In 1143 the Admiral George Antioch (d.1151) founded an
Eastern Orthodox church now known as the Martorana or 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. He and his wife were buried in the
narthex. George is 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. After the Sicilian Vespers had begun
the Sicilian nobility met here and decided to offer the throne to King Peter of Aragon.
The church gained its second name when in 1433/4 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 interiorly and exteriorly.
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. 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 himself, 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. This 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
Paul Martin Remfry