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The cloister of the monastery of Monreale

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Home arrowThe cloister of the monastery of Monreale

Nowadays the best place for definitive leave from the cathedral of Monreale is undoubtedly the porticoed cloister of the Monastery, which is a recognised masterpiece of medieval art. In ancient times there were two other porticoed squares (to the west – the main entrance to the cathedral – and to the north – the royal palace), but of these three original spaces, the cloister is only one that still remains useable by tourists and the faithful who have just finished their visit to the mosaics, to shelter from inclement weather (rain, wind, snow) or the torrid heat.
Like all monastic cloisters, in particular those of Cluniac inspiration, this site is to be considered the centre of the fast monastic movement within the various offices and, secondly, guarantees the primary requirement of the artificial collection of rainwater, with the efficient archaic tank storage systems. In cloisters, the well has this logistical origin.

From the latter point of view, note that the fountain and the well are not aesthetically located in the centre of the cloister, but in a more pragmatic manner, they occupy a south-eastern corner of it, allowing monks to get water without having to stand in the sun or face any other type of seasonal difficulty. [In the small cloisters of small convents, as we find in the reformed Franciscan and Capuchin tradition, there is no need for positioning in the corner, as the journey between the portico and the well is truly ridiculous].
Breathing in an atmosphere of peace, tranquillity and serenity, in a silence that deadens the buzz of the working and travelling world, we can therefore focus for a short time on certain artistic and religious values that have emerged from our visit.
First of all, we entered into contact with an aesthetic dimension of existence. Beauty and splendour domineeringly entered into the confines of our “privacy” and with a magnetic force they attracted us upwards, towards historical figures of primary interest for our world today and for our tomorrow, and lastly, towards mysterious figures who are near to us, such as God, in Christ and in the Church and the angelical spirits, the saints of every historical era.

We then perceived the value of the socio-political dimension, especially when applied to a specific historical period, the Latin-Norman medieval one, which saw the whole of Sicily sparkling with a great opportunity of finding itself at the core of international relations between the 11th-13th centuries. From Roger II (+ 1154) to Frederick II (+1250), passing through William II (+1189), the events of the island recognise the geo—political value which, objectively speaking, it has always had.
Although in a summary and somewhat inadequate manner, we approached the religious dimension, the true soul of the architecture and art of Monreale. Our effort was to begin a scientifically “sustainable” approach, fleeing from exasperations in favour of or against certain religious categories, be they Christian, intra-Christian or purely laic. In a clear manner we saw the manifestation of the delicate perennial balance between the visible world and the invisible world, between rite and life, between contemplation and action, between liturgy and diakonia, between liturgical celebration and socio-political intervention, between work and rest, between history and meta-history or eternity. Specifically speaking, we approached the origins of the bible and the life of Jesus, Christ, generated by Mary of Nazareth in a more careful manner; we were welcomed not only by the Norman-Sicilian court, but also, in a transcendent manner, by the court of the all-powerful Lord (Pantocrator), immense and humble, glorious and simple, most-high and maternal.
Before leaving us definitively, we hope to have given a bit more light to this great land of Sicily and its Church. In particular, we would like to thank the Minor Capuchin Friars, who promoted this cultural effort, they who, though the current works of the Casa del Sorriso – founded by Father Clemente Giadone and his fellow brothers  - are seeking to comfort and sustain the arduous and joyful, suffering and constructive pathway of a world, our world, which has just faced into the third millennium.