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Otranto's Skull CathedralBy Anthony Parente
This Roman Catholic Cathedral dates back to 1088 where it was consecrated on August 1st under Pope Urban II. The facade has a gabled shape with a central rosette window and from the exterior looks like churches you will find in other towns throughout Italy. When you enter the doors, you will see just what makes this cathedral special. The interior is laid out in a Latin cross plan divided into three naves by marble columns including three semicircular apses. The central ceiling is adorned with Moorish style wooden coffers with gold details. In the 12th century Archbishop Gionata commissioned a floor mosaic that covers over 600 square meters and consists of over 600,000 pieces of limestone. Work was carried out by the monk Pantaleone and depicts the tree of life that was in the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis. You will find several biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments, but there are a number of unrelated figures (mythological creatures, kings, rulers and even the signs of the Zodiac) that make it extremely difficult to comprehend the underlying meaning of the mosaic. The tree itself sits on top of a male and female elephant. The mosaic is an amazing work of art and one that is worthy of a visit to Otranto.
The Ottomans only controlled Otranto for less than a year as the Christian forces overtook the city and the Turks surrendered. The bodies of the citizens that were beheaded were taken to the Cathedral. The right apse was enlarged to create the Chapel of the Martyrs. It is as if the bones are looking over the Madonna and infant Jesus acting as their protector and it is a constant reminder of those who gave their life for their faith. These 800 martyrs were beautified in 1771 by Pope Clement XIV and later canonized in 2013 by Pope Francis.
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