alatine Chapel is the jewel of Roger II. He wanted to build a the most beautiful church ever: the chapel had to be as great as the reign of the Norman king, therefore who would enter it had to be amazed by its matchless magnificence. Also Palatine Chapel is the result of two very different styles, cultures and religions blending together very well. Some have even called it ‘incongruous’ because the structure of the chapel is neither suitable for the Greek rites nor for the Latin ones In fact, this wonderful example of Norman Arab art is the outcome of a compromise between the Greek and Latin clergy who wanted to use Roger’s new church.
The original chapel was a separate building that was then joined to the Royal Palace that absorbed it.
Palatine Chapel has three aisles inside another structure supporting a dome. Therefore, this use of the spaces does not match the Greek cross plan typical of the Byzantine churches and, at the same time, because of the dome it is also different from Latin basilicas (Monreale Cathedral for instance is very different from Palatine Chapel because it was planned for Latin rite). So the monument is a proper blend of two sacred architectures, Greek and Latin, what is also proved by the bilingual inscriptions, in Greek and Latin. Nevertheless, the wonderful artistic and religious syncretism of the Palatine Chapel goes further, in fact, it also has typical oriental and Arab elements (even if much less than other monuments of the Norman Arab Palermo). The Arab influence in the church is clear, just consider the wonderful marble floor (called ‘cosmatesque’) covered in amazing mosaics following typical oriental patterns.
The Chapel was dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle as proved by the inscription for the Saint written by Roger II on the base of the dome.
Outside the chapel, right above the entrance, you can admire 19th century mosaics, made during the reign of Ferdinand III. These mosaics, even if not medieval, are very beautiful: they depict the life of the biblical character Absalom, rebel son of king David. The mosaic right above the main door of the chapel shows Ferdinand III himself with typical elements of the Genius of Palermo.
The inside of the chapel is full of amazing Byzantine mosaics with the classic golden background, that create a magical atmosphere. That’s why the Palatine Chapel is sometimes called ‘the casket’.
Mosaics depict biblical scenes from the Old and New Testament and from the lives of Saint Peter and Paul. Besides this, on the intradoses of the arches and on the pilasters you can also see hundred thirty wonderful medallions that depict a lot of Saints and Church Fathers. Also transept, apses and dome are covered in Byzantine mosaics, in particular those of the dome are the oldest of the whole chapel. In fact, it took several decades to make the mosaics and they finished only under the reign of the Norman king William II. It seems that king Roger II particularly cared about the mosaic that represented Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Probably because he considered this New Testament scene where Jesus freed the Holy city from sin as a kind of parallel of the Norman dynasty that freed Sicily from the Muslim infidels.
Following the Byzantine tradition in the chapel there is an imposing image of the Christ Pantocrator depicted as usual as King, Priest and Prophet. With his left hand Christ holds an open book that is the main symbol of the revelation so he is the Prophet par excellence. Inside the book of the Pantocrator Byzantines always wrote a quotation from the Gospel of John (8:12): ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness’.
Under the Christ Pantocrator there is another mosaic representing the Madonna made after the Medieval period.
It is interesting to note that in the Palatine Chapel there is a second Christ Pantocrator. In fact, on the dome you can admire Christ blessing the whole mankind. This second Pantocrator was made following the example of Byzantine artistic and religious style: in fact, Christ blesses in the Greek way and is inside a circle that is the perfect geometric shape in the oriental world. Another specific feature of this blessing Pantocrator is the closed book in his left hand meaning that the truth was not revealed. Moreover, Christ is surrounded by a beautiful group of Angels and Archangels.
Last but not least, the beautiful wooden ceiling of the chapel was made by Arab workers (muqarnas ceiling). It is totally covered in hunting, war and love scenes, with picture of people, what is absolutely unique in the Arab art: nowhere else but here you can find paintings representing humans.