The Cathedral of Monreale

The Cathedral of Monreale, a mystical place suspended between legend and reality

Monreale's importance started to assert itself with the advent of the Norman reign around the XI century. This was the place where Norman kings came to rest after an exhausting war or once the tiring duties of government were over. It was in 1171, that one night William II, the Good, had a vision of the Virgin who revealed to him the secret location of a huge treasure (his father's war chest), with which he should build a temple dedicated to her. The king started to build the temple, the Archbishop Palace and the cloister, without delay. He ordered that a hundred monks of the Badia of Cava, lead by Abbot Theobald, moved to Monreale in order to officiate at the temple. They reached Monreale on 20th March 1176 and Abbot Theobald was honoured by the title "Sir of the City." At William's request, on 5th February 1182 Lucio III elevated the church of Monreale to the rank of "Metropolitan Cathedral." The architecture of this monument, which is famous all over the world, is diverse as it merges different architectural styles from the north of Europe with features from the Arab art tradition. There are two massive and solemn towers flanking the porch built in the XVIII century. The inner structure follows a Latin cross plan and is illuminated by splendid bright gold mosaics that create the illusion of being in Paradise, with naves divided by columns with a rhythmic series of Gothic arches on top of them. The whole structure is covered by mosaics that date back to the reign of William II, the Good, or perhaps of Tancred, King of Sicily (1194).

One of the many legends, narrated and handed down over the centuries on Palermo and its dominations, puts the Cathedral of Monreale and the Cathedral of Palermo in close contact with each other. It is narrated that in the 12th century A.D., while William was supervising the works for the construction of the Cathedral of Monreale he had as bitter rival Walter of the Mill, the then archbishop of the diocese of Palermo and former tutor of William II, who at that same time was having the Cathedral of Palermo erected. William concentrated on embellishing the interior of the Cathedral with magnificent mosaics that narrate the stories of the Old and New Testament neglecting the aesthetic details of the facade. To contrast him, Walter focused greatly on the beauty and impressiveness of the facade, enriching it with pointed arches inspired by Islamic architecture, columns with statues of saints, bell towers, arched lintels, battlements, pinnacles.. leaving the inside almost anonymous. Being envious of each other, it is said that both died of a heart attack shortly after taking a peek at their respective construction plans.

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