‘The marble facade of the Duomo appears before me, striped in green and white, the pulpit of Michelozzo and Donatello hanging from a corner like a bird's nest, and the beautiful bell tower which Giotto took as a model, but which is more simple, slender and straightforward’
This was Curzio Malaparte's description of Prato's Cathedral, capturing the key aesthetic elements of the basilica: the facade, the two-toned, alberese and serpentine striping, the external pulpit and the bell tower, and the generous use of that green "Pratese" marble that has been used in so many churches and palazzi throughout Tuscany.
The site of the Cathedral served as a sacred location long before the church was built here. A 1975 restoration project brought to light artefacts that date back to a period between the Copper Age and the Bronze Age. The earliest testimony of religious building on this site dates to 994 CE. This document records the elevation of the church to a baptismal abbey a move which would give rise to the city of Prato.
The Abbey of Saint Stephen developed alongside the city, with expansion projects beginning as early as the 12th century and continuing into the 13th century with the 1211 intervention of the Master Guidetto who also worked on the Cathedral of Lucca.The same Guidetto also created the design for the bell tower in 1200 though it wasn't completed until 1356. In these same years the facade of the transept, begun in 1317, was completed.
Between 1386 and 1390 the Chapel of the Sacred Belt was added to the church and in 1386 the current facade was begun, replacing an earlier version and creating a corridor which allowed access to the external pulpit created by Donatello and Michelozzo. The Sacred Belt is shown to the believers just once a year. The green belt with golden threads is into a sumptuous altar of the XIII century, surmounted by a marble statue of the Virgin Mary with the Child, by Giovanni Pisano (1301).
In 1386 it also began the building of the present façade, laid upon the ancient one, letting between them an hollow space in order to create a corridor to enter the outside pulpit, by Donatello and Michelozzo.
The accidental point that draws the visitor's attention is underlined by the green serpentine fillets that embellish the arches of the central nave, with two rows of columns with capitals adorned by vegetal and animal subjects. The green marble comes from the Monte Ferrato and was used for the Medieval big buildings.
Into the Abbey you can see a beautiful wooden Crucifix, by Giovanni Pisano, a bronze candelabrum with seven arms, by Maso di Bartolomeo, adorned with weighty floreal motifs and the great transept with important frescoes, like "Storie della Vergine e di Santo Stefano" by Paolo Uccello and "Storie di Santo Stefano e San Giovanni Battista" by Brother Filippo Lippi, one of the most important works of art of the Italian Renaissance, known for the wondeful Dance of Salome, set in a magnificent Renaissance banquet.