Cathedral of Cefalù
Roger II commissioned the Cathedral of Cefalù in 1131 soon after taking the throne in 1130. The structure was completed shortly after one year, while the decoration and furnishings took much longer, until 1148. The church was built to be the royal burial location of Roger II, although his body was later moved to the Palermo Cathedral. The structure of the cathedral is an Italian Romanesque basilica based on Benedictine and Cluniac models. The Italian basilica plan is combined with distinctly Norman architectural features, including the shape of the transepts and apse and the form of the two-towered façade. The cathedral has a wooden roof, transepts and a vaulted presbytery and is constructed with a nave and two aisles, which are separated by a series of pointed arches supported by spolia, or re-used, columns. The pointed arches used along the nave come from the Cluniac model, from the monastery at Cluny France, while the recycled columns show the influence from classical models seen around Sicily from the previous Greek and Roman cultural periods. The form of a Latin basilica reflects the practice of Latin Christianity in Sicily under Norman rule.
The Cathedral of Cefalù is only decorated with mosaics in the sanctuary, which can be seen here at the end of the nave.
Cathedral of Cefalù Apse
The Byzantine mosaic of Christ Pantokrator decorates the apse. This mosaic program depicts religious hierarchy with Christ in the conch of the apse, the Virgin and Archangels below, and the Apostles in the bottom two registers.
Detail of the Virgin
The Virgin is holding her arms up in the orant position, which is a position of prayer. This image of the Virgin Orans is a typical depiction in Byzantine art.
Detail of Archangel Michael
Detail of Archangel Gabriel
Although the form of the cathedral of Cefalù is clearly Latin, the mosaics have a characteristically Byzantine quality. The mosaics were completed by 1148, over fifteen years after the completion of the architecture. Only the presbytery, the bay next to it, and the cross vaulting covering the bay are decorated with mosaics. The mosaics have the Byzantine features of a gold mosaic background and are completed with the Pantokrator mosaic scheme, which was common for the naos of Middle Byzantine churches. In the conch of the main apse of the cathedral is the Christ Pantokrator, below which are the Virgin orans and Archangels, and below them is another zone filled with the twelve Apostles. The bust of Christ in the apse is depicted with his right arm reaching out and a book held in his left arm. The book announces, in both Greek and Latin, “I am the Light of the world,” which demonstrates the importance of both Greek and Latin cultures in Norman Sicily. The artists who completed the apse mosaics compensated for the distance of the apse from the viewers by making the images placed higher up gradually increase in size. Christ is the tallest and the Virgin and Archangels are smaller, but are still taller than the Apostles below them. The imagery of religious hierarchy is distinctly Byzantine and can be seen in many Middle Byzantine churches throughout the Empire, such as Daphni. The Byzantine mosaicists adapted the traditional Pantokrator program, which would have been in the dome of a Greek cross-in-square church, to a Latin basilica with no dome. All of the figures in the apse are identified with Greek inscriptions, adding to the idea of Greek workmen completing the scheme.
The north and south walls of the presbytery are divided into four registers each. Old Testament prophets occupy the upper two registers on both sides and various saints decorate the lower two. The highest register on either side is fitted into the lunette under the vault and they depict two figures and a medallion. All of these figures in the presbytery, not including the apse, are identified by Latin inscriptions, except the Greek Fathers of the south wall, whose inscriptions are in Greek. The vault contains images of cherubim, seraphim, and angels who slant their heads towards Christ in the Conch. The mosaics at Cefalù have their nearest analogues to the mosaics made by Constantinopolitan artists, such as the mosaics at the Monastery at Daphni. This stylistic understanding indicates workmen were summoned to Sicily from Byzantium to complete the mosaics, bringing with them the classicistic approach to mosaics found in the productions of the Constantinople school.
The wooden trusses on the interior of the cathedral are decorated using an Arabic tradition. They are painted with a series of motifs that include scenes of music and dance, animals, and imaginary beings that run one right after another.
This decoration is secular in nature, but, according to the Qur’an, Arab tradition favors these depictions as symbols of the delights of Paradise. The paintings are markedly similar to a rare collection of beams from eleventh-century Cairo, which are believed to have come from the Fatimid Palace. These beams depict images of figures engaged in activities such as dancing, drinking, and music-making. The images of the Delights of Paradise are also used in the Islamic decorative arts, often on ceramics, wall paintings, wood and ivory carvings, and metalwork. It is likely that artists brought to Sicily from Fatimid Egypt created these images because the paintings have no counterparts outside of the Muslim territories.