Monreale cathedral, the best Sicilian church to visit for Christmas

monreale-cathedral-interiorIf you are looking for a magnificent church to visit for Christmas, I suggest that you visit Monreale cathedral. The church arises in the Sicilian town of Monreale and is regarded as the most important church in Sicily. That is, in fact, a Norman church made by the Norman King William II in 1174. Along with this cathedral, the same importance belongs to the Palatine Chapel, the cathedral in Cefalù and the Norman Palace in Palermo. For this reason, Monreale cathedral has been added to the list of world heritage in 2015 inside the Norman itinerary which also includes Palermo and Cefalù. As many other Sicilian churches, Monreale Cathedral has simultaneously Norman, Byzantine, Arab and Christian features in and outside it. Rather, it is the most important example of Byzantine mosaics in Sicily. More important are the Christian features of the internal aisles and ceiling, and the Greek columns of the nave. Indeed, the cathedral is a little and big world where several cultures and religions met in the past centuries.


The monumental complex, consisting of the cathedral, cloister and royal palace was built under the reign of the Norman King monreale cathedralWilliam II, called “ The Good”. According to an ancient legend, the king built this church because, while he was sleeping under a tree after hunting, the Virgin Mary appeared in his dream and asked him to dedicate her a church. The King followed the instructions of the Virgin Mary and started building the Church in 1174. The entire monument was finished after 10 years, namely in 1184. Truth to tell, the cathedral was built for political reasons. At that time, indeed, Cathedral became the most important symbol of the Norman power against the one of the Catholic bishops in Palermo. From this duel, it was born a religious monument which had to prove the greatness of the Norman king. The political battle between the Normans and the Catholic Church also led to building a convent which is greater than the one in Palermo. The architectural project put the royal palace and the monastery next to the cathedral, as the symbol of definitive merging between State and Church. In 1267, the cathedral was officially dedicated to the Virgin Mary by Rodolfo, the bishop of Albano, charged by Pope Clemente IV.

Architectural style

organ-monreale-cathedralMonreale cathedral is also a real jewel of architecture, religion and art. Visitors can admire its stunning features outside and inside it. The external façade is clearly Norman, with a high central dome and battlements which embellish the entire perimeter of the church. The internal features can be summarized in the following art items: the Pantocrator ( see the first image before the post), mosaics ( see the image below) and the organ of the cathedral ( see the image above). The picture that dominates the entire space of the cathedral is the one of Christ Pantocrator. This immense picture lies in the internal dome of the central apse, it represents the central point where the magnificent interior of the church has been focused. The imagine of Christ is covered with a blue cloak on a dress of gold and porphyry. mosaics-monreale-cathedralThe mosaics are one the important artistic and religious items of the cathedral. They surround the entire sides of the nave and depict the whole history of mankind. They are also as great pictures that tell about the stories of the Old and the New Testament , from the Genesis to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Pentecost and Acts of The Apostles. The first organ of the cathedral was built in 1503, the second in 1668. Both of them were destroyed in 1811 because of a fire that damaged also the central wood chorus of the ceiling. In the following years were built new organs, but the one you can see today, it is a monumental and magnificent organ built in 1967 by a firm from Padova. The organ is formed by over 10.000 high reeds made of metal and precious wood.

Opening hours

To visit Monreale cathedral, you must follow these opening hours: working week days: from 8:30 to 12:45 a.m. and 14:30 – 17:00 p.m.
Holiday days: from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m.
from 14:30 to 17:30 p.m.
Usually, the diocese of Monreale demands to book the visit.
You can book Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 to 13:00 a.m. Providing information about the number of people.
Since the officers of the Cathedral can reply you into Italian, please contact us to book the visit through us. You can visit Monreale cathedral with no booking also, but visitors will be admitted upon availability of the cathedral.
During the holy mass, visitors are forbidden to visit the cathedral.

How to get to Monreale cathedral

monreale cathedral bishopMonreale cathedral is in William II Square (Piazza Guglielmo II), in the namesake city of Monreale, one of the most charming Norman towns in Sicily. This beautiful town lies at the feet of Caputo Mount, a very few kilometres away from Palermo. To reach and visit the cathedral, you must use Palermo as main reference. From Palermo Airport Falcone – Borsellino, in Punta Raisi, you can take the Metro “Trinacria Express” or the buses to get the train station. At the station, you must take the bus with the number 109 which takes you to Piazza Indipendenza, here, change bus and take the one with the number 389. If you get to Monreale by car, exit the airport and drive to the A29 highway, exit the highway and always continuing straight to the direction of CataniaMessina, enter Viale della Regione Siciliana and after overcoming the main roads Viale Michelangelo -Viale Lazio, Via Leonardo da Vinci -Via Notarbartolo and Via Pitrè, turning to right near the overpass, you enter Corso Calatafimi, on the right, continue straight for four kilometres up to arrive to the fork of SS186 circumvallation. Continuing to the right, you’ll take a panoramic road surrounded by ancient XVII century fountains, ride for about two kilometres and reach Vittorio Emanuele II Square (Piazza) where, just a short walk, it is the famous Norman cathedral.

Monreale cathedral bishop

Achbishop Monreale Cathedral Michele PennisiYou must  know that the archbishop of Monreale cathedral is a fellow citizen of mine. He is father Michele Pennisi (see the images here and above). He was born in my same birthtown in the surroundings of Noto Valley and is also one of my friends. He always fought  against the Sicilian Mafia  and I am really proud that he takes care of the most important and famous  cathedral of Sicily. Recently, I met father Michele Pennisi in my birthtown and talked to him about the interest of my foreign audience for Sicily and Monreale Cathedral. I also asked him for a few thoughts about this church and in a few days he sent me some text and images to share the importance and large spiritual relevance of Monreale cathedral with all of you.  Here is an excerpt of the thoughts he sent to me: “The cathedral is a marvelous example of the union between the architecture of the great Western cathedrals and the art of the mosaic decoration. It is overwhelming with its own iconografy of the  Byzantine East. The armony that has been achieved here makes this cathedral the most brilliant and remarkable example of the Byzantine – Norman art”.


Monreale cathedral tour

There are many tours to Monreale cathedral. Many of them are very expensive.  I checked carefully and  found the most affordable ones which start from 20 euros. You can book them at this link.

If you want to find accommodations near Monreale cathedral, instead,  you can see here.



Many thanks to father Michele Pennisi, bishop of Monreale,  for the images and information about Monreale cathedral.


2 thoughts on “Monreale cathedral, the best Sicilian church to visit for Christmas

  1. Pingback: Cefalù, the dark side of a charming Sicilian town

  2. Pingback: Cefalù cathedral, the most sublime symbol of Norman architecture in Sicily

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