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The Cathedral of St Nicholas, also known as Monaco Cathedral, was consecrated in 1875, and is located on the site of the first parish church in Monaco, built in 1252 and also dedicated to St Nicholas.
72 metres long, 22 wide and 18 high, it is Roman-Byzantine in style and was built in white stone from La Turbie, like so many iconic buildings in Monaco and the Côte d’Azur in general, which has the ability to become even whiter when it rains.
The exterior decoration includes, for example, the figure of Christ on his throne in the centre of the façade. His feet are on the world, a symbol of all creation. And above the front door, the Virgin Mary is crowned as Queen of the universe. You can also see various scenes from the Bible, such as the procession of the Ark of the Covenant and the crossing of the Red Sea by the Jewish people. In the four corners of the ceiling, you can see the symbols of the Four Evangelists: the angel represents Matthew, the lion Mark, the ox Luke and the eagle John.
Inside, among the pieces of art that can be admired, particularly notable are an altarpiece by the Niçois painter Louis Brea, dating back to 1500, the high altar and an Episcopal throne made from white Carrara marble. And make sure you look up and admire the stained glass windows of the nave, showing several women from the Old Testament, such as Eve, Rachel, Deborah, Ruth, Esther, Sarah, Rebecca and Judith. The windows in the hallways depict scenes from the life of Jesus and Mary, including The Wedding at Cana, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, the Descent from the Cross and the Coronation of Mary.
One of the most visited chapels is the Chapel of the Relics of St Devote, patron saint of the Royal Family and Monaco. The mosaics on the altar explain the history of the saint after her martyrdom in Corsica. Her body, saved from the fire by the Christians, was placed on a ship bound for Africa. On the way, a terrible storm took them by surprise but, miraculously, a dove emerged from the mouth of St Devote and guided the ship to the Monegasque coast. The feast of St Devote, on 27 January, is a national holiday celebrated with a solemn Mass followed by a procession of relics through the streets.
There are also other chapels, such as St Roman, dedicated to one of the protectors of the Principality, featuring an altar and sculpture created in 1899. Also admire the murals by the Genoese artist Orazio de Ferrari, such as the Death of St Joseph from 1650. From among the altarpieces, make sure you take a look at the one dedicated to St Nicholas, built in 1500, the year of the Great Jubilee, by the Niçois painter Louis Brea. Other wonders of the cathedral include the choir, the Carrara marble altar and the beautiful Byzantine-style mosaic depicting the Virgin and Child surrounded by St Peter, the Archangel Gabriel, the prophet Isaiah and the Archangel Michael.
Although it boasts numerous works of art of great importance, the Cathedral is, without doubt, best known for housing the tombs of the Grimaldi family. The two most popular and beloved are those of Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco, better known as Grace Kelly, and her husband Rainier III.
It was during the filming of Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief in Monaco that Prince Rainier III met the young and beautiful actress. They married on 19 April 1956 in, of course, Monaco Cathedral. Thereafter, the actress of well known films such as Mogambo, Rear Window and The Country Girl, for which she received an Oscar, left her film career and devoted her life and work to her family and the Principality. They had 3 children: Caroline, Albert and Stephanie. Princess Grace, one of the most beautiful women ever to appear on film, with her style and elegance, brought considerable glamour to one of the oldest dynasties in Europe.
Ironically, it was on one of the roads featured in that film, in which she co-starred with Cary Grant, that the princess would have that fateful car accident with her young daughter Stephanie on 14 September 1982 and die a few hours later. Rainier would never recover from this loss and would gradually isolate himself from society and become a recluse in the palace. On 6 April 2005, at the age of 81, he died and was buried beside his wife. He was succeeded to the throne by Albert, who took the name Alberto II. On his simple and elegant tomb, there are always fresh flowers and almost always visitors around it.
Incidentally, if you visit on a Sunday morning, you will probably hear the wonderful voices of “Les Petits Chanteurs de Monaco”, the pupils of the cathedral’s choir school who sing at 10 am Mass every Sunday from September to June.
Finally, when you leave the Cathedral, we recommend that you visit the Chapel of Mercy. It is located close by, less than 100 metres away, in the Place de la Mairie.
The chapel’s foundation stone was blessed in 1639 and it belongs to the Brotherhood of Black Penitents. As you will see, on the façade, there is a ceramic where, in addition to the Virgin and the decapitation, these penitents appear. Inside, you will see a beautiful polychrome marble altar and a statue of Christ masterfully carved in solid wood by the Monegasque artist François-Joseph Bosio, best known as the official sculptor of Emperor Napoleon I.
Continue your walk through Monaco-Ville and enjoy its historical streets and nooks and crannies. Around every corner, a pleasant surprise.