Bible Review 18:4, August 2002

Seven Luminous Days

The creation mosaics of Monreale

By Molly Dewsnap Meinhardt

In the Bible, God creates through speech. He says the Word, and it is. “God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). But in the various depictions of God in the Creation mosaics of the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily, he never opens his mouth. His creative work requires only the slightest gesture. He tilts his head, and the heavens appear. He extends his arm, and trees sprout leaves. His right hand—raised in the classic Roman oratorical gesture called ad locutio—is enough to convey speech. The cathedral mosaics present the Creation as the supreme act of mind and will, of divine intelligence, not physical exertion.

The Cathedral or Duomo (Italian for Dome) of Santa Maria Nuova in Monreale was built by the Norman King William II (1172–1189). Under Arab control from the ninth century, Sicily fell to the Normans in 1091, when Noto, the last major Saracen stronghold on the island, surrendered to William’s grandfather, Roger de Hauteville.

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