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 king’s mark

The longest aisle

The Great Presbytery: a unique space for the cathedral

Gardens and architecture as a backdrop to the city of Palermo

Survey of the royal tombs

The Bible carved in stone

Squaring the circle

Norman religious architecture with islamic influences in Sicily

Roger II of hauteville: a sovereign protected by God

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

Mosaic decoration

The chorus: beating heart of the cathedral

A controversial interpretation

Palermo: the happiest city

The rediscovered chapel

The southern portico

The Kings’ Cathedrals

Transformations over the centuries

The medieval city amidst monasticism and feudal aristocracy

The chystro: a place between earth and sky

A polysemy of high-level artistic forms and content

The Virgin Hodegetria

Beyond the harmony of proportions

Ecclesia munita

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

A remarkable ceiling

The balance between architecture and light

The mosaics of the presbytery

A mixture of styles pervades the floor decorations

The Chapel of the Kings

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

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

A palimpsest of history

Roger II’s strategic design

The area of the Sanctuary

The decorated facade

The dialogue between the architectures of the monumental complex

The side aisles

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

From the Mosque to the Cathedral

A cloister of accentuated stylistic variety

The transformations of the hall through the centuries

The Chapel of St. Mary Magdalene

The chapel of St. Benedict

The towers and the western facade

The beginning of the construction site

Layers of different cultures decorate the external apses

A Northern population

The Gualtiero Cathedral

The original design

Porphyry sarcophagi: royalty and power

Artistic elements in Peter’s ship

The liturgical spaces of the protesis and the diaconicon

A space between the visible and the invisible

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

A new Cathedral

The Great Restoration

The towers facing the facade used as bell towers

The mosaics of the apses

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

A chapel by an unknown designer based on repeated symmetries

Interior decorations

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

The senses tell Context 1

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

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

Two initially similar towers, varied over time

Under the crosses of the Bema

The cemetery of kings

The chapel of san Castrense: an important renaissance work

The Cathedral over the centuries

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

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

Characteristics of religious architecture in the romanesque period

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

Worship services

Cefalù: settlement evidence through time

A tree full of life

The construction of Monreale Cathedral: between myth and history

The lost chapel

The cultural substrate through time

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

The stone bible