Cefalù Cathedral

Cefalù, Italy

The Cathedral of Cefalù is one of nine structures included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale.

The cathedral was erected between 1131 and 1240 in the Norman architectural style, the island of Sicily having been conquered by the Normans in 1091. According to tradition, the building was erected after a vow made to the Holy Saviour by the King of Sicily, Roger II, after he escaped from a storm to land on the city's beach. The building has a fortress-like character and, seen from a distance, it dominates the skyline of the surrounding medieval town. It made a powerful statement of the Norman presence.

The façade is characterized by two large Norman towers with mullioned windows, each surmounted by a small spire added in the 15th century. Each spire is different: one has a square plan surrounded by flame-shaped merlons, the latter symbolizing the Papal authority and the mitre and the other has an octagonal plan and Ghibelline merlons, symbolizing the royal and temporal power.

Inside the cathedral the dominant figure of the decorative scheme is the bust of Christ Pantokrator, portrayed on the semi-dome of the apse with a hand raised in Benediction.

The basilica houses several funerary monuments, including a late Antique sarcophagus, a medieval one, and the notable sepulchre of the Bishop Castelli of the 18th century.

Excavations in the cathedral area have brought to light parts of a 6th-century polychrome mosaic. They depict a dove drinking, parts of two other birds, two small trees, and a lily-shaped flower, enclosed in a frame with ogival and lozenge motifs. This mosaic belonged probably to a pre-existing Byzantine basilica. 

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Founded: 1131-1240
Category: Religious sites in Italy

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