows the king of Sicily dressed in the classical dalmatic robe, standing and gazing deeply as he is about to be crowned by Christ. The latter is surrounded by two angels, carrying the sceptre and the crucigerous globe, respectively. Christ, at the right of the king, is seated on a golden throne studded with gems. He has a stern and proud face and utters the biblical expression “my hand will help him”, while holding firmly in his hands a volume with the same words as the Pantocrator “I am the light of the world; Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”. This scene plays an important political role in highlighting the concept that the power of the Norman rulers descended directly from God.

as well as in the act of offering the Cathedral as a gift to the Virgin , seated in throne with the Child Christ.

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.

These official representations, which can be traced back to styles typical of Byzantine emperors, served the function of passing on the memory that the sovereign wished to keep alive, the memory of his work. They also served as encouragement for the monks to celebrate liturgical events.

The organ in Monreale Cathedral is a six-keyboard model made by the Ruffatti brothers of Padua. It dates back to 1967, designed by the Monreale architect Luigi Epifanio. The new organ incorporates elements of the organ built by the Felice Platania e Figli company of Acireale in 1853, after the restoration and reconstruction of the church following the terrible fire of 1810 that destroyed the entire choir. The current organ has six manuals and 46 pedal registers. The sound complex consists of approximately ten thousand wooden and metal pipes.

To increase the mystical atmosphere created by the chants sung by the Benedictines, the space was enriched from 1503 onwards with different types of organs that followed the vicissitudes of the religious building on the one hand, and the choices of the pastoral governments that followed over time on the other.

The Gualtiero Cathedral

Transformations over the centuries

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

The Chapel of the Kings

The longest aisle

The original design

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

Survey of the royal tombs

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

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

The cultural substrate through time

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

The lost chapel

The Cathedral over the centuries

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

The area of the Sanctuary

A tree full of life

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

A Northern population

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

A new Cathedral

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

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

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

The beginning of the construction site

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

The cemetery of kings

The balance between architecture and light

The decorated facade

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

A controversial interpretation

The chapel of St. Benedict

Under the crosses of the Bema

Mosaic decoration

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

A space between the visible and the invisible

The mosaics of the apses

The Bible carved in stone

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

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

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

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

The southern portico

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

The king’s mark

Worship services

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

Palermo: the happiest city

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

The Virgin Hodegetria

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

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

The side aisles

Squaring the circle

The Kings’ Cathedrals

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

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

The senses tell Context 1

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

The towers and the western facade

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

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

Ecclesia munita

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

The Great Restoration

A palimpsest of history

Beyond the harmony of proportions

The rediscovered chapel

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

Interior decorations

The mosaics of the presbytery

The stone bible

A remarkable ceiling

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

Roger II’s strategic design