LaurieAnnie

LaurieAnnie

Posted on 02/16/2006


Photo taken on March  1, 2005


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The Exterior of the Cathedral of Monreale, 2005

The Exterior of the Cathedral of Monreale, 2005
The Cathedral of Monreale is the greatest of all the monuments of the wealth and artistic taste of the Norman kings in northern Sicily. It was begun about 1170 by William II, and in 1182 the church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was, by a bull of Pope Lucius III, elevated to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral.

The outside of the Arab-Norman cathedral is plain, except the aisle walls and three eastern apses, which are decorated with intersecting pointed arches and other ornaments inlaid in marble.

The archiepiscopal palace and monastic buildings on the south side were of great size and magnificence, and were surrounded by a massive precinct wall, crowned at intervals by twelve towers. This has been mostly rebuilt, and but little now remains except ruins of some of the towers, a great part of the monks' dormitory and frater, and the splendid cloister, completed about 1200.

This last is well preserved, and is one of the finest Italian cloisters both for size and beauty of detail now extant. It is about 170 sq. feet, with pointed arches decorated with diaper work, supported on pairs of columns in white marble, 216 in all, which were alternately plain and decorated by bands of patterns in gold and colors, made of glass tesserae, arranged either spirally or vertically from end to end of each shaft. The marble caps are each richly carved with figures and foliage executed with great skill and wonderful fertility of invention, no two being alike. At one angle, a square pillared projection contains the marble fountain or monks' lavatory, evidently the work of Muslim sculptors.

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

The outsides of the principal doorways and their pointed arches are magnificently enriched with carving and colored inlay, a curious combination of three styles - Norman-French, Byzantine and Arab.

The basilican nave is wide, with narrow aisles. Monolithic columns of grey oriental granite (except one, which is of cipollino), evidently the spoils of older buildings, on each side support eight pointed arches much stilted. The capitals of these (mainly Corinthian) are also of the classical period. There is no triforium, but a high clerestory with wide two-light windows, with simple tracery like those in the nave-aisles and throughout the church, which give sufficient (if anything too much) light.

The other half, Eastern in two senses, is both wider and higher than the nave. It also is divided into a central space with two aisles, each of the divisions ending at the east with an apse. The roofs throughout are of open woodwork very low in pitch, constructionally plain, but richly decorated with color, now mostly restored. At the west end of the nave are two projecting towers, with a narthex (entrance) between them. A large open atrium, which once existed at the west, is now completely destroyed, having been replaced by a Renaissance portico.

It is, however, the large extent (6,500 2) and glittering splendour of the glass mosaics covering the interior which make this church so splendid. With the exception of a high dado, itself very beautiful, made of marble slabs with bands of mosaic between them, the whole interior surface of the walls, including soffits and jambs of all the arches, is covered with minute mosaic-pictures in brilliant colors on a gold ground. The mosaic pictures are arranged in tiers, divided by horizontal and vertical bands. In parts of the choir there are five of these tiers of subjects or single figures one above another.

Although not so refined as mosaics in Cefalù and the Palazzo dei Normanni, the cathedral interior nevertheless contains the largest cycle of Byzantine mosaics extant in Italy.The half dome of the central apse has a colossal half-length figure of Christ

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