On 6 July 1484 an eight-year-old boy called Jacopino was chasing a
cricket in the derelict area of Prato near the old castle when he saw
the figure of the Virgin Mary, painted above a barred window of the ruined
town prison (Figure. 1), ‘detach itself’ from the wall. The Virgin, who had
been holding her son in her arms, placed him on the ground and, leaving
him wriggling at the foot of the window, descended into the prison vaults.
She proceeded to clean the place, ‘scrubbing three times with her hand’,
before collecting her son and resuming her place on the wall. The boy
hurried home to tell his mother what he had seen, but she would have
none of it. She scolded him for his truancy and sent him back to school.
Instead of returning to school, however, the boy returned to gaze at the
image ‘as if in ecstasy’. His rapt attention drew others to the site and the
image was seen to undergo further miraculous transformations: the figure
of the Virgin cried, opened and closed its eyes and sweated blood. The
questioning of the boy by the vicar of the bishop of Pistoia, in whose
diocese Prato lay, served to draw even more notice and crowds began to
gather in anticipation of further wonders.