by Rachel Hiser Remmes

Otranto Cathedral was consecrated on 1 August 1088. In the medieval period, church consecrations were a spectacular, multi-day affair. The ritual, which not only included the dedication of the church building but also its surrounding landscape, was extremely kinetic and sensual, and for individuals in smaller regional towns it was often the most elaborate event they would witness in their lifetimes.

Often, the bishop would lead a group in processions around the lands and building before entering the church on his own. Within the church he would trace the Greek and Latin alphabets on the nave floor in ash in a cruciform design. Each year, on the anniversary of the church’s consecration, parts of the ceremony would be reenacted to commemorate the momentous day. Even though detailed records of the original dedication, or its subsequent performances, are often sparse, the visual programs of a church inevitably played a notable role in each dedication’s actualization.

In the twelfth century, less than a century after the church’s dedication, the artist Pantaleone added an elaborate floor mosaic to Otranto Cathedral. The remains of the program, found primarily in the nave, detail the labors of the month situated alongside the zodiacs in twelve roundels and a tree surrounded by a plethora of animals and mythical creatures. While these are fairly common iconographic elements, both during the middle ages and in contemporary floor mosaics in Southern Italy, the program at Otranto has distinct components. Most notable is the figure of Alexander the Great, who is situated to the right of the tree and surrounded by two griffins. His presence in Otranto was influenced by the the multicultural environment of Southern Italy in the twelfth century.

Further Reading: 

Donkin, Lucy. “Making An Impression: Consecration and the Creation of Architectural Memory.” Romanesque and the Past, John McNeil and Richard Plant, eds. (Leeds, UK: Maney Publishing, 2013): 37-48.

Rash-Fabbri, Nancy. “A Drawing in the Bibliothéque Nationale and the Romanesque Mosaic Floor in Brindisi.” Gesta, 13.1 (1974): 5-14.

Safran, Linda. The Medieval Salento, Art and Identity in Southern Italy. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014).

Pantaleone, Mosaic Floor, Cathedral of Otranto, Labors of the Month/Zodiac (November/Scorpio and December/Saggittarius),1163-65.

Pantaleone, Mosaic Floor, Cathedral of Otranto, scenes form the Old Testament, 1163-65.

Pantaleone, Mosaic Floor, Cathedral of Otranto, Eve and the serpent, 1163-65.

Pantaleone, Mosaic Floor, Cathedral of Otranto, Alexander the Great, 1163-65.

Otranto Cathedral, Plan, late 10th-early 11th century.

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