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Monreale Cathedral

20 Mar

Today is Palm Sunday, a Christian feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter and commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Worship services on Palm Sunday include a procession of the faithful carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowds scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.  The difficulty of procuring palms in some climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees, including olive, as they also carried here in Monreale at the great Cathedral.

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The Monreale Cathedral is one of the greatest examples of Norman architecture in the world, although, among other cathedrals, not hugely impressive on the outside.

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It was begun in 1174 by William II and in 1182, it was elevated to a metropolitan cathedral. The Cathedral is a national monument of Italy and one of the most important attractions of Sicily.

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The Cathedral has two sets of Romanesque bronze doors, sculpted in 1185, of which there are only a handful remaining in Europe. They depict 42 reliefs of biblical scenes set within frames.

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The true highlight of the Monreale Cathedral, however, is its mosaiced interior.

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Dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, the golden mosaics almost completely cover the walls, aisles, transept and apse – amounting to over 68,000 square feet of coverage.

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Today’s Palm Sunday mass ran for nearly two hours, and began with a blessing of the palms and a large procession including girl and boy scouts and various religious dignitaries.

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Even though the service was long, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing familiar verses in Italian as well as recognizable responses. Most of all, however, I enjoyed the opportunity to gaze in awe at the mosaics and the stories they tell.

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In the apse, there is a magnificent portrait of Christ Pantocrator (“Ruler of All”) gesturing in a blessing. Saints and apostles, as well old testament stories, fill the rest of the apse.

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The aisles and transept depict scenes from the life of Christ, and cover practically all the surfaces of the cathedral’s walls above ground level.

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The original roof was severely damaged by fire in 1811. The current roof, made of wood, is a faithfully restored reproduction, carved and painted in great detail very similar to the original roof.

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All of the cathedral’s mosaic figures are set with a background of gold mosaic “tesserae” or tiles. There are 130 individual scenes depicting biblical and other religious events and many of the mosaics even include inscriptions in Latin or Greek.

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I have been fortunate to visit many churches, basilicas, cathedrals, etc., in Italy, but I must say, this one is simply astonishing.

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Ciao,
Judy

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