Monreale Cathedral
the Great Presbytery

The mosaics of the apses

The mosaic cycle, with the great story of Man and Salvation, inspired by Genesis, the Gospels and the Apocalypse, concludes with the decorations of the three apses , which represent the apex of the ascending path, begun in the naves and in the presbytery . The iconography of this area depicts the life of Christ, from the moment of His Incarnation to the moment when He returns to bring history to completion. semi-curved surface of the central apsidal dome , there is a majestic representation of the great Judge and Redeemer: the Christ Pantocrator , who welcomes the faithful with his great embrace and whose image is framed in a sumptuous triumphal arch, in which tondos depicting the prophets are inserted: David, Solomon, Elijah, Samuel, Daniel, Gideon, Nathan, Elisha, and, in the centre, Emmanuel.
In the central part of the vault of the arch, the Etimasia , i.e, the empty throne that will welcome Christ, universal judge, at the end of time, as narrated in the Revelation, is represented among angelic choirs. Below the Pantocrator, the Virgin and Child enthroned is featured with the Greek inscription panacrontas, i.e, “all immaculate”, flanked by the two archangels Michael and Gabriel and the saints, Peter and Paul.
In this median register, on the northern side, the images of St. Philip, St. Bartholomew, St. Luke, St. James and St. John can be found and, on the southern side, St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Thomas, St. Andrew and St. Simon can be seen.
The images of St. Agatha, St. Anthony, St. Blaise, St. Martin, St. Stephen, St. Peter of Alexandria and St. Clement, pope and martyr, take their place in the lower register of the apse on the northern side. In the southern one, we see St. Sylvester, St. Thomas Becket, St. Lawrence, St. Nicholas, St. Hilary, St. Benedict and St. Mary Magdalene. Among all of them, the presence of Thomas Becket , who was not canonised until the 12th century, can be seen. Under the central apsidal basin, the silver altar , commissioned by Archbishop Testa in 1771 to Luigi Valadier, takes it place.
The precious artefact is decorated with scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, composed of eight medallions and, among the candlesticks, the saints that are relevant to the Diocese of Monreale. The two side apses are dedicated to the Apostles Peter and Paul, symbolising the Church and Preaching.
The positioning of these within the space is not canonical: Peter, in fact stands, to the right of the beholder and to the left of Christ Pantocrator. Usually, however, as can also be seen in the Palatine Chapel , the apostle was on the right of Jesus. This expedient was used, in Monreale, to grant the first bishop of Rome a position of greater dignity and visibility. The mosaic cycle in the Peter bay recounts the apostle’s service of fellowship to God, from his release from prison, to his miracles, to his meeting with Peter and his dispute with Simon Magus.
A depiction of him on a throne emerges in the apse’s semi-dome, as he holds a book covered with gems firmly in his hands.
The other apse, to the right of Christ and to the left of the viewer, is dedicated to the Apostle Paul , depicted, like Peter, on a throne, holding his book. In this bay, in the numerous mosaics that form the iconographic cycle , the various scenes give space and greater importance to the moment of conversation when Saul becomes Paul on the road to Damascus, after the appearance of God. He is the one who will pass on his spiritual teaching through the delivery of the letters.
The scenes of the martyrdom of St Peter and St Paul are not inside the chapels dedicated to them. Instead, they are on the entrance wall of the same bay, specifically because they imitated their master in their martyrdom in this last part of their lives.
The apsidal area is also distinguished by the use of vaults, absent in the rest of the Cathedral, as well as in the eastern part of the sanctuary and in the forepart, which are, instead, covered by wooden trusses . The three different types of vaults are placed respectively in the Bema , in the three semicircular apses and in the rooms in front of them, as they were intended to emphasise the magnificence of the altar and distinguish it from the sacred space reserved for the faithful.
In addition to the central apse and the two lateral ones with their semi-domes, the room in front of the main apse is also characterised by the presence of a barrel vault , which creates a sort of link, not only stylistically but also spiritually, with the surrounding space.

The decorated facade

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

The rediscovered chapel

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

The Gualtiero Cathedral

A new Cathedral

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

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

The balance between architecture and light

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

The southern portico

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

Roger II’s strategic design

The stone bible

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

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

The side aisles

The longest aisle

The original design

Interior decorations

The beginning of the construction site

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

The mosaics of the presbytery

Squaring the circle

Beyond the harmony of proportions

The cultural substrate through time

The Bible carved in stone

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

The chapel of St. Benedict

The cemetery of kings

The Virgin Hodegetria

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

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

Survey of the royal tombs

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

Worship services

Mosaic decoration

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

A remarkable ceiling

Ecclesia munita

The Cathedral over the centuries

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

The lost chapel

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

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

The Kings’ Cathedrals

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

A controversial interpretation

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

The towers and the western facade

Palermo: the happiest city

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

A Northern population

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

A palimpsest of history

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

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

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

The senses tell Context 1

Under the crosses of the Bema

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

The mosaics of the apses

The king’s mark

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

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

The Chapel of the Kings

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

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

The area of the Sanctuary

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

Transformations over the centuries

The Great Restoration

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

A tree full of life

A space between the visible and the invisible

The chystro: a place between earth and sky