Sicily 4: The Benedictine Monastery and the Cathedral at Monreale, Sicily

A short bus ride from the city of Palermo is the mountain town of Monreale. The first site you see except for the mountain in the background is The Cathedral, a combination of Norman and Byzantine architecture dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin Mary and famous for a mosaic of Christ looking downward at Mass goers and visitors alike from above the altar. Unfortunately, the Cathedral interior was so dark the day we visited that photos were nearly impossible. My photo of the mosaic of Christ is from too great a distance and does not do justice to his penetrating look, which even nonbelievers find compelling.

The Benedictine Monastery suggests the fondness of the Benedictine religious order for mountainous places apart from the world very much like the similar monastery a bus ride away from Barcelona, Spain in the mountain region of Montserrat. This Sicilian one consists of a cloister and the monk’s dormitory (closed on the day we were there). Mount Caputo slopes down below the Cathedral and Monastery to a valley where orange, olive and almond trees were (and maybe still are) grown. A garden in the monk’s cloister produced the same on a smaller scale.

The site also has a museum, belonging to the Diocese of Monreale, where its artifacts are exhibited.

I am writing this blog on April 16, 2019, the day after the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was burnt down, and the reactions of Parisians to that event (prayers, rosaries, tears) remind me of the extent to which European Cathedrals in some sense are their respective countries. Believers and non-believers alike are deeply affected by them.

After my disappointing photo of the mosaic of Christ inside the dark Cathedral is the one taken in the inexpensive trinket shop outside. That one, though in a comparatively shabby commercial setting, gives you a clearer idea of what the mosaic actually looks like.

The Monreale Cathedral
Mount Caputo in the background
The Benedictine Dormitory
Mary adding a cheerful note
The Mosaic of Christ looking Downward from above the Altar and Windown