The history of Saint Donato, patron saint of Arezzo

Saint Donato Bishop is the patron saint of Arezzo. He is celebrated on August 7th , which is the presumable day of his death. In what year? It is not known with certainty but some sources report he died in 304 A.D. during the persecutions of Diocletian while others (such as an ancient “Passio” written by Severino, the fourth bishop of Arezzo) make his death happen in 362 A.D. under Julian the Apostate.

San Donato fireworks
On the night of August 6th, the City of Arezzo begins the celebrations for the patron saint with spectacular fireworks.

Who was Saint Donato? What was his role in the Church? And why was Saint Donato killed during the persecutions?

He is said to be born in Nicomedia, Anatolia, and moved to Rome when he was a boy. He followed a religious formation along with the  above-mentioned Julian and a few years later he became a priest.

He ran away from Rome following the persecutions carried out by his fellow student who had become Emperor in the meantime and he settled in Arezzo. Here, after a few years, he succeeded Satiro, the first Bishop of Arezzo. Thanks to his capacity for dialogue and persuasion, Donato devoted himself mainly to the conversion of the pagans and his spiritual path also led him to perform miracles. 

The miracles of San Donato

The recipients of these miracles were mostly poor people who suffered abuse, but some sources also tell us that he healed young people from epilepsy or that, accused by the pagans of being the cause of a prolonged period of drought, he made it rain. 

But the miracle for which Saint Donato is remembered today is that of the chalice, which would become his iconographic symbol.

One day, saying mass, when the wine was being poured, a large group of pagans entered the church and poured out the chalice which crushed. Saint Donato, without being upset, took the remains of the chalice, put them in the body and the chalice almost totally reassembled as it lacked just a piece right at the base of the cup. Saint Donato poured the remained wine in the chalice and this drove the pagans to convert themselves immediately.

The places of San Donato in Arezzo

Having become too dangerous for the Empire, Saint Donato was beheaded by Julian. During the following centuries, his remains were moved several times from the original tomb. Today some of these are located in the Cathedral of Arezzo, in the Ark of Saint Donato, which is a Fourteenth century valuable and refined marble work.

A valuable reliquary bust, made in the mid-Fourteenth century by two goldsmiths from Arezzo, is located in the Pieve of Santa Maria Assunta, which contains other precious remains of the saint.

In addition, in the Cathedral there is a half column where – it is said – Saint Donato was beheaded.

But … about the head … why was it not placed together with the remains of the body of the Saint? And whose head is it which you can see in the Ark of Saint Donato until recently? Come and discover it with us, we are waiting for you!

Reliquiario Pieve
A valuable reliquary bust, located in the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta contains other precious remains of the saint.

Find out more:

Santa Maria Assunta Church in Arezzo – La Pieve

The Cathedral of Arezzo