Cathedral (Ecclesiae Matrici)

4th century: Christian basilica; [6th century: rebuilt]; 9th century: mosque; 1072: cathedral; 1185: rebuilt; 14th and 15th centuries: added to and embellished

    An early-Christian cemetery chapel on this site was converted into a Christian basilica in the 4th century, but later destroyed by the Vandals. It was rebuilt in the late 6th and early 7th centuries. In the 9th century it was turned into a mosque by the Arabs, who nevertheless left intact a coffin containing the remains of Aristotle. Restored to Christian worship by the Normans (1072), at Christmas 1130 it was the setting for the coronation of Roger II, the first Norman king of Sicily. After an earthquake in 1169, it was rebuilt and considerably extended (1185) by Archbishop Walter Ophamil on the lines of the great Anglo-Norman cathedrals designed by the Cluniac monks. It was also used as a royal mausoleum and now houses, among others, the tombs of Roger II, Henry VI and Constance of Hauteville, Frederick II and Constance of Aragon. The corner towers and main façade were completed in the 14th century. The magnificent south portico was finished in 1453. Between 1781 and 1801, Archbishop Walter’s structure was completely remodelled in the late-Baroque style.
The medieval building was of great length, with only a modest transept and a circular walkway at the altar end, characterised by pointed arches and squat columns of the Anglo-Norman type. The main body of the church, which had a wooden ceiling, was divided into three by clustered piers (cruciform in plan) with single capitals. The tripartite apse was joined directly to the transept. As in Monreale Cathedral (same period), the central feature of the sanctuary consisted of four massive piers supporting pointed arches to form a square-shaped superstructure, probably without a cupola. In this respect, the building was very similar in style to contemporary Romanesque cathedrals in Kent and Lower Normandy. The external walls are richly decorated, the apses and windows adorned with geometrical patterns, mainly of Islamic inspiration (based on the circle), and Norman and Svevian motifs.

Vittorio Noto

Guido Di Stefano, "Monumenti della Sicilia Normanna", Palermo, 1979
G. Bellafiore, "La Cattedrale di Palermo", Palermo 1976

Melo Minnella Palermo