PALAZZO DEI NORMANNI AND PALATINE CHAPEL, Palatine Chapel 3

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Now pay attention to the furnishings. Next to the pulpit, you will no doubt notice the distinctive four-and-a-half-meter-high marble candelabra for the Paschal candle, an amazing work of Sicilian Romanesque style. The single-piece stem is divided into five levels, with the scenes linked to one another with acanthus leaves, carved upwards. On the base, you can see a group of four lions mauling men and animals, symbolizing the power of evil, while the acanthus leaf decoration is a reference to the tree of salvation; the three figures at the top, with their arms raised supporting the base of the large candle, are inspired by ancient works.

The purpose of the Candelabra was to support the candle that was lit at Easter in memory of the column of fire that guided the Jews through the Sinai Desert during the Exodus.

The huge pulpit, or ambon, is a symbol of the empty tomb of the risen Christ. From here, on the night of Easter, the priest reads the passage from the bible that tells the story of the Resurrection. The ambon is formed by two non-aligned parallelepipeds with splendid parapets in porphyry and marble, embellished with colored mosaics. The part facing the nave is supported by four columns symbolizing the four Evangelists. The two lecterns which the sacred books rest upon are supported by an eagle and a lion, symbols of the Evangelists John and Mark.  

Looking up, you’ll be enchanted by the extraordinary wooden ceiling, one of the finest and most important groups of Arab paintings we can see today. It was probably the work of the talented Tunisian craftsmen who had already worked on the magnificent palaces of the emirs when the city was under Arab rule. They probably crafted the structure, with the characteristic honeycomb decoration, while the tempera paintings on canvas glued onto the wood were the work of Persian artists. For the Norman kings, money was no object when it came to engaging the finest artists of the time!

The decoration, almost indistinguishable from below, features real and imaginary animals, musicians, knights and scenes of banquets at the royal court. These are unusual, because in traditional Islamic art it is forbidden to depict human figures in sacred places.

 

 

An interesting fact: in 2016, this magnificent church was ranked 14th in a Daily Telegraph list of the 23 most beautiful churches in the world!

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