This was the wall of the Dormitory of the Monastery which probably existed befor the other structures were initiated. It has a Norman-Romanesque style with a little Moorish influence. Wm. II brought Benedictine Cluniac monks here before starting hismaster plan to control the church inflence in his kingdom. The Monastery became Charlemagne's power base because it was the source of communication through learning (writing) and remained this until the printing press. Having a cluster of monks self-walled (cloistered ) into a church area was like having a computer (read: copies, messaging("email"), systems design) and outside he used it for politics.
The Moorish influence is most visible here. The stylized zig-zag mosaics and bulbous fountain head ("palm-tree") and the psychological association of splashing water to begin with! But from the foliate top we descend to a row of miniature lion spouts (shades of the Alhambra) and below that a ring of well built dancing girls (maybe lusty Norman, but not religious Benedictines or Moslim clerics either). Worth a visit and a stare.
The most unusual aspect of the cloister is this structure. It sits at the SW inside corner of the cloister and blends in with the entire structure. It is without roof, with a 4 column inner corner, but is otherwise like the rest. At its center is the reason for its existence. Standing in a stone basin is a stylized palm tree in the form of an inlaid column. This is a fountain. Thus the minicloister is a water source, a requirement for all cloisters. Most of these are centrally placed and are wells. Examine the columns and capitals for they are the most worked in the entire cloister. The inner columns are as detailed as any Gothic portal. Can you imagine sitting on the steps and reading a book while the fountain splashed?
The rebirth of sculture occurred in the carving of the capitals of cloisters and spread to the tympani over the associated church portals( and funerary plaques), then pulpits and finally free standing statuary. They are a challenge to behold because they contain the germs of a great art form and because their subject matter and ultimate purpose is often not clear. Romanesque themes(probably religious) are hard to recognize without a lot of background, ditto technical artistic nuances. They range from floral designs to fantastic beasties to Bible Stories. We had no guiding literature at the time. I took pictures of the capitals that intrigued me the most but have failed to identify many of their themes.It is probable that these sculptors had been working at Cluniac pilgrimage churches in Provence and the Pyrenees (eg. Moissac) and that here they trained new apprentices and collaborated with Byzantine mosaicists to expand their talents. The picture I chose has the obvious story. Some of the capitals are single but the more talented ones are double (like this one) and require a larger block of stone and more adept carving.
The columns are small compared with the ancient ones inside the church, The technic for making large ones or their transport from quarries was not well developed. But they turned them out in large numbers for the other buildings as well. The majority have an innovative combination of sculture and mosaic work, a sort of grooving and encrustation with varying patterns and colors (most intact, but some falling away). The tecnic is called Cosmatic and is seen elsewhere especially in Rome on elaborate candelabras, etc. The name derives from a family of sculptor-mosaicists who lived in the 11-13C. The first of the Cosmati does not antedate the cloister and in view of the profusion of examples, it must have originated here or from another older inspiration.
This is a large square structure with 228 paired columns. Every column is different!(The reason for this variety is unknown).The columns are topped by carved capitals but there does not appear to be a theme to any groups of them. The columns occur in pairs except at the 4 corners of the cloister.The most unexpected aspect of the cloister are the arches. This is a Romanesque (Norman) structure. The pointed arches derive from Saracen influence. They are ogival and not weight bearing Gothic . The decorations above the arches are also fascinating with their mixture of stone and lava rock (this is not mosaic work but certainly is a blend of sculptural and other technics (like the W. portal of the church and the apse). Only churches with attached monasteries created cloisters and they characteristically are situated along the S. wall of the church as occurs here. This cloister was possibly under construction even before the building of the church began.
Above the plain walls with their decorative borders between each of the windows on the outer walls (North and South) of the aisles are mosaic panels depicting the miracles and other important actions of Jesus. These enlarge the Gospel for the believer. It is important to remember that this is the largest display of mosaic (in square area) in the world!
The life begins in the crossing on W. wall with parts involving adjacent S. and N. segments. It has 2 levels and reads from left to right ( sort of S. to N,) The first episodes are 4 Annunciation episodes followed by a Nativity. In the lower band you can find the Flight into Eygpt etc. to his baptism. The second part is on the S. transept wall and adjacent W. transept wing, it also reads L>R, with 3 levels . It starts with Satan tempting Jesus and ends with Jesus before Pilate (bottom R). The final section is in the N. transept and adjacent W. transept wing. It begins with 2 Crucixion scenes and ends with the Pentecost (3 levels).
