Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mosaics and More in Monreale

I finally made it to Monreale to see the fabulous, famous mosaics of the cathedral, and I was not disappointed. The mosaics themselves cover every possible surface of the church and are dominated by a huge depiction of God in the dome of the main apse (over the altar). Wherever you stand, He's watching you. There is a lot of gold in the mosaics. I cannot begin to imagine their worth, both in material and art value. The walls, arches, and ceilings tell the stories of the Old and New Testament for the lucky churchgoers. The cathedral and mosaics were all constructed during the same hundred-years or so it took to build in the 12th-13th century. The mastermind behind this was William II, a Norman king of Sicily, known as William the Good. I would actually say that he was Very Good, judging by the cathedral, the mosaics, and the cloister.

Monreale Cathedral reminds me very much of basilicas and churches I've seen in Cordoba, Spain, and Istanbul, all with wonderfully creative mixtures of Arabic and Byzantine elements with the local cultures' own. They make the heart sing to see them! In the case of Monreale, the Romanesque structure has Latin elements of design decorated with Byzantine (Greek) patterns and Arabic arches. Everything is decorated, inside and out. The total effect is almost indescribable but very, very beautiful.

Thanks to the traffic jams and unmarked highways of Palermo, which is the only way to get there, we arrived with the cathedral itself closed until after pausa, which ended at 3:30. This turned out to be a good thing, though, because we spent at least an hour being awed by the courtyard with covered walkway, called the cloister, part of the attached monastery. I had no idea that this would be almost better than the mosaics! The perfectly square cloister is decorated like no other I've ever seen, with hundred of small columns of marble and lava, each individually and elaborately decorated and then topped with a carving depicting biblical scenes and stories. One could go around and around and around and never tire of looking at them, which perhaps was the plan for the monks? If I had not even entered the cathedral, I would left as a happy camper after seeing the cloister only. If you go there, DO NOT MISS IT! And take a digital camera or rolls and rolls of film.

I actually met a mosaicist in a small shop behind the cathedral. Angelo Cangemi is a retired teacher. He and his wife are mosaic artists, and in their shop you can buy their work, postcards, books, and all the materials and tools you need to start making mosaics yourself. We had a limited conversation in Italian, but he gave me a two cards and video about the cathedral as gifts when I showed so much interest in the art. I even bought a tiny kit to try it out. I probably won't be decorating cathedrals, but a table top or two would be good when I retire. Or maybe sooner?

2 Comments:

At March 07, 2005 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great blog entry. Makes us want go back to Sicily right now!! This travel log will make a nice tome when you finish your tour (used in both the duty and sightseeing senses) Especially enjoyed knowing that when William II was good, he was VERY good. Best Wishes, Bill and Joan

 
At January 07, 2015 1:32 PM, Blogger John Cangemi said...

Thanks for this post. I have met Angelo, and actually had his book for 6 months before realizing he was the author! (We have the same last name, and I make mosaics at home...how coincidental!) I also met his brother Giosue who also owns a shop behind the Cathedral. Very nice man. I am told my great grandfather Nicolo Cangemi worked on the mosaics in the cathedral repair. My father told me this same man used to make their school lunch sandwiches in Boston, Ma., cutting them into odd mosaic-like shapes! LOL!

 

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