Sacred Relic or Heavenly Accessory?

By Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz

Since the beginning of time women have understood the importance of a well-chosen accessory. Think Cleopatra’s asp, Jackie Kennedy’s pearls, Coco Channel’s hat. Even the Mother of God, it seems, was not immune to the accessory’s allure.

Indeed, the Sacred Belt of the Blessed Virgin may be the only fashion accessory in history to have been venerated by Pope John Paul II, housed in a locked chapel in Italy, and stolen under threat of death. This simple gold and green woven silk sash has inspired frescoes, altarpieces, poetry and prose, and countless prayers. Lovely as they are, it’s hard to imagine Candace Bushnell’s Manolo Blahniks arousing similar decades of devotion from the likes of Saint Francis, Saint Bernard, or Maria de’Medici, all of whom communed with the relic.

Purportedly passed from the Blessed Mother to Saint (“Doubting”) Thomas at the moment of her assumption, the Sacred Belt is ascribed with the miraculous properties of aiding conception, gestation, and protecting women in childbirth. Since the 13th Century the belt has been housed in Prato, Italy, where it was carefully guarded by a merchant who brought it from Jerusalem as part of his wife’s dowry. The man slept with the belt under his pillow, but after his death it was passed to the safe keep of the church. When it was ‘miraculously’ recovered after a theft in 1312, a gated chapel was built in Santo Stefano Cathedral , where the belt remains under lock and key surrounded by colorful frescos depicting its illustrious history.

Today, as it has for centuries, the Sacred Belt draws hundreds of visitors to the small Tuscan city of Prato each September 8th to celebrate the Feast of the Blessed Virgin. It is on this date in 1456 that bad-boy Renaissance painter Fra Filippo Lippi is reported to have snatched the novice Lucrezia Buti from the streets of Prato, and taken her to live in his workshop. This scandal, along with the legend of the Sacred Belt, play an important part in our novel, The Miracles of Prato.

About the authors:
Laurie [Lico] Albanese’s books include Blue Suburbia: Almost a Memoir, Lynelle By the Sea, and The Miracles of Prato , co-written with Laura Morowitz. She has written for The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, Mothering magazine, and many other periodicals. She is the recipient of a New Jersey State Council in the Arts Fellowship in Fiction Writing, and a Catherine R. Dodge Foundation Fellowship. Visit her website at

Laura Morowitz is Professor of Art History at Wagner College in New York. She is the author of numerous articles, reviews and publications on European and American art, and on popular culture. Her pieces have appeared in The Art Bulletin, The Oxford Art Review, The Art Journal, The Journal of the History of Collecting and The Journal of Popular Film and Television. The Miracles of Prato is her first novel.

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  1. Miraculously recovered = they made a new one!

    Sorry, cynic. I've heard about too many relics that miraculously appeared in the late medieval period! Definitely going to check this book out though. Off to enter the drawing. :)

  2. Mary would seem to be careless with her accessories. There was also "Our Lady's Girdle of Puy" in France, to which the same powers are attributed. I don't know its history (let alone its purported history) except that Anne of Austria wore it while giving birth to the Dauphin in 1638.

  3. What an interesting story! I've never heard of it, but it's certainly entertaining. I'd love a chance to read the book. I'm going to enter your contest right now!

  4. Fascinating! I can't help side with Meghan's supposition though ;) Likewise I can't help thinking the belt might be better used to actually help women during childbirth, rather than being locked up by men.

    Great info, I love reading about the mystical/spiritual qualities endowed in simple objects, and their gradual ascension from mundane to divine.


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