Cappella Palatina

In 1132 King Roger (d.1154) ordered the chapel built in the centre of his Norman palace, dedicated to St Peter.  It is said to have been finished by 1140, but the mosaics were still unfinished in 1143.  Archbishop Romuald of Salerno (1153-82), who would have visited the structure, stated:

King Roger... ordered a beautiful palace to be built in Palermo in which was constructed a chapel floored in astonishing stone which he had covered with a gilded roof and endowed and beautified with various ornaments.

The original nave did not contain any Christian images and these were later added by the 2 King Williams(1154-89).  One of the kings also installed the royal throne.  This once stood against the west wall of the nave, but all that remains of this are the six steps up to it guarded by the two Hauteville lions.  King William I (d.1166) was actually buried in the chapel and during his reign he had the place 'painted with marvellous pictures, covered its walls with different sorts of valuable marble and greatly enrich and ornamented it with gold and silver vessels and precious vestments...'

Architecturally the chapel epitomises the ecleptic mix of the Norman state.  
It was built at first floor level making the older chapel, said to be Norman, into its crypt.  In layout the Palatine chapel is Byzantine with 3 apses, a domed roof and mosaics, but it has 6 Arabic pointed arches resting on classical columns and has Arab and Latin inscriptions in a Norman layout.  There are also clusters of 8 pointed stars, typical of Muslim design, but these are arranged on the ceiling to form a Christian cross.  The nave roof is in an Iraqi muqarnas style and consists of varied carvings from daily life to plant and animal designs as well as Latin, Greek and Arab inscriptions.  This would appear to be the roof that so amazed Archbishop Romuald.  The church is generally considered to have a Byzantine sanctuary and a Norman basilica style nave, the perfect mix of east and west.

Perhaps the most famous feature of the chapel are its extensive mosaics.  These generally Byzantine in style, although some are Arabic in influence, like the depiction of King Roger (d.1154) on the muqarnas ceiling.  The earliest mosaics are thought to be the Christ Pantocrator in the dome, the sanctuary and transepts and are generally attributed to Byzantine craftsmen.  Those of the nave are thought to date more to the 1160s or 1170s as they are cruder and feature Latin rather than Greek inscriptions.

In 1190 the Royal Chapel was described as having a costly floor and walls decorated on the lower levels with plates of precious marble.  The upper walls were coated with mosaics, some of gold and others of different colours, telling
stories from the Old and New Testament.  The uppermost level was adorned with carvings and an amazing variety of sculpture, all shining with gold.

Why not join me here and at other Sicilian churches?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry