For those who are up of their religious history, Palermo is
an interesting city. It has not one, but two major cathedrals. Yes, one of them
is technically in the town of Monreale, but both were built with intention of
being the headquarters of the diocese in the Palermo region. How did this
happen? Well, here is the story.
|Cathedral at Monreale|
It all begins with the Saracen invasion of the 9th
century. At that time the town of Palermo was the center of trade in northwest
Sicily. This didn’t change, but the control of the town switched from Catholic
to Muslim. And it stayed that way for around two hundred years. During this
period, the archbishop of Palermo was forced to live outside the city walls in
the town of Monreale.
|The Death and Agony of William II of Sicily - By Petrus de Ebulo (XII-XIII century) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
Then in 1072, the crusades, led by an Anglo-Norman army,
brought control of Palermo back to the Christians. The seat of the Church moved
back into Palermo. And here is where the competition began.
The Norman Cathedral of
In the year 1172 King William II of Sicily ordered the
construction of a new cathedral. Legend has it that fell asleep while hunting
in the forest of Monreale and dreamt that he would find a treasure there. So
he had his men dig up the forest, and low and behold, a treasure he did find.
He dedicated this money to start construction on a cathedral in Monreale.
William II hired the best craftsmen and his designers created on the most
beautiful church interiors in the world.
|The Cathedral at Monreale|
The building is 102 meters long and it is divided into three
sections, the nave, the choir and the sanctuary. The interior of the church is
covered with extensive gold mosaics. The mosaics start at a height of about ten
feel, and cover the walls and the ceiling. These works of art tell the stories
of the old and new testaments of the bible.
The nave is divided into three sections but two rows of
columns. Each columns individually decorated, and no two are alike. The sanctuary
is also divided into three sections, with the altar in the center and entrances
to two chapels on either side. Above the altar is a massive mosaic with the
face of Jesus looking down on the proceedings and parishioners. In the center
is the choir, which is flanked on both sides by the pipes of the cathedrals
massive organ. Behind the pipes, on the south side of the Cathedral are the
tombs of King William I and King William II of Sicily.
|Tomb of William II|
|Jesus, looking down above the altar|
|1/2 of the organ's pipes|
The Cathedral of
With the king building this beautiful cathedral in Monreale,
why, you might ask, would anyone want to build another cathedral just 5 Km
away? Well, King William II was Sicilian, and the Archbishop of Palermo was
Anglo-Norman, and while he was loyal to the king, he had his own view of where the
power of the church should sit. This was especially true given the fact that
the Saracens had torn down the original cathedral, which had been dedicated by
Pope Gregory I, and built a mosque on its site. So Archbishop Walter Ophamil had
the mosque torn down, and began construction of a new cathedral. He was going
to reclaim that space for the Catholic Church.
|Cupola of the Palermo Duomo|
To me, the beauty of this building is its exterior. The
original building was erected in 1185, but there were additions over the next
400 or so years. This has created a very complex look to the edifice. While
there is no one style, the different architects did a fantastic job at making
sure that these disparate sections blended together to make a whole that exceeds
the sum of its parts.
|Moorish style brickwork|
|St. Rosalie - patron of Palermo|
|This is where we stayed in Palermo - right across from the Cathedral |
So there you have it. Two magnificent cathedrals, built at
the same time, less than 5 Km apart. Both are worth seeing when you come to
The Palermo Cathedral is at the southern end of Via Vitorrio Emmanuel III, near the Porto Nouvo. The free jitney that runs in the old section of town stops about 25m from the church.
The Monreale Cathedral is in Monreale. The #389P goes from Piazza Indipendenza to to Monreale. It stops about 400m below the church on the main road into town. Also all of the Hop On-Hop Off bus tours have a trip to the cathedral at least once a day.
Love the pictures and the historical explanations. That took a lot of work, Jon. Did you make it to Catano? That's where my father was from.ReplyDelete
Glad that you liked this piece. We did make to Catano, and there will be pieces from there coming soonDelete
Wow. How interesting. What research and I enjoyed the pictures. ThanksReplyDelete
Thank you for this Jonathan. The pictures and background history are fantastic. Enjoy your blogs as I feel like I am there.ReplyDelete