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
(d.1151). George was a Syrian who served King Roger
(1105-54) from 1108 to 1151. He therefore founded the church
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
1151 when George died and was buried in the
narthex with his wife. George was also responsible for building the
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
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
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
those in the Cappella
Palatina, Cefalu and Monreale
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
Paul Martin Remfry