The story of Noah (Genesis 6:5-8:19) begins on the east side of the double capital with the representation of the haloed figure of God and that of the patriarch, who is warned by God of the approaching flood and is entrusted with the task of building the ark. This is followed to the right by the scene of Noah building the ark, which was to provide a refuge for his family and for a pair of every kind of living beast.
The scene of the animals, two by two, entering the ark follows on the north side of the capital. The floating ark with its arcaded windows, from which the heads of Noah’s family look out, takes up the left half of the west side. In the right half, two consecutive episodes are fused into a single image: after the rain had stopped, Noah sends forth a raven and a dove, more than once, “to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground”. In spite of the severe erosion of the capital in this area, a bird can in fact be recognized in one of the windows of the ark. The dove at first brings back an olive leaf to Noah, and only once it no longer returns does he open the ark and, on God’s command, lets the animals go free. Two consecutive episodes are described in the capital: Noah with the bird and the gangplank lowered at the bow of the vessel for the animals to leave the ark. The animals themselves are first visible on the south side of the capital.
The story of Noah in Cefalù – like in the mosaics of the Cappella Palatina in Palermo or in the Cathedral of Monreale – focuses on the building of the ark and the flood. By contrast, the narrative sequence in the capital of Noah in the cloister of Monreale (W20Sh94) takes this as its starting point and continues the story with the representation of Noah’s thanksgiving offering after the flood (Gen 8:20).