A Saracenic Window In Sicily.
The Approach To The Palatine Chapel.
The Palatine Chapel.
The Pulpit Of The Palatine Chapel.
The Chapel, Looking From The Chancel.
I leave unmentioned many other treasures here. I recollect elaborate lamps of massive silver hanging from the roof, and an exquisitely sculptured candelabrum, fourteen feet in height, that once adorned a church in old Byzantium, and also a stately pulpit made of porphyry and white marble, beneath which is the crypt, wherein St. Peter is believed to have sojourned on his return from Africa. But these and other details sink to comparative insignificance, as I recall the hour spent in the mysterious shadows of these jeweled aisles, gazing, by turns, either at the mosaic portraiture of the benignant Savior of mankind or at the storied walls, which, sparkling in the twilight like the silken tissues of Damascus, seemed to have caught the glories of the sunset sky, and to be holding them imperish-ably in a net of gold. As I looked back upon it from the doorway, this sanctuary seemed to me the nearest approach that art had ever made toward imitating in resplendent gems and fadeless hues a tiny section of that Holy City described by the enraptured writer of the Revelation, the light of which was like unto a stone most precious.
A Section Of The Ceiling.
After a study of this work of art, I felt reluctant to behold more specimens of Norman-Saracenic architecture. "If this," I thought, "is the best expression of that composite style, why should I see another similar edifice, which may disturb the impression made upon me by this masterpiece? "My reasoning was wrong, however, as I afterward discovered; and I should have committed an act of folly, had I failed to ascertain what these same artisans had accomplished, no longer in a little chapel, but in a grand cathedral. The town of Monreale, or the Royal Mount, lies on the slope of a precipitous foot-hill just behind Palermo, and overlooks the glorious Conca d' Oro at its feet, and thence successively the city, port, and open sea. Besides this matchless view, however, the place possesses two old Norman structures of consummate beauty, - its wonderful cathedral and its Benedictine cloisters. To visit either of them would repay a trip to Sicily. The first needs no detailed description here, because of its resemblance, on a larger scale, to the Palatine Chapel. One of them might, indeed, be called a "diamond edition " of Byzantine ornamentation; the other an "imperial folio." Both have the same astonishing blending of Arabic decoration, Oriental mosaics, and Norman architectural designs. In both the walls are lined, below, with gorgeous slabs of inlaid, polished marble; above, with tiers of rainbow-hued mosaics on a ground of gold. Only, in Monreale this jeweled incrustation covers a surface of more than seventy thousand square feet; since the cathedral is three and a third times larger than the chapel at Palermo. Moreover, owing to a better light, these inlaid pictures can be better seen than those in the Palatine Chapel, and one can trace in them not only all the notable scenes of the Old and New Testaments, but countless forms of patriarchs, prophets, martyrs, saints, and angels, portrayed in hues that have not faded in the lapse of more than seven centuries, and doubtless will not lose their lustre in as many more. This noble structure, therefore, surpasses in pictorial mosaics all other cathedrals in the world, just as the Palatine does all other chapels. Yet, notwithstanding all its grandeur, the church at Monreale did not make upon me, personally, the same 'impression of solemnity and sacred beauty which the smaller shrines produced. An indefinable something made me feel that this peculiar style of sumptuous embellishment was more appropriate for a dimly lighted chapel than for an immense basilica. Such vast expanses of resplendent colors seemed at times too brilliant, the figures often appeared too gigantic, and the bewildering display proved finally almost overpowering. Perhaps the difference can be best defined by saying that, while both these shrines command enthusiastic admiration, the larger edifice speaks chiefly to the intellect, the lesser structure to the heart. One gives to memory a mental picture of supreme magnificence, the other leaves in it a sentiment akin to love.