The royal chapel is the architectural jewel of the Norman kings’ palace in Palermo. One of the fullest and finest expressions of the Siculo-Norman cultural and artistic heritage, it reflects shared aesthetic, symbolic and religious canons of great refinement and an ecumenical outlook much to be desired at a time that was dramatically similar to our own. The coffered wooden ceiling is composed of groups of four eight-pointed stars (Islamic symbols), arranged in such a way as to form a cross (symbol of Christianity). The paintings with which the ceiling is decorated – rare in a Christian church and even rarer in an Islamic setting – symbolise life after death, a concept shared by these two monotheistic religions.
The chapel is in the form of a basilica, divided into three by recycled classical columns. The three-apsed chancel merges with the transept, in the centre of which four powerful and harmonious arches, supported by columns with tall dosserets, form a skilfully balanced structure bearing a dome. Dominated by the figure of Christ Pantocrator, the mosaics of the large hemispherical cupola, with those of the apse, are the focal point of the programme of decoration.
The mosaic cycles of the side aisles illustrate scenes from the Old and New Testaments, particularly the Acts of the Apostles. The raised royal throne, situated at the junction of nave and sanctuary, is Carolingian in inspiration, overshadowed by a mosaic depicting Christ enthroned. Also illustrated are details of the mosaic cycles, masterpieces of the Byzantine and Siculo-Byzantine schools; the candlestick made to hold the paschal candle, a fine example of 12th-century sculpture.
Rocco Benedetto, "La Cappella Palatina di Palermo", Lettura teologica (parte seconda), B.C.A. 1984 ?
O. Demus, "The Mosaics of norman Sicily", London, 1949-50
Guido Di Stefano, "Monumenti della Sicilia Normanna", Palermo, 1979
Melo Minnella / Vittorio Noto, Palermo