Looking back over the centuries, one naturally wonders about the atmosphere that permeated this place, introduced by the long rows of columns in the central aisle, which accompany the eye in an ever tighter succession of pointed arches, culminating in the central apse with the grandiose image of the Blessing Redeemer. In the Sanctuary area, burning incense is a way of raising the soul to God. Its smoke recalls the great divine mystery while its sweet and spicy smell heralds the presence of Christ, creating a mystical link between heaven and earth. The thurible swings three times, symbolising the Trinity, while the faithful pray and sanctify the Almighty.
To add to the mystical atmosphere that characterised the Cathedral in medieval times, derived from the chants sung by the Benedictines, the space was enriched from 1503 onwards with different types of organs. The liturgy was thus enlivened by music, which, as St. Augustine claimed, was a prayer that lifted hearts and minds to God.
The mosaics in the central aisle, with scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as the interplay of columns running through the interior of the cathedral, seem to accompany the faithful on a salvific journey through the presbytery, culminating in the Christocentric King of Kings, Christ Pantocrator, at the centre of the apse dome. The presbytery is divided into the left wing, known as the Campata di San Luigi, the choir and the right wing, known as the Campata dei Guglielmi. The latter is located in the southern section of the transept and houses the royal tombs. The remains of the temple’s founder are kept in a white marble sarcophagus, commissioned by Archbishop Ludovico I Torres in 1575. It is supported by brackets with a zoomorphic base, finely decorated with friezes carved with foliage and classical winged putti. On one of its larger sides, it bears a long laudatory epitaph, composed by Antonio Veneziano, a poet from Monreale, and engraved on a cartouche plaque. A red porphyry tomb houses the body of William I. The tomb, damaged by fire in 1811, was stripped of the six porphyry columns, three on each side, which supported a marble canopy.
Touching the glittering gold mosaic tiles that make up the immense Monreale cycle can give you an idea of the consistency of the materials used for this imposing structure which expresses the political, cultural and spiritual agenda of William the Good.