Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio

A Greek inscription on the exterior southern facade and a mosaic dedication show that the church was founded in 1143 by Admiral George Antioch (d.1151).  George was a Syrian who served King Roger (1105-54) from 1108 to 1151.  He therefore founded the church under the Eastern Orthodox rite.  The site in the fifteenth century became a part of the adjoining Martorana monastery after which it sometimes takes its other name, the Martorana.  In English it is known as the church of St Mary of the Admiral.  The original foundation charter still survives in Greek and Arabic.  The church was completed by 1151 when George died and was buried in the narthex with his wife.  George was also responsible for building the Admiral's bridge to connect the city with the gardens over the Oreto river.

In 1184 the church was visited by Ibn Jubayr who thought it the most beautiful monument in the world and wrote lovingly of the structure in his description of Palermo.  The bell tower may have been finished on 5 February 1257, when the main altar was consecrated.  The narthex and vestibule may also date to this time.  After the Sicilian Vespers had begun in 1282 the Sicilian nobility met here and decided to offer the throne to King Peter of Aragon.

In 1433 the neighbouring Benedictine nuns of Eloisa Martorana absorbed the church into their establishment which had been found in 1193/4.  The church was then much altered both inside and out, although it was only between 1683 and 1687 that the central apse was replaced and the southern facade destroyed.  In 1740 the church had a Baroque makeover after an earthquake, before being restored to a more original form in 1870-73.

The admiral's church consisted of a compact Greek cross plan with 3 apses.  To this was added the narthex presumably by 1151 and then beyond that a forehall and a bell tower or campanile to the west which served as a new main entrance in the thirteenth century.  An external frieze has a dedicatory inscription in the Arabic fashion, although it is written in Greek.  The interior is covered in spectacular mosaics similar to those in the Cappella Palatina, Cefalu and Monreale cathedrals.  One of the most interesting is that of King Roger (d.1154) receiving his crown from Jesus, rather than the pope, which was traditional.  Another is of George himself, although this has been badly restored.

Overall the church most resembles the Cappella Palatina
in style and was its near contemporary.

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