Monreale Cathedral
the Great Presbytery

The mosaics of the presbytery

The mosaics of the nave , featuring scenes from the Old and New Testaments , as well as the interplay of columns that runs through and punctuates the interior of the cathedral, seem to accompany the faithful on a salvific journey that crosses the presbytery and culminates, in a Christo-centric line, with the King of Kings, the Christ Pantocrator , placed at the centre of the apsidal dome .

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.

A mosaic cycle which, partly thanks to the figures of over two hundred and fifty saints mainly represented in the sub-arches, invites us to contemplate and look towards Christ, the bearer of justice and salvation.
The presbytery is divided into the left wing, known as St. Louis bay , the choir and the right wing, known as the Williams’ bay. The first is so called because it houses the reliquary altar of St. Louis , at the end of the northern wall of the room; while the Williams’ bay houses the sarcophagi of the kings of Sicily , William I known as “the Bad” and the commissioner of the entire complex, William II . It may be noted that, in comparison with other Norman buildings, the presbyteral part has very slight projections in relation to the rest of the basilica, with the arms of the transept being less pronounced transversely.
The presbytery , located in a raised position, is accessed via a few steps; the space is marked by a series of triumphal arches , which divide this large and wide area into various sections, where architecture, decoration and colours take part in the grandiose iconographic programme that tells the story of Salvation, from the Creation of Man, through sin to the triumph of Christ.In the middle of the first large entrance ogival arch , the Sapientia Dei is depicted, introducing the Cathedral’s entire mosaic cycle, as it accompanies all of God’s work; it is represented as a crowned and veiled woman between archangels Michael and Gabriel . The other triumphal arches, regal and majestic, are arranged in a progressively ascending order and are decorated with clipei , representing kings and prophets , and images of angels and saints leading to the last arch, the one that surrounds the apsidal basin, where the Pantocrator is depicted.
The etimasia , i.e, the empty throne that will welcome Christ, universal judge, at the end of time, as narrated in the Revelation, can be seen in the vault.
Two other arches, depicting saints and martyrs , give access to the presbytery from the northern and southern transepts. In the pillars, positioned above the royal throne and the bishop's seat , the purely political scene of William II being crowned by 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. 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.

and the one with the the sovereign gifting the Monreal Cathedral to the Virgin Mary can be found respectively.

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.
Worship services

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

The cultural substrate through time

The balance between architecture and light

The Kings’ Cathedrals

The chapel of St. Benedict

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

The decorated facade

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

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

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

The original design

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

Beyond the harmony of proportions

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

The Cathedral over the centuries

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

The Great Restoration

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

The stone bible

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

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

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

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

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

The Chapel of the Kings

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

The longest aisle

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

The Virgin Hodegetria

The side aisles

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

A space between the visible and the invisible

The rediscovered chapel

The king’s mark

The beginning of the construction site

Palermo: the happiest city

The Bible carved in stone

A tree full of life

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

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

Interior decorations

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

The towers and the western facade

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

A new Cathedral

A Northern population

Ecclesia munita

The cemetery of kings

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

Mosaic decoration

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

A remarkable ceiling

A palimpsest of history

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

The southern portico

Under the crosses of the Bema

The area of the Sanctuary

The senses tell Context 1

The mosaics of the apses

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

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

The lost chapel

Roger II’s strategic design

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

Squaring the circle

The mosaics of the presbytery

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

Transformations over the centuries

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

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

A controversial interpretation

Survey of the royal tombs

The Gualtiero Cathedral

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