Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Monreale Cathedral ~Sicily

With Go Ahead Tours you get to visit many beautiful places and the Cathedral at Monreale is definitely one of my favorites. Monreale is located on a slope of Monte Caputo about 9 miles south of Palermo. So it was a quick bus ride to the bottom of the hill that led up to the church. There was a short staircase that led up the hill and there were vendors of all sorts of small items from scarves to jewelry to children's toys that you could purchase for a few euro located on each landing. I picked up a set of 4 little painted wooden cats for 4 euro and I still love them so you can find things that you like if you take the time to look and can ignore the pressure from the vendors. 

To get to the Cathedral you take a short walk through part of the village. That's my gorgeous Mom on the left. Behind her is where we just came from...the stairs to the bottom of the hill. Behind me is the square of Monreale.
 In the center of the square is this beautiful fountain. As with all fountains in Europe, the subject is always graphic, often violent, but definitely beautiful. In this case it's Triton capturing a sea monster. Pretty handy to have him around just in case you encounter any.
 The Virgin Mary statue is more regal in another part of the courtyard. Supposedly, she is the reason this Cathedral was ever built. More on that later!

 To the left of the entrance to the cloisters is a city building. Adorned by several flags as well as beautiful architectural details it adds, rather than subtracts, from the appeal of the courtyard.
 Stepping inside the entry gates you see the arches and begin to understand just how beautiful this cathedral is going be inside.
 I have read that the outside is "ordinary", "plain" and "common". But that was not my impression at all. With views of the Sicilian hillsides, I found the outside of Monreale to be beautiful.
 Of course, it pales in comparison to the inside. What strikes you first is that this chapel, from the late 1100's, is very dark....and it glows. The nearly 5,000 pounds of gold used to decorate this church is what makes it glow. The Norman Byzantine design is very ornate and exceedingly romantic.
 There are no hanging chandeliers here, simply light from the small arched windows that help to illuminate the gold. The columns are, except one, made from granite. There a single one made of marble, much more fragile than granite, that is said to represent the Archbishop. They are topped with the heads of saints. 
 The ceiling is a replica from the early 1800's. It replaced the original ceiling which was lost in a fire. The blue sets off the gold perfectly and adds to the very ornate decor of this church.
 In fact, especially with the churches we found in Sicily, the details are everywhere and it's impossible to take them all in during a short 2 hour visit. This amazing confessional is just one of many carved wooden details that will charm you. Not much privacy during your confession but definitely a beautiful place in which to kneel.
 I think you could come back to this cathedral every day for a week, studying each section carefully, and find something new. The niches held more statues of saints and more mosaic tile wonders.
 The words "beautiful" "stunning" "breathtaking" were used often by our fellow travelers. But if you got right down to it, "busy" would fit perfectly too. There is ornamentation everywhere you look here. While there were not many stain glass windows the  ones that were there were as ornate as the rest of the church!
 And, if the glass, tile and wooden details were not enough for you then there were the bronze gates, also very ornate, that you could see up by the altar. From this side entrance you can see the enormous organ pipes.
 You can see, from this vantage, the many arched windows that let in the light to the chapel. I, honestly, have no idea who all of the saints, in statues and painted on the walls, actually are, only that these are Bible stories but they are simply everywhere! 
 Along the side, in another part of the chapel, were the three tombs of William I of Sicily, the father to the founder, William II,  and Margaret of Navarre. The amazing mosaic floor, as well as the tombs, are breathtaking. William II was the one who is said to have had a vision where the Virgin Mary came to him, let him know where a treasure was located and told him to build this Cathedral in her honor with it.
 This crest is in honor of the Cardinal Farnese who administered to the people of this city for almost 40 years from 1536-1573. There are other marble and mosaic honors in this church to the family Farnese but this one is the most notable.
With Christ prominent over the altar featuring the saints in an elaborate silver candelabra, the giant pipe organs to each side, the beautiful mosaic details and the ever present golden glow, Monreale Cathedral is a site, and sight, not to be missed if you are in the Palermo area of Sicily.

Of course you will, as always, want to click on the small photos to bring up their larger versions so you can really see the beauty of this Cathedral. 

Next week we'll visit the final of the three churches in Palermo we were privileged to tour, the Palatine Chapel. See you then!

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