Melding Cultures in Monreale


The Cathedral boasts 216 columns and accompanying mosaics, which required over 2200kg of gold to complete! (from Wonders of Sicily)

In Monreale, in the province of Palermo, Sicily

On June 1st, we went to the Cathedral of Monreale, one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture, as well as a novel combination of Byzantine, Arabic and Christian artistic styles (see interior above). The monastery existed even before the cathedral, as a place of healing. The power of healing is demonstrated through praying and being silent.

–first photo and text by Zhuoyang Ye; photo below from TRACE

Duomo di Monreale, chiostro, Monreale

From The Thinking Traveler:

The story of how this splendid cathedral came into being starts when the Arabs took control of Palermo in 831. They transformed the cathedral into a mosque and banished the Bishop of Palermo from town. Not wishing to venture too far from his beloved cathedral, the Bishop settled in a small village in the hills overlooking Palermo, the site of modern-day Monreale. There, he built a modest church to keep the flame of local Christian worship alive.

Every other pair of columns is decorated with unique mosaic patterns (no two are the same) and each is topped by a floral capital. The overall effect is one of not quite perfect symmetry, but absolute perfection!

Some 240 years later, in 1072, the Normans drove the Arabs from Sicily, establishing Palermo as their capital and re-consecrating the cathedral.

In 1174, in an act of piety, thanksgiving, and commemoration of the exiled Bishop, King William II ordered the construction of a new church in Monreale, dedicated to the Virgin Mary (one of the mosaics depicts King William II presenting the church to the Madonna). On its completion in 1182, Pope Lucius III elevated the splendid church to the status of metropolitan cathedral.

Enlightened, tolerant and appreciative of many aspects of North African and Middle Eastern culture and art, William II employed the very best Arabic and Byzantine (as well as Norman) craftsmen to work on the cathedral. The result is a fabulous and fascinating fusion of architectural styles, artistic traditions, and religious symbolism.

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