Stories of Prato:
It happened in Prato

The precious relic of the Madonna kept in the Cathedral of Prato

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The Holy Belt

The precious relic of the Madonna kept in the Cathedral of Prato

The extraordinary story of the Belt, the precious relic of the Virgin Mary kept in the Cathedral of Prato, is a fascinating blend of truth and popular beliefs: according to tradition, it was handed by the Virgin Mary, at the moment of her Assumption, to Saint Thomas, who in turn gave it to a priest. His descendants handed it down from generation to generation. A Prato merchant, Michele, during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem fell in love with Maria, a descendant of the priest, and was given the belt as a wedding gift.
Once back home around 1141, Michele guarded it jealously and on his deathbed donated it to the provost of the church of Santo Stefano (1171). The story, told in a compelling succession of images, colours and evocations first by Bernardo Daddi, in the predella kept at the Palazzo Pretorio Museum, and later by Agnolo Gaddi in the frescoes of the Cathedral's Holy Belt Chapel, encapsulates all the veneration of the people of Prato for the relic. Such was the renown of the miraculous holy belt that legendary stories of thefts are told, in which reality and imagination are mixed.

One story is about Giovanni di ser Laudetto, better known as Musciattino, from Pistoia, who in 1312 stole the relic but, having been found out through some prodigious means, received an exemplary punishment: he was attached by his feet to a horse's tail and dragged through the city, his hands were cut off and then, on the bed of the Bisenzio River, he was probably hanged, and then burnt.
The Belt is a thin strip of very fine wool, embroidered in gold, and in the Middle Ages it was already being proudly shown to Popes, Princes and eminent personages. The Cathedral was embellished and decorated by great artists in its honour: Donatello and Michelozzo built the beautiful pulpit on the facade, from which the relic is still shown today; Filippo Lippi painted the frescoes of the main chapel, a milestone in the history of Renaissance art.

Held in a relic which is locked by 3 keys (two belonging to the Municipality and one to the Diocese, which can open the screen only when turned simultaneously), the revered belt has been considered the city's most precious treasure for centuries, providing stimulus for its artistic life and development, as well as the founding element of its identity.

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