Cefalù Cathedral
the church hall

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

PAINTED CEILING PANELS
The painted panels of the Cefalù Cathedral ceiling, arranged in horizontal axes, are 30cm high and 110m long. Traces of gold leaf, also found in the Palatine Chapel (iconographic similarities have also been found between Cefalù and the central aisle of the Palatine), and the precious blue lapis lazuli, the latter being considered royal, have been found among the bright colours. Despite the losses and the difficulty in reading some of the panels, it can be seen that the iconography, the result of a coherent process and skilled craftsmen, is diverse but features courtly, fantastic and natural world motifs. In the long continuous panels, subdivided into medallions decorated with a beaded motif, there are repeated decorative scenes with lions (the lion is often repeated as the heraldic coat of arms of the Hauteville family), antelopes, griffins, snakes, sphinxes, rabbits, birds in heraldic poses, peacocks with open tails, camels, elephants, gazelles, twin animals and the presence of hexagonal and octagonal designs, of Islamic inspiration, which recall the decorations of the carving below. The scene of the swan/ibis is particularly unique: elegant and with a long beak, the animal is caught fighting a snake, recalling the Egyptian motif of the sacred ibis. Interspersed with zoomorphic and branching plant decorations and floral motifs, other panels present depictions of warriors, falconers, hunters, horsemen, boldly outlined in black, and other men pointing at animals, playing instruments (including lutes, castanets, tambourines, cymbals, psalteries), dancing, drinking or holding cups and containers. The rendering of their costumes is refined, as is the study of expressions and physical characteristics. Other scenes are far more complex and feature the Tree of Life, the capturing of an animal, a peacock bearer, musicians on an elephant, a scribe, fantastic characters with fish tails and scenes of fighting.

Looking at the pitched roof of Cefalù Cathedral takes us back in time to when it was built as an unprecedented work in perfect harmony with the structure of the walls of the nave. It was so large and flooded with free light that special attention had to be paid to the construction aspects of its roof.
The solution adopted by the medieval carpenters was not limited to the choice of a truss configuration , in respect of the Romanesque style, but to a system of elements extended to the entire base surface of the roof. The connection and interaction of the parts increased the absorption of thrust, using forward-looking strategies characteristic of the Gothic period.
These were already visible in the aesthetic and functional arrangement of the spindle-shaped series of chains designed to reduce weight-related inflection. Clues hidden in the outer bank of the walkway, which contains a pictorial decoration inspired by heraldic themes, lead us back to the first restorations, during the Ventimiglia period, in 1263.
The wooden ceiling subsequently underwent alterations during the 16th and 17th centuries that caused some of its elements from the period of the first construction to be moved from their original positions. In the middle of the nave of the Cefalù Cathedral, linked to a unified and, perhaps, broader decorative concept with the octagonal stars in the attic, scenes painted on boards arranged on horizontal axes develop with dynamic fluency.

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

The balance between architecture and light

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

A new Cathedral

Survey of the royal tombs

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

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

The Chapel of the Kings

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

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

Roger II’s strategic design

The cemetery of kings

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

The cultural substrate through time

A space between the visible and the invisible

The mosaics of the presbytery

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

The Virgin Hodegetria

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

The original design

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

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

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

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

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

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

The area of the Sanctuary

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

The senses tell Context 1

Squaring the circle

Beyond the harmony of proportions

The lost chapel

The Cathedral over the centuries

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

The towers and the western facade

Palermo: the happiest city

Worship services

A palimpsest of history

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

Under the crosses of the Bema

The side aisles

The beginning of the construction site

A controversial interpretation

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

The rediscovered chapel

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

Ecclesia munita

A Northern population

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

The king’s mark

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

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

The southern portico

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

The Gualtiero Cathedral

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

The stone bible

A tree full of life

The longest aisle

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

The Bible carved in stone

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

Interior decorations

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

Transformations over the centuries

Mosaic decoration

The Kings’ Cathedrals

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

A remarkable ceiling

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

The mosaics of the apses

The chapel of St. Benedict

The Great Restoration

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

The decorated facade