Columns At The Door Of The Cathedral.

Columns At The Door Of The Cathedral.

Receptacle For Holy Water.

Receptacle For Holy Water.

But all else sinks to insignificance in this cathedral, compared with the massive tombs of the great Norman kings whose dust reposes there. Aside from their associations with the mighty dead, these monuments are solemn in their simple grandeur.

The Tomb Of Roger II.

The Tomb Of Roger II.

Sarcophagi of deeply tinted porphyry hold the regal ashes, - a stone well suited to those self-crowned wearers of the purple, - and over them rise stately canopies, upheld by marble columns inlaid with mosaic. The one which most impressed me was the tomb of Roger II., founder of this Norman dynasty, whose plain sarcophagus, composed entirely of slabs of porphyry, rests on the figures of four kneeling Saracens. Standing beside the sepulchre of one who so transformed the history of Sicily, and treading thoughtfully the pavement of this mighty edifice, where he and others of his race repose, one feels a strong desire to know what brought them here eight hundred years ago, to play their brilliant parts upon this classic stage. The bloodstained volume of Trinacria's history contains no more attractive chapters than the comparatively short one written by the Normans.

Until the latter part of the eleventh century, the Saracens were still masters of the island, the greater part of which they had ruled for more than two hundred and fifty years. Had it not been for their internal feuds and intrigues, they might have risen to be a great world power. But their dissensions paved the way for foreign conquest. Already there had appeared upon the neighboring peninsula of Italy a number of those brave adventurers known as Normans, who, following their former Scandinavian habits, had left the home which they had made in Normandy, intent upon new territorial aggressions. The result was nothing less than the almost simultaneous acquisition by them of the two most valuable insular possessions of the then known world, - England the principal island in the Atlantic Ocean, and Sicily the largest in the Mediterranean. For while one strong detachment of these Normans crossed the Channel, under William the Conqueror, to subdue the Saxons, another section of them ventured southward, and soon became the subjugators of the south of Italy. One of these warriors, Robert Guiscard, acquired thus the rank of Duke of Apulia and Calabria. His younger brother, Roger, equally ambitious, invaded Sicily near Messina and, after thirty years of almost constant warfare, obtained at last, in 1090, complete possession of the island, and put an end forever there to Moslem rule.

The Tomb Of Frederick

The Tomb Of Frederick.

Palermo, Looking Toward The Sea.

Palermo, Looking Toward The Sea.

It was, however, the son of this intrepid conqueror, Roger II., who first, on Christmas Day, in the year 1130, assumed the title, King of Sicily, and in this same cathedral of Palermo proudly placed the crown upon his head with his own hands. It was a fortunate day for Sicily; for this remarkably able ruler, together with a number of his descendants (notably the illustrious Frederick II., one of the greatest thinkers of the Middle Ages), gave Trinacria a century of such intellectual brilliancy, artistic culture, and general prosperity as it has never since enjoyed. King Roger had the wisdom, at the start, to found in his new realm a system of religious toleration and political harmony which speedily made of it the first of European kingdoms and the literary and artistic focus of the world. He had the rare good fortune, it is true, to find here, as inhabitants of the island, the two most highly civilized peoples of the age, - the Greeks and Saracens; but where an ordinary conqueror would have crushed these under brutal tyranny, he gave scope to all their varied talents, and governed them with perfect impartiality. Accordingly, for many years, Sicily was the only place in Europe where men of diverse races, creeds, and languages could live in equal liberty of faith and conduct. Cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues stood side by side, as different symbols of man's aspiration toward a common deity; and in Palermo, while from several hundred minarets the Arabic muezzins called Mohammedans to prayer, the bells of Christian churches summoned their believers to worship either in the Greek or Latin ritual. Moreover, every race was governed by its own peculiar code, - the Saracens by the Koran, the Normans by the laws of France, the others by the statutes of old Rome. Palermo, which was then a noble, cosmopolitan metropolis of more than three hundred thousand inhabitants, was known as the "City of threefold Speech," since all its public notices and proclamations were issued in the three great languages of the island, - Latin, Arabic, and Greek. Sometimes a fourth was added, - Hebrew, - while at the Court, the favorite dialect was Norman-French. This polyglot civilization was itself a stimulus to education; and Latin, Greek, and Arabic literature, thus kept alive, was studied and protected by these able rulers. Roger, indeed, attracted to his court the ablest scientists, poets, historians, and linguists of the time, and formed there an Academy of learned men, whose literary verdicts were accepted as the consensus of the competent. Dante even dated the rise of Italian literature from the intellectual activity of this Sicilian court. Aware, too, of their own deficiency in the arts and sciences, these Norman rulers wisely borrowed, and made use of, those of their new subjects. It was a repetition of the case of Greece and Rome. Once more the conquered taught and civilized their conquerors; and from this harmony of religions, arts, and races, there naturally rose that charming and incomparable blending of architectural and decorative styles, which made, and make of Sicily still, a unique land. When, therefore, on the ruins of old Grecian, Roman, Carthaginian, and Arabic civilizations there suddenly blossomed forth this beautiful florescence of the Norman rule, it seemed for a time as if the sufferings of Sicily were at an end. Alas! that golden age was far too beautiful to last. In little more than a hundred years the Norman sovereignty had disappeared, like all the different dynasties that had preceded it, and poor Trinacria - fated to be happy only at rare intervals, and then but briefly - became again the spoil of the invader, and sank continually lower through successive centuries of misery, until, through its incorporation with United Italy, its sun seems now to be emerging slowly from its long eclipse.