Monreale Cathedral
the Great Presbytery

The Virgin Hodegetria

la Vergine OdigitriaThe mosaic of the Virgin Odigitria, located in the lunette above the main entrance, concludes the journey towards Salvation, explained in the entire mosaic cycle that runs through the aisles , the presbytery and the apses of the Monreale Cathedral.
If the salvific centrepiece is the great image of the Christ Pantocrator , in the apsidal dome , Our Lady Odigitria, on the other hand, guides the pilgrims on their way back and lovingly accompanies them as they leave the church after participating in the liturgy.

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 Virgin Hodegetria, from the Greek Oδηγήτρια meaning “she who leads/points the way”, is one of the most widespread images in Byzantine art.
In the Monreale mosaic, Mary wears a dark blue dress, a sign of her human nature, wrapped in a red cloak, with gold accents, a sign of her divine nature, for her assumption into heaven. The Virgin holds the Child, the way of Salvation, Light and Eternal Life in her arms. The blessing baby Jesus, wearing a gold-coloured robe and set within a jewelled nimbus, holds an open scroll in his left hand.
Under the icon, the following Latin inscription can be read: “Sponsa tue prolis stella puerpera solis pro cuntis ora sed plus pro rege labora”, which refers to the importance of prayer and work, as already expressed in the Benedictine rule with the phrase “ora et labora”, as well as mentioning the patron, King William II . The Virgin Hodegetria appears again in the 13th-century “Madonna Bruna” panel, also known as “Madonna Negra”.
The table, probably placed in the area of the presbytery, was later moved, around 1500, to the side altars. After the fire of 1811, it was placed in the sacristy and was later exhibited in the Diocesan Museum. After further restoration work, it has now returned to the Cathedral. The piece has a silver-plated background and pastille parts in relief. As in the mosaic, she points to the Child with her right hand. Mary is dressed in a blue tunic, wrapped in a purple cloak, adorned with beads and stars, embroidered with pearls on the shoulders and forehead, a symbol of Virginity. Jesus is in the act blessing, dressed in a white robe, a red tunic and a purple toga. In this image, he holds a closed scroll in his hands.

The southern portico

The towers and the western facade

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

The Bible carved in stone

A tree full of life

The decorated facade

Mosaic decoration

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

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

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

The king’s mark

The longest aisle

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

The rediscovered chapel

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

The stone bible

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

The Gualtiero Cathedral

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

The original design

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

Squaring the circle

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

A palimpsest of history

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

Interior decorations

A Northern population

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

The Virgin Hodegetria

The beginning of the construction site

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

Beyond the harmony of proportions

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

The Chapel of the Kings

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

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

The mosaics of the presbytery

Survey of the royal tombs

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

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

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

Ecclesia munita

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

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

The cultural substrate through time

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

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

A controversial interpretation

A new Cathedral

The mosaics of the apses

A remarkable ceiling

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

The side aisles

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

The balance between architecture and light

The cemetery of kings

The Cathedral over the centuries

A space between the visible and the invisible

The lost chapel

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

Palermo: the happiest city

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

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

Under the crosses of the Bema

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

The Kings’ Cathedrals

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

Worship services

Roger II’s strategic design

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

Transformations over the centuries

The senses tell Context 1

The area of the Sanctuary

The Great Restoration

The chapel of St. Benedict