Today, we visited two very different churches with equally magnificent mosaics. In the morning, we visted the small church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, called Martorana. This small church in the heart of busy Palermo was built three years after the Palatine Chapel in 1143 by the Admiral (Ammiraglio) George of Antioch. The Admiral was the third most powerful man in the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. He hired the same artists from Constantinople to decorate the church with mosaics after they completed the Palatine Chapel.
In 1193, aristorcrat Eloisa Martorana founded a women's Benedictine convent here, giving the second name to this church. Later, this same community invented marzipan, called Frutti di Martorana in Italian. In the 17th century, artistic tastes changed, and some of the mosaics were removed and replaced with Baroque frescoes and the ornate sculptures around the altar, resulting in a very eclectic decor. This church currently houses an Orthodox parish which celebrates the Divine Liturgy in this most beautiful space every weekend. During weekdays, it functions as a museum with an entrance fee and is full of tourists admiring the beauty of the mosaics.
The mosaics are of the finest quality. The traditional Byzantine cross-in-square Church features a magnificent Christ Pantocrator in the dome surrounded by angels. Below Him are prophets and the four Evangelists in the pendentives (the triangular segments connecting the circular dome to the square nave). The north and south vaults feature Apostles. The east vault shows angels facing the altar. The vault west of the dome contains the Nativity of Christ and the Dormition of the Theotokos (the patron of the church). The apses of the side aisles show the parents of Saint Mary the Theotokos (and the grandparents of the Lord) Saints Joachim and Anna. The rest of the vaults have post-renaissance frescoes. The narthex features lovely portraits of both the ktetor Admiral George of Antioch presenting the church to the Theotokos and King Roger being crowned by Christ.