The cathedral in Prato, dedicated to St Stephen, was originally known as the Church of Santo Stéfano di Borgo al Cornio (the name borne by Prato when it was a small country township), built by Guido da Como (1211 onwards) on the site of an earlier parish church. Subsequently the church was altered and enlarged, receiving the addition of a transept with five chapels between 1317 and 1368. It was raised to cathedral status in 1653, when Prato became the see of a bishop and was granted a municipal charter.
Address: Piazza del Duomo, I-50047 Prato, Italy
Opening hours: 7am-12:30pm, 3:30pm-7pm; Sun: 7am-12:30pm, 3:30pm-8pm
Entrance fee: FREE
The facade is splendidly faced with bands of white and green marble. In the lunette over the main doorway is a glazed terracotta "Madonna and Child with Saints" (1489) by Andrea della Robbia. To the right is the famous external pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo, the Pérgamo del Sacro Cíngolo (Pulpit of the Holy Girdle). Donatello's dancing putti (cherubs; copies: originals in Cathedral Museum) are a marvel of harmony and gaiety. Note also the tall campanile (1340-56), with the size of the window openings increasing from story to story.
To the left of the cathedral, on the site of the Romanesque cloister of which fragments remain, is the Cathedral Museum (Museo dell'+pera del Duomo), with altar-pieces, missals, goldsmiths' work, including particularly the precious shrine containing the Holy Girdle, and the originals of Donatello's reliefs on the Pérgamo del Sacro Cíngolo.
Address: Piazza del Duomo 49, I-50047 Prato, Italy
Opening hours: 9:30am-12:30pm, 3pm-6:30pm; Closed: Tue
Always closed on: New Year's Day (Jan 1), May Day / Labor Day (May 1), Assumption Day - Christian (Aug 15), Christmas - Christian (Dec 25), Easter - Christian
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €5.00
Disability Access: Partial facilities for persons with disabilities.
The nave, flanked by aisles, is Romanesque; the vaulting dates only from 1676. The transept, with Gothic ribbed vaulting, was built between 1317 and 1368. The banding of green and white marble follows Pisan and Lucchese models. Notable features are the pulpit by Mino da Fiésole and Antonio Rossellino (1473), on the left-hand side of the nave; the bronze candelabrum by Maso di Bartolomeo in front of the presbytery; and the bronze Crucifix by Ferdinando Tacca (1653) on the high altar.
Filippo Lippi Frescoes
On the walls of the choir are two cycles of frescoes painted by Fra Filippo Lippi at the height of his artistic powers (1452-66). On the left are scenes from the life of St Stephen (to whom the church is dedicated), on the right the life of John the Baptist. In the latter series note particularly the scene of Herod's feast: the graceful figure of Salome dancing is traditionally identified as the nun Lucrezia Buti, who became Filippo's wife and bore his son Filippino. To the right of the choir is the Cappella dell'Ángelo Cústode (Chapel of the Guardian Angel), with frescoes by two unknown 15th century masters, and beyond this is the Cappella del Crocofosso (Chapel of the Crucifix), with 19th century wall-paintings. There are also two chapels to the left of the choir. The first has 15th century frescoes (legends of St James the Elder and St Margaret of Antioch); in the second is the Tomb of Filippo Inghirami (15th century), which is attributed to the Florentine sculptor Niccolò de' Bardi.
Cappella del Sacro Cíngolo
At the west end of the north aisle of the Prato Cathedral is the Cappella del Sacro Cíngolo (Chapel of the Holy Girdle), constructed in the late 14th century to house the Holy Girdle. The legend of this famous and much- venerated relic is recounted in the frescoes by Agnolo Gaddi (1392-95) in the chapel. The story goes that during her Assumption the Virgin gave her girdle to the Apostle Thomas, who presented it to a priest. Later a Prato merchant named Michele Dagonari received the relic as his wife's dowry when he married a girl named Mary in the Holy Land. He brought it back to Prato and, directed by Angels, presented it to representatives of the Church and the City. To this day, therefore, the Bishop and the Mayor of Prato each possess a key to the shrine containing the sacred relic, which can be opened only by both of them together when the relic is taken out to be displayed on feast days.