The most beautiful of the Norman churches in Sicily.
is a small hill town a few miles to the south west of Palermo with
views down to the Conca díOro Valley. After Palermo fell to the Arabs in
831, the Bishop of Palermo moved his seat out of the capital to a small
church in a nearby village which later became Monreale. After the
Normans arrived in 1072, the Bishopric moved back to Palermo. The Norman
Kings used the area as their hunting grounds.
In 1174, William II commissioned the building of a church and monastery on top of the hill, which he intended to be the burial place of all future kings. He wanted it to outshine the Cappella Palatina in Palermo as well as the new cathedral being there. He employed the best Arabic and Byzantine craftsmen to work on the building. On its completion in 1182, before Palermo Cathedral was completed, Pope Lucius III elevated the splendid church to the status of a metropolitan cathedral.
The outside of the cathedral is very plain with the north west tower never being completed. The portico was added in the C18th.
The bronze west door set between highly carved pillars dates from 1189. The north door is slightly earlier and has images of saints and evangelists.
The inside of the cathedral can be quite dark as the only light comes from the small windows in the side aisles and the high clerestory windows.
The Byzantine mosaics are among the most magnificent anywhere in the world and are made with an estimated 2200kg of pure gold. They were completed between 1179-1182 by some of the finest Greek and Byzantine craftsmen. They cover the walls of the upper nave, side aisles transept and apse. Only the bottom of the side aisles are free of mosaics, being covered with marble panels separated by borders of gold inlay, reflecting an Islamic influence.
On entering the cathedral. eyes are immediately drawn to the glorious mosaic of Christ Pantocrator covering the dome of the apse.
Old Testament stories from the Book of Genesis are depicted on the walls of the nave, while scenes from the life of Christ adorn the aisles and transept.
These begin with the Creation on the top row, from right to left. Below is the story of Noah's arc, told from left to right below.
Further on, Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden and Adam can be seen toiling while Eve sits and watches him. The next two mosaics depict Cain killing Able. Below is Isaac with his sons, Esau and Jacob. Isaac blesses Jacob who later flees from Esau, having stolen his birthright.
In the south choir aisle are the two royal tombs with a porphyry tomb of William i and the carved Carrera marble tomb of William II.
At the end of the south aisle is a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin complete with a splendid Baroque reredos.
There is a fee to access the sanctuary and high altar with the Treasury off the north choir aisle.
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