efalù Cathedral is the farthest monument of the Norman Arab artistic itinerary of Palermo, its style is also slightly different from the other works. In fact, it has many features of the northern Europe Romanesque architecture that the other nine building of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palermo do not have.
The history of Cefalù Cathedral dates back to a legend: the Norman king Roger II wanted it to be build because during a dangerous sailing from Salerno to Palermo he made a vow to God that he would build a wonderful church in the place where he would have landed. Roger was lucky and survived that travel, since he did not disembark in Palermo, but in Cefalù, decided to keep his promise and build a cathedral there.
According to Roger’s original project Cefalù Cathedral had to be wonderful and imposing. They started the construction in 1131 and also important artists took part in the project. Roger called them from all Europe because he wanted his church to be the most beautiful of the whole West. The idea of the Norman king was to make Cefalù Cathedral become his own mausoleum. Unfortunately, he died all of a sudden in Palermo and was buried in its Cathedral. Moreover, when the king died the church of Cefalù was not finished yet and after his death his great plans were not respected. This is the reason why there are such clear irregularities in the structure of the monument. They abandoned the original project of Cefalù Cathedral because the new Norman king William I who was rather interested in the construction of Monreale Cathedral. Therefore, Cefalù Cathedral was finally completed only during the reign of Frederick.
In the following centuries this wonderful church was not much modified and the few adjustments made were poor: for instance, some mosaics made in the 17th century on the side walls of the presbytery to complete the Byzantine ones.
Since its foundation the church of Cefalù was entrusted to the Augustinian Canons coming from Bagnara Calabra and its first bishop was Jocelmo. Nowadays it is doubtless the most beautiful symbol of the small town. It attracts thousands of visitors, so many that in summer they outnumber the residents.
The main facade of Cefalù Cathedral is a typical example of the medieval architectonic style called Romanesque. This style spread across northern Europe between 11th and 12th century and has no specific example in Sicily, apart for the wonderful monument in Cefalù.
Cefalù Cathedral is a basilica with a Latin cross plan, three aisles separated by a series of arches supported by sixteen monolithic columns that are easily noticeable because shafts, capitals and bases are made of materials taken from pagan temples of the 2nd century AD.
The wooden covering of the three aisles is decorated following an oriental style, probably made by the Arab workers collaborating at the construction of one of the main monuments of the Norman Arab itinerary.
The triumphal arch of the building leads to the transept was planned to be much bigger but it was reduced to speed up the construction, actually they betrayed the original project of Roger.
In the presbytery, where during the Middle Ages there were placed one beside the other the royal throne and the episcopal seat, is covered in wonderful mosaics, clearly made by Byzantine hands. In fact, Roger II called the best workers from Constantinople in order to make his Cathedral a real casket completely covered in golden. In the original project not only the presbytery had to be decorated, but also the entire church had to be full of mosaics, exactly as Monreale Cathedral.
The mosaics in the presbytery depict various angels such as Cherubs and Seraphim, Virgin Mary surrounded by the Archangels Raphael, Michael, Gabriel and Uriel, and a lot of other biblical characters and Christianity historical people of ancient and medieval world.
As in any other Byzantine Cathedral Greek artists placed there their Christ Pantocrator dominating all the inside of the building. Here Christ is represented as King (for the nimbus adorned with jewels) Priest (for the green stole) and Prophet (for the open book). In his left hand Christ holds the book of Gospels and here you can read a quotation from the Gospel of John: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’.
When you visit Cefalù Cathedral you can also see its cloister built in Norman period. The cloister has a rectangular plan and is at least nine feet lower than the floor of the Cathedral. Cefalù cloister is the oldest in Sicily with coupled capital on twin column. The still existing covered passages have lancet arches supported by thin columns and historiated capitals. In particular, capitals have wonderful decorations, probably made by workers from Apulia, that depict biblical scenes and also elements of the medieval bestiary. This capitals can be considered the best examples of Romanesque sculpture in Sicily.