Arezzo’s main Catholic place of worship, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Donatus is located atop the hill of San Pietro, in the upper part of the city.
In 1203 Pope Innocent III ordered that the cathedral, until then in the bishop’s citadel on the Pionta hill, be moved within the city walls. Initially, the church of San Pietro Maggiore was used, but thanks to the bequest of Pope Gregory X, who died in the city in 1276 on his return from the Council of Lyons, work on the new cathedral in the Gothic style began the following year, promoted by Bishop Guglielmino degli Ubertini. After the defeat at the Battle of Campaldino in 1289, construction was interrupted, only to resume in the early fourteenth century.
The crisis of the second half of the fourteenth century and the final submission to Florence in 1384 halted building work again, which resumed in 1471 and was completed in 1511, although remodelling and the completion of many parts continued over the following centuries. The travertine staircase, for example, is from the 18th century, the façade from 1900-14, the tip of the bell tower from 1937. The new presbytery, with interventions by Giuliano Vangi, dates back to 2012. On the side facing Via Ricasoli, the fourteenth-century portal is noteworthy; opposite the Prato walkway, instead, the splendid thirteenth-century polygonal Gothic apse can be appreciated.
The three-nave interior preserves numerous works of art. We recall the main ones, inviting visitors to discover all the rich heritage of art and faith housed in the cathedral.
Starting from the left, we admire the hexagonal baptismal font, embellished with a bas-relief of the “Baptism of Jesus” from 1425-30 attributed to Donatello. The large Chapel of Our Lady of Consolation is a triumph of neoclassical painting and sculpture, built from 1796 onwards. The high altar from 1823 holds the “Our Lady of Consolation” majolica, brought to the cathedral following the miracle of 15 February 1796 attributed to her, which brought an end to the earthquake tremors that had been frightening the people for days. The chapel is a small museum of Renaissance glazed terracotta, thanks to the works of Andrea della Robbia and his workshop, transferred here from other places in the city. Also noteworthy are the large canvases of “Judith showing the people the head of Holofernes” of 1803 by Pietro Benvenuti and “Abigail appeasing the wrath of David” of 1806 by Luigi Sabatelli.
The left wall of the cathedral continues with the 1794 “Martyrdom of St. Donatus” by Pietro Benvenuti, the Ubertini Chapel with the thirteenth-century wooden statue of the “Madonna and Child” crowned by the “Stories of Saints Anna and Giuliano” by Gregorio and Donato d’Arezzo dating from 1320-30. Higher up is the 1536 organ by Luca da Cortona with the base designed by Giorgio Vasari.
Also on the left wall is the “Cenotaph of Guido Tarlati” dating from 1330, an imposing marble work by Agostino di Giovanni and Agnolo di Ventura, and near the sacristy door, Piero della Francesca’s fresco of “St Mary Magdalene” from 1459, one of the masterpieces left by the Renaissance genius in the city. The apse chapel on the left, displays the mortal remains of Pope Gregory X in a glass case.
Dominating the high altar is the marvellous marble “Arch of S. Donatus”, made between 1364 and 1375 by Giovanni di Francesco, Betto di Francesco and other masters from Arezzo and Florence. The arch holds the relics of the patron saint of Arezzo and other Aretine martyrs.
On the right wall, returning towards the entrance, there are three frescoes to admire: the Cappella di Ciuccio Tarlati of 1334 by the Maestro del Vescovado with the “Crucifix between St. Michael the Archangel, the Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist and St. Francis”, the Spadari Chapel with the “Madonna with Child and Stories of Saints Iacopo the Elder and Christopher” by Andrea di Nerio dating from 1340-60 and the “Madonna and Child Enthroned among Saints” dating from 1321-27 by Buonamico Buffalmacco.
Looking up, you can see the frescoed vaults. The first three vaults were carried out between 1520 and 1526 by Guillaume de Marcillat, who was also the author of the splendid stained glass windows on the right side at the same time. The other three vaults are by Salvi Castellucci, painted between 1660 and 1664. The themes of the frescoes are the “Stories from the Old and New Testament”.
The majestic interior of the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Donatus, begun in the second half of the 13th century
In the foreground the Arca di san Donato, made between 1364 and 1375 by Aretine and Florentine craftsmen. In the background the stained glass windows by Guillame De Marcillat
Santa Maria Maddalena by Piero della Francesca, a masterpiece by the master of Sansepolcro (c. 1459)
Guido Tarlati’s imposing Cenotaph of Agostino di Giovanni and Agnolo di Ventura (c. 1330)
Monumental organ (1536) by Luca da Cortona with the coeval base designed by Giorgio Vasari
Cathedral vaults frescoed by Guillaume de Marcillat (16th century) and Salvi Castellucci (17th century)
Ciuccio Tarlati Chapel on the right wall, frescoed by the Maestro del Vescovado around 1334
Detail of the Ciuccio Tarlati Chapel. The deceased praying kneeling at the bottom (c. 1334)
High altar from 1823 in the Cappella della Madonna del Conforto with the miraculous majolica
Madonna con il Bambino e Storie dei SS. Iacopo il maggiore e Cristoforo by Andrea di Nerio (1340-60)
Martirio di San Donato by Pietro Benvenuti on the left wall of the cathedral, neoclassical work from 1794
Marble sepulchral monument of Beato Gregorio X on the right-hand wall of the cathedral (early 14th century)
Detail of the entrance to the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Donato. The facade was built between 1900 and 1914