Prato, Province of Prato, Tuscany
- Altitude: 65 m a.s.l
- Population: about 180,000 inhabitants
- Zip/postal code: 59100
- Dialing Area Code: +39 0574
- Patron Saint: St. Stephen, celebrated on 26 December.
Provinces of Tuscany
- 8 September: Ceremony for the "Ostensione della Sacra Cintola della Madonna", with flag-bearers and crossbow competition.
According to an ancient apocryphal text of the 5th century AD, St Thomas received by Mary, immediately before her Ascension to Heaven, the holy belt, which he entrusted to a priest and preserved by his descendants, until a pilgrim to the Holy Land, a certain Michele of Prato, secretly married the daughter of a Jerusalem priest and received the Belt in gift. He took the Belt to Prato in 1141 and kept the secret, and only on his death he donated it to the parish priest of Santo Stefano.
Miracles started to take place, and the church officially recognized the holiness of the relic, giving permission to exhibit it to the faithfuls 5 times a year, on 8 September, Christmas, Easter, 1 May and 15 August. The bronze gates closing the chapel must be opened with 2 sets of keys, one being in possession of the Municipal authorities.
What to see
- The Sacra Cintola (Mary's Holy Belt) preserved since 1395 in a Chapel to the right of the main door of the Cathedral of Santo Stefano; the walls of the chapel are decorated with frescoes by Agnolo Gaddi describing Mary's life, and the chapel itself is closed by a Renaissance bronze gate, teh work of Maso di Bartolomeo, and on the altar is a 14-th century statue of the Virgin with Child, a masterpiece by Giovanni Pisano.