Palermo’s 12th Century Church San Cataldo is a great example of Moorish influence on early Norman architecture and art in Sicily…
Chiesa di San Cataldo located on the Plaza Bellini is one of the best examples of fusion of Oriental and Norman architectures and art in Sicily.
It is reflecting centuries of influence of Islamic culture and its acceptance by Norman rulers.
The church was founded in 1154 by Majone of Bari – the chancellor of Norman king William 1st. It was designed as a private chapel in his palace but probably never fully finished. After Majone’s death in 1160, his successors sold the church to Benedictines of Monreale.
From the outside the church of San Cataldo is an austere building with blind arches on exterior walls containing small curved windows in their upper parts. Its rectangular plan including a nave and two aisles and overall simplicity is typical of early-medieval Norman architecture. Both aisles are topped by arched vaults, while the main nave uses columns as a support for arches and central domes…….
12th Century Church San Cataldo
... and its layout
Spherical red domes crowning the roof are giving the church its characteristic look. They are encircled by refined Oriental balustrade. These architectural elements together with interior arches and columns topped by richly ornamented capitals express the strong Islamic influence in early Norman times.
Over the following centuries the church San Cataldo was slowly losing its “spiritual’ importance. Quickly expanding city overgrew surrounding area swallowing the church in the array of new buildings and edifices. Although the church itself did not undergo any major transformation, it simply lost its dominant position to the point of “disappearance” from public eyes. Not surprisingly, for almost hundred years from 1780’s to 1880’s the church was deconsecrated losing its holy vocation. It has been used as a Royal Post Office and later as a mail delivery office.
San Cataldo: Interior
Only in early 1880’s thanks to the effort led by Giuseppe Patricolo the church of St. Cataldo was brought back to its medieval shape and religious service. All surrounding additions were demolished making the church of San Cataldo as originally designed - a standing-alone (detached) structure.
In 1937, the church was entrusted to Knights of Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, then re-consecrated and used by the Order for private services. The big cross you can see in the main apse is the symbol of the Knights of Holy Sepulcher.
Although not much survived from church’s original adornments, the stunning power of bare sandstone walls, columns with decorative capitals and marvelous original mosaic floor makes it a living testimony of medieval architecture and an “open window” into Norman’s life and beliefs from the time of their domination. No wonder that the church of San Cataldo is considered as one of the most important landmarks of Palermo’s identity.
Fragment of floor mosaics
Church San Cataldo - Side nave
Maine Apse: What used to be in the Sanctuary is already long gone....
An old memorial plaque
.... and one more view of the interior
Fragment of Phenician wall in front of the church
Interestingly, the 1943 bombing by allied forces “cleared’ the area in front of the church facing Via Maqueda. And then once the “dust settled” (rubbles were removed), the fragments of old Punic walls emerged from the earth next to the church bringing to the light the more remote past of Palermo.
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