Legend tells that Roger II, the well-known Norman sovereign of Sicily, in gratitude to God for sparing his life in a violent storm at sea, commissioned the building of a grand Cathedral at Cefalù, where he landed after the tempest.
Its characteristics, as well as its position, so close to the sea, make it something of a fortress from the outside as much as it is a church on the inside.
In fact, the religious situation at the time if Roger II's reign in Sicily was a fascinating mix of Arab Muslims and Catholics. At the time of his reign there was no Cathedral in the little town, Roger II took the opportunity of impressing the inhabitants who had been deeply influenced by Arab invasions and by Islam. The Cathedral should be a symbol of the triumphant Christianity.
The Cathedral was begun on a site in which Roman buildings had already existed. However after unforeseen circumstances, and changes in construction plans, the original building was never finished. The remains of this building project are three roofs which testify to past ages and building techniques.
The actual Cathedral, completed and consecrated in 1267 is a magnificent sight. The majestic staircase climbs the side of the rock to the door in the façade, standing between two mighty towers.
The top of these towers have battlements decorated with symbols: one with flames, symbolising the papal tiara; the other with a symbol of the temporal power of the emperor, thus symbolically uniting Church and State in one building.
The interior of the Cathedral has three naves divided by reused ancient columns with various capitals supporting arab pointed arches.
In the presbytery stand two thrones, one in front of the other, both decorated in mosaics, as is the entire presbytery and apse, for the king and the bishop. In the apse itself is the marvellous mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator, (sustainer of all things), with his hand raised in divine benediction.
Despite a certain incompleteness, the cathedral has acquired a homogenous balance between both Islamic and christian cultures, and temporal and spiritual power embodying to a large extent the powers that throughout the centuries have contributed to, and enlivened Sicily's landscape, architecture and culture.