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Discover Piana degli Albanesi. - the church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio. UNESCO site.

In this appointment of the column dedicated to discovering Piana degli Albanesi we will virtually visit the church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio of Palermo which is the Co-Cathedral of the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi and which is part of the Unesco site "Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale ".

In 1143 Giorgio Rosio di Antiochia, admiral of King Roger II, emir of the emirs and Grand Vizier of the Kingdom, had the consolation of seeing the church finished which "in the name of the most pure Mother of God I raised from the foundations, in the city of Palermo guarded by God ; and how much zeal and diligence he employed in its construction is shouted by the facts themselves, in their beauty and splendor ”(From the foundation diploma in the double Greek and Arabic text, preserved in the Tabulario of the Palatine Chapel in Palermo).

While highlighting the disproportion between the benefits and gifts obtained from the Virgin and the offering of the sacred building as a "small and tenuous reward", the founder cannot fail to be pleased with the goodness of the work he has done. Judgment and appreciation that over the centuries will never be denied.

The church appeared as a perfect Greek cross inscribed in a square and outlined by the four columns supporting the polygonal drum, surmounted by the dome, with the eastern side spaced by three semicircular apses.

"While under the static profile an admirable balance of thrusts was thus achieved with extreme structural simplicity, under that of functionality a singular correspondence of each internal space to the needs of the Byzantine rite was obtained" (R. Santoro, Byzantine structure and spatiality in S. Maria dell'Ammiraglio, on “Oriente Cristiano”, n. 2 1977 Palermo).

Judged as one of the most faithful Italian products of the Constantinopolitan prototype, its form was in turn taken up and perpetuated in most of the organisms both of the Latin and Oriental rite for other centuries still in Sicily. But "holiness and splendor are in the sanctuary of the Lord" says the Psalmist. The sumptuous mosaic decoration, which still enchants and exalts today, constitutes a sublime theological synthesis and a persuasive invitation to contemplation and prayer.

It succeeds in transforming the architectural values ​​of the enclosed space, and, by submitting to the faithful the representation of the mystery of the economy of salvation, it involves him in the understanding of the plan of God who, through the Incarnation, wants to bring about the divinization of the creature, and immerses in the splendor of the uncreated light and in the anticipation of the harmony and joy of Heaven. The theological reading of the mosaic unfolding is well combined with the aesthetic enjoyment of figures that detach themselves from the impalpable gold background, outlined with sharpness of design and superb chromatic vivacity, all the result of an organic and harmonious concept. In the second half of the 12th century, an internal narthex, an atrium with a baptismal font and above all the addition of an elegant bell tower decorated with polychrome marble altered the primitive purity of the building. The most painful and substantial tampering, however, took place starting from 1558. No longer officiated in the Greek rite for some time, the church had been entrusted to the Benedictine monastery, founded nearby by Goffredo and Eloisa Martorana. It was then that two events took place: the first, the adaptation to the Latin rite, with the demolition of the central apse and the consequent construction of the Baroque chapel and the extension of the building on the western side; the second, the decline among the people of the original name of S. Maria dell’Ammiraglio and the replacement with the improper and arbitrary appellation of Martorana tout-court. The Byzantine community, bloodied by groups of refugees from Albania and Greece, built in 1547 by Andrea Scramiglia, Albanian, and Matteo Menkso, of Corone, the church of S. Sofia which will become the seat of the parish.

An agreement between the Municipality of Palermo and the Archiepiscopal Curia, which recalled the Bulls of Clement VIII attached to the contract of 30 June 1600, included the parish of S. Nicolò dei Greci among the thirteen ancient parishes of the city over which the Municipality exercises "Right of patronage". With the "Apostolica Sedes" Bull of 1937, "the ancient and magnificent church of Martorana" was destined for the solemn liturgies of the Byzantine rite and awarded the title and dignity of Co-Cathedral.

From 1943 it will become with the parish title of S. Nicolò dei Greci, the cultural center of the Greek-Albanian community of the city. Since the end of the last war, due to the flight from the countryside, there has been an incessant transfer of families from the various countries of the Diocese and this significant increase makes the number of parish faithful ascribe to the order of 20,000 souls.

It does not have its own territory, but is characterized by ad personam, ratione ritus jurisdiction over all the faithful residing within the municipality of Palermo. All the sacraments, from baptism to the anointing of the sick, are lived and assumed according to the Greek rite. A laity, who seeks to live in line with a past that has always seen him as a living part of the community in the full awareness of being Church, and a well responsible and active part of it, through his organisms carries out the connatural work of promotion and supporting.

The Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio has been included in the site "Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale" in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The site was registered on 3 July 2015, during the 39th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee held in Bonn.

It represents the fifty-first Italian site and the seventh in Sicily

The community, which has the good fortune to carry out its liturgical life between the splendor of the golds and the rutile of the light of the polychrome mosaics, is aware that it is also carrying out an action, which we could define as frontier, but which we would aspire to become a hinge. For the numerous Orthodox residing in the city it is a testimony of love, an opportunity for fruitful confrontation and fraternal knowledge; for Catholics of the Latin rite it is a point of verification and a first approach to the spirituality and liturgical richness of the East; it attracts the attention of tourists and provokes the interest of scholars (Byzantinologists, Albanologists, ecumenists, lovers of music, art, folklore, etc.). In this church of St. Mary of the Admiral the joy of seeing the Metropolitans of the Holy Synods of Constantinople, Greece and Crete celebrated in intense moments of authentic ecumenism.

Salvatore Vasotti




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