Date of Award

May 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Richard A Leson

Committee Members

Lisa J Mahoney


Hagiography, Margaret of Navarre, Medieval Sicily, Monreale, Palermo, Queenship


This paper considers evidence for Queen Margaret of Sicily’s role in the construction and decoration of the Cathedral of Monreale, a royal foundation initiated c. 1172. For Margaret, support of Monreale was a means to counter the political ambitions of Walter Ophamil, Archbishop of Palermo. Medieval chroniclers name Margaret’s son, William II, as primary patron, and afford her only a minor role in the building campaign. However, the furnishing and decoration of the cathedral’s northern transept—a privileged space typically reserved for kings in royal Sicilian cathedrals and chapels yet at Monreale serves as the site of Margaret’s tomb—points to the queen’s active role at the Cathedral. An ensemble of six early-Christian female saints unique to Monreale appears opposite Margaret’s tomb. This research posits that these images functioned as a monumental devotional icon tailored to the interests of the queen. The vitae of each saint is read against the life of the queen, and, in the case of two of the six holy women, a strategic donation to Monreale made by the queen herself.