This time I want to discuss about one among the most important churches in Sicily. This is the second most important church after the one in Monreale. I am talking about the cathedral of Cefalù. I have already discussed about this medieval town in a previous post. If you remember, I had told that the town is the seat of this cathedral and of an ancient abbey belonged to a British necromancer Well, this magnificent cathedral is the brightest symbol of the fight between angels and demons, between Good and Evil. If you want to admire this cathedral or to pray in front of its magnificent altar, you must absolutely to visit it. For his magnificent beauty, this cathedral has also been declared World Heritage by Unesco.
The construction of Cefalù cathedral was wanted by Roger II, King of Sicily, in 1131. According to a legend, the king built the church because he was saved from a storm during his travel by boat from Salerno to Palermo. During the storm, he promised to build a church if the Lord would have saved him. Landed in Cefalù, unharmed and saved, Roger II kept his promise and built the Church as a vow to our Lord and the Saints Peter and Paul. Unfortunately, in 1154, the sudden death of King Roger prevented to finish the church and the body of Roger II was buried in Palermo, first. Before dying, Roger had established that the cathedral had to become a royal mausoleum to bury the members of the royal family. Indeed, the king had set to built two stone-marbled sarcophagus with mosaics engraved and canopies. In 1215, King Frederick II deceived the bishop of Cefalù Arduin and transported the two sarcophagus of Roger II to Palermo because he wanted the cathedral only for himself and his family. Later, the remains of the body of Roger II were relocated to Cefalù, but buried in a simple marble grave without decorations, where they are still today. Due to these vicissitudes, the cathedral endured many interruptions during the works to build it and many sides of it remained unfinished during the Middle Age. However, the cathedral was consecrated in 1267 by bishop Rudolf, some months before the one in Monreale.
The vicissitudes of Cefalù Cathedral are fairly complex. The original project by Roger II planned a so magnificent architectural style that remained unfinished in many parts. The church was built within the frame of the North European Romanesque architecture imported by the Normans in Sicily but it was completed by local workers following an Arab and Byzantine architectural style. The interior of the cathedral has three separated naves characterized by arches and high double ring uprights with an Arab shape and hold by 16 monolithic columns: 14 in pink granite and 2 in marble. These are on marble basis and are surmounted by precious capitals embellished with depictions and carvings. Columns, capitals and marble basis date back to the Roman age (maybe the II century A. C.) and it is probable they come from pagan temples. The three main naves have wooden beams depicted with fairy images , animals, bodies and other Arab decorations. The two marble columns also support the triumphal arch that provides access to the transept, namely the transversal nave that crosses the ones at the centre and gives the church a form of a cross. The roof of the arch has been lowered, from here, you can see the external of the church and the presbytery, which ends with a stunning stone vault. Always here, you can admire the most beautiful artworks, such as wonderful mosaics and, above all, the mosaic of Christ Pantokrator that is similar to the one in the Monreale cathedral.
This area is apsidal and entirely surrounded with mosaics depicting saints and angels. Also the lateral naves end with apses. They are very smaller than the central one. Looking at them from the entrance to the altar, the right one is called Diaconicon, while the left one is called Protesis. The latter is the place to prepare bread and wine for the mass and is used as a chapel. Here, you can see the silver altar built in the XVIII century by Palermo artisans. The Diaconicon is the place to keep the sacred furniture. Particularly interesting are: the baptism source obtained by a unique limestone stone block decorated with four small lions and the stunning marbled statue of the Virgin Mary with the child. The cathedral contains also some burial furniture, among them, a late ancient grave, another one dating back the Middle Age and a sculpture of the XVIII century.
The external architecture of the cathedral consists of a large terracing that was a cemetery, once, and of a wide façade with two large Norman towers. The towers have mullioned windows surmounted by spires. Amid the towers, just at the centre of the external building, there is the main entrance, called portico. This dates back to the XV century and has three arches, the lateral ones are pointed. These are supported by four columns.
Adjacent the cathedral, there is the cloister ( see the image). You can cross it from within the church. It dates back to the same age of the church and represents one of the most sublime Norman architecture works. That is also the most ancient cloister of Sicily made with a double capital on a double column. The rich capital structure is embellished with historical and biblical images and sculptures going from the creation of mankind to the final salvation. After renovation works, the cloister has been opened to the public again and you can also admire a renewed garden with four essences.
Opening hours Cefalù cathedral
You can visit the cathedral for free on the following calendar: in January, February, March, November and December, from Monday to Saturday, 8.30 – 13.30 and 15.30 – 17.00 (in the afternoon, you can visit the church on Sunday and on holidays, also).
In April, May, June, July, August, September and October, every day, Sunday and holidays included, from 8.30 to 18.30 (continued time).
You can visit the cloister in January, February, March, November and December, from Monday to Friday from 10.00 to 13.00. You can visit the cloister every day (Saturday, Sunday and holidays included) in April, May, June, July, August, September and October 10.00-13.00 and 15.00- 18.00. To visit the cloister you must pay a ticket of 3 euros. For groups of 10 people the ticket is two euros per person. If you want to visit the Cefalù cathedral during the Mass or on other hours and dates, you must book the visit on the phone or by email. I checked the official website of the cathedral, but also if they have a webpage in English, the booking page is in Italian.
Cefalù cathedral tours
It is not so easy to find affordable tours to Cefalù cathedral. Since my mission is the one to help you find the best options to visit the attractions of my loved Sicily, I found a couple of very interesting tours for you, the first is a half day a Cefalù where you will have time to visit the cathedral in adition to the city. This tour is farly affordable, you can book here.
The second is a 3-hour tour lead by an expert local guide to discover the important Arab-Norman sides of Cefalù and its cathedral.
Cefalù cathedral – external facade Stijn Nieuwendijk
Cefalù cathedral by night Olga Bogdanova
Cefalù cathedral interior dome Eric Hardy