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Santa Maria delle Carceri: politics and devotion in renaissance Prato

posted on 26.05.2017, 07:11 by Halliday, Roslyn Anne
In 1484, the painting of Santa Maria delle Carceri, located in Prato’s abandoned medieval prison, quite suddenly became the focus of widespread devotion. The frescoed Madonna was reportedly seen leaping off the wall before descending into the subterranean cells below. Vast numbers of miracles were subsequently attributed to the image, accounts of which survive in two manuscripts and form the basis of the study. The texts reveal the way in which the old prison became a liturgical space, and how religious devotion developed within a broader ecclesiastical framework, under the guidance of local clergy. The politicised nature of the space is also illuminated through the descriptions of the struggle for control over the cult between Prato’s communal authorities and the provost of the pieve, Carlo de’ Medici. While the commune retained control of the cult, in accordance with the papal bull that sanctioned worship, the conflict is revealing of broader and protracted tensions between Prato and Florence. The thesis draws the political and religious aspects of the cult into dialogue, and argues that the cultic practices enacted in the space exemplify the intersection between local religious expression and the Church universal. Furthermore, the cult was used by the inhabitants of Prato as an expression of civic pride, while simultaneously serving the competing interests of Florentine hegemony.


Principal supervisor

Peter Francis Howard

Additional supervisor 1

Carolyn James

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre


Degree Type



Faculty of Arts