Cathedral of Monreale

Monreale, Italy

The Cathedral of Monreale is one of the greatest existent examples of Norman architecture. The construction of Monreale, started in 1172, was approved by Pope Alexander III with a bull on 30 December 1174. Works, including an annexed abbey, were completed only in 1267 and the church consecrated at the presence of Pope Clement IV. In 1178 Pope Lucius III established the archdiocese of Monreale and the abbey church was elevated to the rank of cathedral. The archbishops obtained by the kings of Sicily a wide array of privileges and lands in the whole Italian peninsula. In 1270 Louis IX, King of France, brother of King Charles I of Naples, was buried here.

In 1547-1569 a portico was added to the northern side, designed by Giovanni Domenico Gagini and Fazio Gagini, in Renaissance style, covered by a cross vault and featuring eleven round arches supported by Corinthian columns. In 1559 most of the internal pavement was added.

The church's plan is a mixture of Eastern Rite and Roman Catholic arrangement. The nave is like an Italian basilica, while the large triple-apsed choir is similar to one of the early three-apsed churches, of which so many examples still exist in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. It is like two quite different churches put together endwise.

The main internal features are the vast (6,500 m2) glass mosaics, executed in Byzantine style between the late 12th and the mid-13th centuries by both local and Venetians masters.

Since 2015 it is part of the Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale UNESCO Heritage site. The church is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.

 

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Founded: 1172-1267
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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Hagios Demetrios

The Church of Saint Demetrius, or Hagios Demetrios, is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. It is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1988.

The first church on the spot was constructed in the early 4th century AD, replacing a Roman bath. A century later, a prefect named Leontios replaced the small oratory with a larger, three-aisled basilica. Repeatedly gutted by fires, the church eventually was reconstructed as a five-aisled basilica in 629–634. This was the surviving form of the church much as it is today. The most important shrine in the city, it was probably larger than the local cathedral. The historic location of the latter is now unknown.

The church had an unusual shrine called the ciborium, a hexagonal, roofed structure at one side of the nave. It was made of or covered with silver. The structure had doors and inside was a couch or bed. Unusually, it did not hold any physical relics of the saint. The ciborium seems to have been a symbolic tomb. It was rebuilt at least once.

The basilica is famous for six extant mosaic panels, dated to the period between the latest reconstruction and the inauguration of the Byzantine Iconoclasm in 730. These mosaics depict St. Demetrius with officials responsible for the restoration of the church (called the founders, ktetors) and with children. An inscription below one of the images glorifies heaven for saving the people of Thessalonica from a pagan Slavic raid in 615.

Thessaloniki became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1430. About 60 years later, during the reign of Bayezid II, the church was converted into a mosque, known as the Kasımiye Camii after the local Ottoman mayor, Cezeri Kasım Pasha. The symbolic tomb however was kept open for Christian veneration. Other magnificent mosaics, recorded as covering the church interior, were lost either during the four centuries when it functioned as a mosque (1493–1912) or in the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 that destroyed much of the city. It also destroyed the roof and upper walls of the church. Black-and-white photographs and good watercolour versions give an idea of the early Byzantine craftsmanship lost during the fire.

Following the Great Fire of 1917, it took decades to restore the church. Tombstones from the city"s Jewish cemetery - destroyed by the Greek and Nazi German authorities - were used as building materials in these restoration efforts in the 1940s. Archeological excavations conducted in the 1930s and 1940s revealed interesting artifacts that may be seen in a museum situated inside the church"s crypt. The excavations also uncovered the ruins of a Roman bath, where St. Demetrius was said to have been held prisoner and executed. A Roman well was also discovered. Scholars believe this is where soldiers dropped the body of St. Demetrius after his execution. After restoration, the church was reconsecrated in 1949.