The Sacred Belt of the Prato Cathedral is a thin strip of green fabric with gold brocades and a green tassel and band at the ends. As told in an ancient oriental apocryphal text after the Blessed Virgin’s death St. Thomas was carried by angels to the mount of Olives; there he contemplated the Virgin while she was taken up into the Heaven, and received the gift of the belt in proof of the event. According to Prato medieval tradition the sacred belt was then entrusted to a priest and preserved by his descendants. After the first crusade, a Prato pilgrim of modest origins called Michele, fell in love with Maria, the daughter of an oriental priest and married her in secret, against her father’s wish and received as dowry the “Sacred Cincture” in a small basket made of rushes. After returning to Prato around 1141, Michele spoke to no one about the holy relic and only on his death bed (1172), he donated it to the provost of the nearby church of St. Stephen. The sacred Belt furthermore was considered the most valuable treasure of the entire city, so much so that its public display was established by the bylaws of Commune which still today has in custody a set of the keys required to take it out of the altar. Up to the end of 13th century the holy relic was kept close to the high altar but in 1346 it moved to the left of the main entrance of the ancient church and later Cathedral where in 1386-90 was built, on a project by Lorenzo di Filippo, the chapel that stores the holy relic. The chapel is decorated with frescoes of Stories of the Virgin and of the belt (1392-95), a series of amazing figurative unity painted by Agnolo Gaddi with a faultless technique and luminous colors. On the corner of the façade is the amazing pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo which was finished in 1438 and created for the display of the Sacred Belt in order to show it to the congregation gathered in the Cathedral square. At present the display of the Sacred Belt takes place at Christmas, at Easter, on 1st May, on 15th August and on 8th September with the historical parade and the ancient fair.
Where: Prato – Pulpit of Santo Stefano Cathedral – Piazza Duomo
When: Easter, 1st May, 15th August, 8th September with historical parade, 25th December at 6.00 p.m.
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