Cefalu Cathedral, Sicily travel guide, history and information

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Visit Cefalu Cathedral

The historical and artistic heart of Cefalù is its Cathedral, founded by Roger II and in the Arab-Norman style.

Facade of the cathedralAccording to legend, Roger II ordered the construction of it to thank God for saving him from a storm by landing him on the beach of Cefalù.

In truth Roger II was very religious, and he himself makes no reference to the legend, so it is likely the cathedral was founded simply to do honour to God and to ensure "eternal life after death".

Founded in 1131, the massive fortress is accentuated by two strong square towers. There is a battlement in the southern part, and underground passages and tunnels that connect the various parts of the building.

The façade has false loggias and a central arched window and the portal is decorated with an arch of white marble.

Inside, the church has a Latin cross form divided into three naves supported by marble columns.

Mosaics of Cefalu cathedral

The gold of the cathedral mosaics shines out from the apse that was built later, in 1148, by Byzantine craftsmen who knew how to combine this Eastern tradition with a decorative Nordic structure.

Mosaic of christ in the cathedral at cefaluIn the cathedral of Cefalù the floor, nave, wings are free of mosaics, but the bareness is more than compensated for by those who decorated the sanctuary.

Impressive above all is the figure of the "Pantokràtor" (literally "the Creator and Sovereign of all things"), who looms in the apse overlooking the temple and inspiring a profound veneration.

He is pictured as blessing with his right hand and holding an open volume in the left, in which it is written that He is the light of the world, and those who follow Him will leave the darkness and enjoy the light of life.

There are other mosaic figures of similar excellence in large numbers at Cefalu cathedral, including archangels, saints and popes.

They are divided into three compartments under the great figure of the Saviour: in the first is the Virgin Mary, flanked by four archangels; and in the two below you can see the apostles and two evangelists, Mark and Luke.

view of the cathedral facadeIn the side walls of the sanctuary next to the Savior you can see the figure of Melchizedek, with Moses and Hosea below. At the level of the Virgin on the same side are the prophets, Joshua, Amos, Obadiah, and in two compartments below are the eight saints: Peter, Vincent, Lawrence, Stephen, Gregory, Augustine, Sylvester and Dionysius, with Latin legends.

The opposite wall is ordered in the same way, with Abraham, David and Solomon portrayed next to the Redeemer; Jonah, Micah, and Nahum on the level of the Virgin, and in two lower partitions Saints Theodore, George, Demetrius, Nestor, Nicholas, Basil, and Gregory.

Among the other works inside the cathedral at Cefalu we should mention the 'Madonna and Child'by sculptor Antonio Gagini (1478-1536), from the 16th century, some neoclassical stuccos and the silver altar in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.

Translating the inscription

The Latin inscription in rhyming verse, which is located under the Apostles, gives us the precise date that the mosaics were completed, and also the name of the generous Prince who wanted the Cathedral. We translate the first two rhymed lines below:

"The outstanding King Roger, brimming with religious feeling, built this temple moved by devotion to God. These mosaics were completed in the year of the Incarnation 1148, in the Indiction XI , in the fifth year and 18th of his kingdom".

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See also:

Map of Cefalu Cathedral and places to visit

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