The  Monreale Cathedral - " the most beautiful Temple of the world "

The Cathedral stand aloof on the edge of the historical centre of Monreale, a small town overlooking the Oreto River valley and the famous “Conca d’Oro”. “The golden Temple”, a fairy-tale construction, the Christian apotheosis of a Norman king’s dream: one morning of 1174, William II, known as “the Good”, Roger II’s grandson and third Norman King of Sicily, awoke early at daybreak and told his ministers he had dreamt of the Virgin Mary asking him to build her a church with the treasure stolen from the State by his father, William I known as “the Bad”, and hidden in a secret place that she would have shown him.

The facade of Monreale Cathedral

The facade of Monreale Cathedral. The massive original towers (the left one is incomplete) flank the 18C portico, adorned with three arches supported by monolithic Doric columns. The marble balaustrade sticks out from the upper section of the façade, decorated with entwined arches divided by the wide central lancet window.

The main portal

The main portal. The bronze doors made by Bonanno Pisano (1186) are divided into 42 relief panels depicting scenes from the Bible.

Driven by the desire to emulate his grandfather Roger, the founder of the superb Cefalù Cathedral and Palatine Chapel, the king made his dreams came true by building a church that equalled, and maybe surpassed, the great Roman and Byzantine Christian cathedral in artistic and architectural splendour.
We like to believe (and we are sure we are not mistaken) that he was also driven by his religious faith and by his determination to restore Christian tradition in Sicily, after centuries of neglect due to Muslim rule. In 1174, at the young age of 20, the king began the construction of both the Cathedral and the vast architectural complex including the Benedictine Abbey, the Archbishop Palace and the Royal Palace. 

Apart from William’s ambition to hand down to posterity his own name and that is Norman royal house by erecting the magnificent Christian church, the architectural project was thus meant as a testimony to the Christian faith of the young king who, like his predecessors, wanted to assume the Arab title of Caliph under the name of “al-Musta’izz bi-llah”, “He who searches exaltation in God”. Therefore, political and historical reasons of State inspired the king’s profound religious faith. The Latin basilican plan with the Byzantine type cross vault is not domed and covers a vast area (102 m long and 40 m wide). It is divided into a nave and twin aisles by 18 columns with capitals of exquisite workmanship, decorated with mosaic-covered pulvinoes (Byzantine transformation of the Greek abacus), clypei of pagan divinities, acanthus leaves and cornucopias overflowing with fruit. The columns bear Saracen-style pointed arches. The mosaic floor, with granite and porphyry geometric decorations, is the original one completed in the 16C. The walls of the nave, transept and apses are entirely decorated with mosaics on a gilded background, covering a total area of 6,340 sq m. The mosaic decorations are the work of Byzantine and Venetian craftsmen, executed between the end of the 12C and the beginning of the 13C and depicting a cycle of scenes from the Old and the New Testaments.

Mosaic of the Monreale Cathedral

Mosaic of the Monreale Cathedral:
Guglielmo II which offers to the Virgin the copy of the church

Central Apse

Central Apse

Christ Pantocrator

The central apse of the Cathedral, with the huge figure of Christ Pantocrator (from the Greek Pantocrator = Almighty).  



The figure in the apse are arranged according to a logicohierarchical order, with the figure of Christ in the apsidal vaultemphatically dominating the mosaic representation of the Virgin and Child in the middle, flankes byangels and apostles, and figure of saint underneath. The majestic Christ (13,30 m wide and 7 m high) is blessing with his right hand, while his left hand is holding the Gospel, open on the page which reads, in Latin: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follow me will never walk in darkness”.

Round his head is a nimbus with a cross, symbol of the Passion. The Virgin is sitting on the throne and holding the blessing Child on her knees, flanked by the Greek inscriptions “Mother of Christ”, the assertion of her divine motherhood as defined by the Council of Ephesus, and “All Pure”, to signify the “Immaculate Conception” a few centuries before Pope Pius IX’s declaration. The apse with the figures of Christ and the Virgin is the focal point and the mystical and religious culmination of the poetic mosaic narration.

The Nave towards the entry

 The Nave towards the entry

Nave' s Mosaic with images of the Old Testament

Nave' s Mosaic with images of the Old Testament

The Chapel of Jesus on the Cross

The interior of the Cathedral:
The Chapel of Jesus on the Cross (XVII c.)



The Cloister of Monreale  

This splendid example of Sicilian Romanesque sculpture, almost intact in its original architecture, was built by William II together with the basilica and the Benedictine Monastery, of which it was part. The four sides of the square cloister (each 47 m long) are entirely surrounded by the portico, with an interrupted series of 228 small paired columns bearing capitals and pointed arches. This is what a remarkable tourist from the last century, the writer and novelist Guy de Maupassant, wrote about his “Journey to Sicily”:
“The marvellous Monreale cloister, instead, conjures up an impression of such grace as to make one want to stay there forever…The exquisite proportions, the incredible slenderness of the light paired columns, one besides the other, all different, some covered with mosaics, other bare; some decorated with sculptures of unmatched delicacy, other adorned with  simple stone carvings which wind round them as a creeper, are a wonder to behold, casting spells and generating that artist joy which, trough the eye, penetrates the soul at the sign  of such exquisite beauty. How could one not love these cloisters, so steeped in peace, closed and invented, it might seem, with the purpose of generating most profound thoughts as one walks slowly under the arcades! How one feels that these corridors of stone, these corridors of columns enclosing a little garden which rests the eye without disturbing or distracting it, were created to stir one’s imagination! One cannot contemplate this genuine masterpiece of beauty and grace without recalling Victor Hugo’s verses on the Greek artist who was able to lay

“Something as beautiful as a human smile on the Propylaea’s profile”.

The heavenly walk takes place amid high ancient walls with pointed arches, the only remains of the monastery”. (Guy de Maupassant)