Sicily is known for its stunning scenery, delicious food and wine, sunny weather, sandy beaches, stunning art and architecture, and warm, open-hearted people. But Sicily is also a land where faith runs deep – and has for thousands of years. Holidays in Sicily are the perfect time to experience this facet of Sicilian life and culture, and nowhere could be more appropriate than the Cathedral of Cefalu. |
A Thousand Years of History, Art and Faith
Construction of this Norman masterpiece began in 1131 on the site of an ancient Roman settlement. The original cathedral was commissioned by the Norman King Roger II, but remained incomplete until 1267, long after his death.
From the outside, this magnificent structure is reminiscent of the Norman castles and keeps common across England and Europe. Indeed, its proximity to the sea makes it appear an impregnable fortress guarding the land from invaders. But inside, a totally different experience awaits the visitor: some of the best-preserved and most beautiful mosaics to be found on the island, if not the whole of Italy.
Art historians think that original designs for the building probably planned for covering almost the entire interior with mosaics depicting biblical scenes. For reasons unknown, only a relatively small section was completed – but its beauty is stunning and reflects on the entire building.
If you have visited the mainland and especially Rome, you may be familiar with the Roman style of religious decoration which favoured early Christian motifs. But when you visit Cefalu in the course of your holidays in Sicily, a totally different experience awaits. Here the mosaics are very definitely Byzantine, full of colour and visual metaphors.
Found in the apse, on the ceiling and on the northern and southern walls of the choir, each of these masterpieces will leave you in wonder. Thousands upon thousands of tiny coloured stones make up these stunning images, with each piece laid painstakingly and accurately in place by skilled artisans.
Heaven and Earth Under One Roof
As you explore the cathedral, look not only at the colourful mosaics, but also try to find the many sculptures and statues that show not only biblical scenes and characters, but also hint at earthly ideas. Two thrones stand in front of the presbytery - one for the king and the other for the bishop. At the entrance to the cathedral you’ll observe two towers, one topped with the symbol of the Pope and another representing the temporal power of the king. These towers signify the ancient belief that the world was ruled spiritually by the Church, with the king or emperor having earthly power over their subjects.
Time spent in this magical and mystical location during your holidays in Sicily will bring you a sense of peace and tranquillity and provide you with a spiritual experience that you are bound to long remember.
And if you choose to stay in one of the many gorgeous hotels that are to be found around the area, you’ll have yet another experience to remember – one that will make you want to come back for more.
John Dixon is Managing Director of Prestige Holidays and visits Italy at least twice a year. He has been providing luxury holidays to Sicily as well as luxury holidays to many other destinations worldwide for over 30 years.
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