The Metropolitan Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily

The Duomo of Monreale is located in Palermo, Sicily and is surely one of the most striking examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture in existence. It was built under the ausipces of the Normans in the latter half of the twelfth century. (And, perhaps not well known, is that St. Louis, the King of France, is buried here.)

The cathedral complex also includes an attached abbey with a spectacular cloister.

The columns of the cloister are a beautiful arrangement of alternating shapes with some of the columns also decorated with intricate patterns of colour. The capitals of these columns include an array of foliage as well as biblical scenes. 

The exterior of the cathedral is also noteworthy for its inclusion of Arabesque elements of design which tie it to the history of Sicily which was once under arabic rule. 

As for the interior of the basilica, it contains one of the most recognizable apse mosaics in the Christian world, depicting Christ the Pantocrator. 

Beneath this is an image of the Virgin enthroned, holding the Christ Child, surrounded by what appears to be the Archangels Michael and Gabriel as well as the apostles.  Above this level, nearest the apse itself are further angelic choirs and six winged seraphim. 

Stunning in its completeness, the entire interior of the cathedral is decorated with various mosaics depicting saints and scenes from both the Old and New Testaments -- something I always find appealing. This is truly a "bible in stone." 

Visible here is Noah and the Ark

The cathedral also boasts some beautiful chapels:

The chapel of the crucifix

Particularly striking are two chapels of St. Peter and of St. Paul:

St. Paul -- as well as the tabernacle

St. Peter

Last, and most certainly not least, we now turn our attention to the spectacular baroque high altar of Monreale. (Readers interested in more details about the altar statuary may wish to see our previous article on the subject.) While I do not know this for certain, I suspect the historical arrangement of this sanctuary would have been more akin to that which we recently featured at San Vitale in Ravenna with its synthronon. 

We conclude with two historical images taken from Monreale. The first showing a Low Mass being offered on the high altar, and the second showing the choir, sanctuary and episcopal throne more clearly.

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