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St. Donato of Arezzo

St. Donato of Arezzo
03 December 2016 0 Comment

It’s not easy living a life that leads to sainthood; just ask St. Donato of Arezzo.

His Life and Times

Donato was born early in the 4th century AD and was reared and educated with Julian, who rose to the rank of Emperor Julian and for reasons we will really never know, turned on his good friend killing Donato’s parents. Donato upped the stakes and fled to Arezzo, where he dwelt with the monk Hilary – and wrought many miracles, so we are told. He could bring the dead back to life, restore sight, exorcise demons, and on one bright sunny day early in his new life in Arezzo the prefect of the city brought his son to him who was possessed of the devil. From the depths of the torpid boy a foul voice called out mockingly ‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Donatus, molest me not, nor drive me forth from my house! O Donatus, why do you torment me?’ Undeterred, Donato continued to pray. The tormented had become the tormentor and the devil in a fit of rage left the body of the boy.

Fighting Dragons

Near Arezzo there was a poisoned spring, and anyone who drank the water died immediately. When Donato, who rode a donkey arrived at the spring to purify the waters with prayers, a hideous dragon rushed forth and twisted his tail around the donkey’s legs, throwing the rider high into the air. Here the story is a little fuzzy as Donato either struck the dragon with a whip, or as others would have it, spat in the dragons face, killing the beast instantly. Needless to say the waters run pure and clean again. Today in the church of Santa Maria e San Donato on the island of Murano on the Venetian lagoon, are found bones of the dragon with various part of the saintly Donato housed in a variety of reliquaries.

The End by Beheading

While the Goths were ravaging Italy, and many were renouncing the faith of Christ, Donato was saying mass in Arezzo when “pagans” broke into the church and smashed a chalice; Donato pieced the vessel back together save for one large fragment, but in his hands the chalice did not leak; a miracle that convinced 79 pagans to convert on the spot. The prefect Quadracianus was furious and I suspect a closet pagan, ordered Donato, who was now bishop of Arezzo, to be imprisoned. Without fear or remorse Donato quietly prayed. On August 7, 362 AD Donato was beheaded in Arezzo on the orders of the prefect.

Such wild and wondrous stories fill the books of saints of all religions and might have you smiling a wry smile today knowing what we now know about history and life. However through the centuries such personages became the “bed and butter” of artisans and artists who recorded their deeds, even their portraits, in many art forms. There is no greater or more beautiful example of this than the golden reliquary created in 1346 in Arezzo to keep safe the head of St. Donato. It displays the medieval creative and technical skills of Arezzo’s goldsmiths, working in silver, gold and precious stone to portray a rather serious looking young Donato. Carved into the saint’s mantle are a scene of the Annunciation and the symbols of the four evangelists. This is saintly work indeed.

The Reliquary of St. Donato is on display to the public in the crypt of S. Maria della Pieve in Arezzo – Corso Italia, 7.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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