Th Old Testamnet Stories occupy the inside walls of the nave. It begins (Creation) at the East end of the South wall in the top of two bands. The scenes move sequentially to the West (between the clerestory windows). They progress to the West end and continue with 2 panels on the inside of the West end wall(around a window). They then procede on the top level from W. to E. along the North wall (concluding with Noah commanding the building of the Ark). We now return to the S. wall on the lower band and start with the building of the Ark. The story procedes as above to the W. end , continuing with the 2 outer scenes. (The middle scene below the window and the 2 scenes in the lower band are scenes relating to special Saints of this Church. Also in the lower band is a Madonna and child, (she the protectress of Wm. II). The storie continue in the lower band of the N. wall from W. to E. ending with the struggle between Jacob and the Angel. Our illustration is from the N. Wall.
The East end of the church is Byzantine in form with a triple apse. The center is separated from the lateral sides by walls leading to the crossing pillars. This is called the solea. The back wall supports the semidome. An immense area of mosaic fills the wall with a half-view of Christ in a pointed recess.Below leading down toward the altar are two levels of full figures 1) The madonna and 2 archangels plus twelve apostles and 2)14 male and female saints (one is Thomas a Beckett, who is the 4th from the left facing us from a pillar, in black), The Coming of Christ is symbolized on the Arch.
Unlike most nave-transept churches this crossing does not have a dome. The central transept area is large and its walls are devoted to mosaics of the Life of Christ (see Tip). It is covered over by a wood ceilng restored in the 19C. It differs from the rest of the roof in that this is of stylized stalactites in the Moorish manner.
The ceilings are almost flat and made of wood. They were created in the 19C after a fire of 1811. They are said to follow the originals in form and decoration using the Moorish patterns available. They are of a beam type resting on brackets.
When the original decorators reached the lower walls of the aisles they stopped. To continue with mosaics would dull the impact of what they had done, or more likely (it was now about 1250) the hereditary sequence of rich interested regal sponsors had expired. But there are decorations today! Tastefully done in the 19C : a tracery of oriental arcades and pillars are embedded in flat marble plates with appropriate vertical bands, frames and decorative freizes, all heavily saturated with golden tiles which do not appear gaudy and are a clever backdrop to the mosaic stories and recent church accretions. These we did not study ,nor did we visit the 3 chapels or Treasury. The day was not over, our eyes were tired!.
First A TIP! Be sure to have one extra euro dollar with you to illuminate the Apse. (For more advice see my Dangers Tip). In order to appreciate this site and get its full impact immediately proced to the center-back of the nave and face east(toward the altar). If the apse has been illuminated by others, you are in luck. If not move in until the wall of the conch is clear and the triumphal arch details fit in. Christ Pantokrator ("the Almighty") is greeting you! And since we are poorly informed, the Story is laid out all around us in brilliant color (with Latin subtitles) from Creation to Jacob plus The Life. (Although the 10 Commandments is cut C.B. de Mille did it later).You can follow the script on your own. This is Aesthetics time.This is a blend of Moorish, Byzantine and Norman Romanesque, like nowhere else. Moorish designs(arab-esques!) , pointed arch arcades; a Roman basilican nave,with 2 aisles and columns; Byz. mosaics, even the cushions on the columns above the reworked capitals have mosaics.There is a flat wood roof, a flattened crossing, marble floors and 3 apses. We shall look at each of these elements in turn in other tips. Near the back of the nave is an entrance to the roof(with 180 steps!). It gives a good view of the Conca d'Oro and other sights, We were too old to climb up. The church pavement (marble- Cosmatic style) is 16-17C.
There are 18 columns in the nave arcades. 4 are attached to the supportive piers an the ends. 14 stand free with pointed arches and flat nave walls and clerestory windows above them. The walls bear 2 levels of Old Testament mosaic stories and above these a level of Saints in medallions. On the aisle side the wall is lower because of the aisle roof and so there are only Saint-medallions in the pendentives of the arcades. Under the curve of the arches are more mosaics: Saints in medallions(all named) and elaborate freizes of vines, arabesques,etc. 13 of the free columns are of granite and one of cipolin marble (but I could not find it).All of the column and capitals are antique and the capitals have been reworked and often are figurated. (How did Wm. get them? Were they plundered or was there a Roman column junk-yard?) Resting on the capitals are trapezoidal pillows (pulvins) uniformly mosaic decorated, from which the varied mosaic covered arches spring.