The Prato Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Stefano) is a handsome Roman Catholic Church in Prato, Tuscany, Central Italy. It is one of the most ancient churches in the city, already in existence in the 10th century. It was built in several successive stages in the Romanesque style. The church contains a number of notable works of art, in particular fine sculpture.
Prato’s church of Saint Stephen was built in a green meadow (in Italian: prato) after an appearance of the Virgin Mary near the village of Borgo al Cornio (the present center of Prato). The first building was a small parish church. which the earliest document dates to AD 994.
The expansion of the church began in the 15th century and transformed the modest building into one of the most lovely Gothic-Romanesque buildings in Tuscany.
The video below shows the annual celebration during which the relic, the so-called “sacred belt or girdle” of the Virgin Mary is shown.
The church we see today dates from the Romanesque period of the 12th century: the nave, side walls and greater part of the bell tower remain from this date. The upper stage of the bell tower was constructed in 1356.
The church’s exterior pulpit by Donatello and Michelozzo:
In the 14th century, the cathedral obtained a relic, the so-called Sacra Cintola or “Holy Belt” of the Virgin Mary and the church was re-envisioned. The 2nd facade was built, allowing a transept to be constructed between the old facade and the new one. This space gives way to a new, exterior pulpit, built by Michelozzo and decorated by Donatello, between 1428 and 1438.
The exterior pulpit was constructed on the right front corner of the facade.
The seven original reliefs of the parapet were removed from the pulpit in 1967 and can be seen today in Prato’s cathedral museum. Here they are, photographed inside the museum:
The church was built with a Latin cross ground plan in Romanesque style. The aisles are separated from the nave by elegant columns of green serpentine, the capitals being attributed to Guidetto. The vaults, designed by Ferdinando Tacca, were added in the 17th century.
The north aisle houses a notable Renaissance pulpit in white marble (1469–1473). The base is decorated with sphinxes. The parapet has reliefs by Antonio Rossellino, portraying the Assumption and the Stories of St. Stephen, and by Mino da Fiesole portraying the Stories of St. John the Baptist.
The Assumption Chapel in the transept was frescoed in 1435-1436 by the so-called Master of Prato and by a young Paolo Uccello, who painted the Stories of the Virgin and St. Stephen. They show a bizarre fantasy of enchanted figures caught in a wide range of brilliant colors, and surrounded by Brunelleschi-like architectures.
In the main chapel, or chancel, Filippo Lippi and Fra Diamante painted the Stories of St. Stephen and St. John the Baptist.
On the lower north wall are depicted the Obsequies of St. Stephen, in which Lippi portrayed Pope Pius II, set in a Palaeo-Christian basilica, as an imposing figure in scarlet costume. On the right is the artist’s self-portrait. On the opposite wall is Herod’s Banquet, showing a large hall in which Salome is performing her ballet, and the handing over of the head of John the Baptist to Herodias. The altar is by Ferdinando Tacca (1653).
The Manassei Chapel was frescoed by a pupil of Agnolo Gaddi in the early 15th century with Stories of St. Margaret and St. James. The last chapel on the left, the Chapel of the Inghirami, houses a funerary monument attributed to Benedetto da Maiano and a stained glass window from the early 16th century.