Church of S. Maria dell'Ammiraglio | S. Nicolò dei Greci
detta la Martorana
Co-Cathedral of Palermo | Site UNESCO
In 1143 Giorgio Rosio of Antioch, admiral of King Roger II, emir of the emirs and great Visìr 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 has employed in the construction of it the facts themselves shout in their beauty and splendor "(From the founding diploma in the dual Greek and Arabic text, preserved in the Tabulary of the Palatine Chapel of Palermo).
While highlighting the disproportion between the benefits and gifts obtained by the Virgin and the offering of the sacred building as a "small and tenuous reward", the founder cannot exempt himself from being pleased with the goodness of the work created. Judgment and appreciation that over the centuries will never be denied.
The church had 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 covered with three semicircular apses.
"While from the static point of view an admirable balance of thrusts was thus achieved with extreme structural simplicity, under that of functionality a singular response of each internal compartment was obtained to the needs of the Byzantine rite" (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 module was in turn taken up and perpetuated in most of the organisms of both the Latin and Oriental rites 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 manages to transform the architectural values of the enclosed space, and, by submitting to the faithful the representation of the mystery of the economy of salvation, involves him in understanding the design of God who, through the Incarnation, wants to achieve the divinization of the creature, and immerses in the splendor of uncreated light and in the foretaste of the harmony and joy of Heaven. The theological reading of the unfolding of the mosaic is well combined with the aesthetic enjoyment of figures that stand out 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 twelfth 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 from 1558. No longer officiated in Greek rite for some time, the church had been entrusted to the Benedictine monastery, founded in the vicinity of 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 of the original denomination of S. Maria dellAmmiraglio among the people and the replacement with the improper and arbitrary appeal of Martorana tout-court. The Byzantine community, bloodied by groups of refugees from Albania and Greece, built the church of S. Sofia in 1547 by Andrea Scramiglia, Albanian, and Matteo Menkso, from Corone, the church of S. Sofia which would become the seat of the Parish.
An Agreement between the Municipality of Palermo and the Archiepiscopal Curia, which recalled the Bubbles of Clement VIII attached to the contract of 30 June 1600, made the parish of S.Nicolò dei Greci included among the thirteen ancient parishes of the City on which the Municipality exercises the "Right of patronage". With the "Apostolic Sedes" Bull of 1937 "the ancient and magnificent church of the Martorana" was destined for the solemn Byzantine rite liturgies and awarded the title and dignity of Concattedrale.
From 1943 it became the parochial 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 is attributable to the consistency of the parish faithful in the order of 20,000 souls.
It does not have its own territory, but is characterized by the jurisdiction ad personam, ratione ritus, over all the faithful residing within the municipality of Palermo. All the sacraments, from baptism to the anointing of the sick, are lived and taken according to the Greek rite. A laity, who tries to live in the line of a past that has always seen him as a living part of the community in 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 community, which is fortunate to carry out its liturgical life between the splendor of the golds and the rutilion of the light of the polychrome mosaics, is aware of also carrying out an action, which we could define as a frontier, but which we would like to become a hinge. For the numerous Orthodox residents 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 first approach with the spirituality and liturgical richness of the East; it attracts the attention of tourists and causes the interest of scholars (Byzantinologists, Albanologists, ecumenists, music, art, folklore enthusiasts, etc.). In this church of S. Maria dell’Ammiraglio the joy was given to see the Metropolitans of the Holy Synods of Constantinople, Greece and Crete celebrate in intense moments of authentic ecumenism.
In this Church, dedicated to the one who is the Platitera, the widest of the heavens because it carries within it the All-Inclusive One, the whole Italian-Greek-Albanian Community of Sicily lived the meeting with the Holy Father John Paul II in 1982.