Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sicily: Monreale

After our walking tour of the churches in Palermo,
we took an afternoon trip to the town of Monreale, up in the hills about 8 miles outside the city. Our plan was to visit the vast Norman Romanesque cathedral there. We stopped to enjoy the view, overlooking the valley that was once orchards orange, almond, and olive groves, leading down to the sea. There is a custom there, at this particular vista point, for lovers to go there together and make a love pact, sealing it with padlocks. On the locks, they will write messages or maybe their names. The guide informed us that they have prohibited this activity due to the massive profusion of locks that ended up having to be removed. But people still do it. I looked out over the valley out to the sea and took in the thoughts that were swirling in my head about how these people find and use symbol as a beautiful compliment to the special moments in their lives.

The cathedral at Monreale was built also in the 12th century, and is like an unfolding and expansion of the Palatine Chapel, with elaborations of the themes we saw in the first church. There is a difference in the stylism of the figures in the vast collection of Byzantine mosaics there. In this cathedral dedicated to the Madonna, the church is oriented in such a way that on the day of Christ's birth a beam of light shines on an iconic mosaic of her every year at the same time. We observed the same celebration of light as in the Palatine Chapel, with reflective surfaces and glass mosaic work stacked everywhere.

We were lucky to arrive to the church a day in which they opened the enormous set of bronze doors dating to 1179, an event that rarely ever happens. Our guide was very funny in her condemnation of the people who pay to use the church for their weddings, "for show", she said. I didn't mind at all! In fact I was so thankful to have a chance not only to have the doors open illuminating the church in all of its grandeur during our visit, but also to see the relief from the shadow of the open door. It was magical.

Then, as if in a dream, the organ began to play and we stepped back. A proud Sicilian father walked his daughter into the church to the cacophany of Mendelssohn's midsummer night's dream wedding march blaring from the cathedral's organ. The spaces are so enormous and round in this cathedral that the sound was almost surreal. The wedding party and guests were all dressed in black, as is the way in Sicily.

Since the church is a national monument, it must remain open to the public even during weddings, and the tourists milled around and through the the outer chapels admiring the mosaics as the wedding took place. I felt it would be better to go outside and let the wedding take place undisturbed. We accidentally happened upon the best part anyway. It could not have unfolded more perfectly. Outside, trading of saints cards took place outside and I found a simple ceramic cross with an idea of where I plan to put it in the country house, where it will remind me of that perfect day and all of the beauty of the churches in Sicily.

Next Stop: Dinner at Shanghai Trattoria.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

your trip sounds so beautiful! i'm loving your stories and photos.

4:56 PM, October 15, 2008  
Blogger Don McNulty said...

Your pictures and words are enchanting. I was in Italy 2 years ago and you have taken me back. Thanks for sharing.

9:20 PM, October 16, 2008  

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