On a return trip from the wineries in the Southern area of Tuscany realized we would be passing by a place of legends – San Galgano. It has been years since I had been here and it conjured up images of the Kingdom of Camelot: King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table. Why?
…..Because San Galgano houses the sword in the rock!
Reaching the Abbey at sundown only to see the heavy wooden doors close on a private wedding party inside, and no positive response to our pleas of “We came all the way from Australia to see this! was disappointing. Although the custodian did suggest we hurry as we would still be in time to see the sword in the stone at the hermitage above.
Still the Abbey, built between 1218 and 1288 by Cistercian monks, is impressive from the outside, sitting proudly in the middle of nowhere. And a sneak peek through the side bars gave just a glimpse of its ancient grandeur. Cypress trees line the entrance and despite it being without a roof, it looks in great condition and not surprising a bride would like to celebrate in its evocative ambience.
The Monks abandoned the Abbey in the 15th century, retiring to Siena after years of famine and plague and it has since been deconsecrated.
On the hill nearby is the Hermitage of Montesiepi, with a small circular chapel which houses the sword in the stone of San Galgano. As the legend goes he was a young knight from Siena born in 1147 who had a vision whereby the Archangel Michael convinced him to give up his life of war and violence and pursue the divine wish of God. Sometime after the vision riding through the woods his horse stopped and refused to proceed and Galgano recognized the hill of Montesiepi to be that of his vision. At that point he drove his sword deeply into the stone, gave up all his earthly possessions and spent the rest of his life living as a hermit at Montesiepi. He died a year later at the age of 33 and was made a Saint 4 years later in 1185.
Carbon-dating by the University of Padua in 2001, has revealed the sword to be from that period and confirmed that the two mummified hands in the same chapel were also from the 12th century. Legend has it that anyone who tried to remove the sword had their arms ripped out!
Perhaps Italy is still waiting for a wise ruler, like King Arthur, to pull the sword from the rock at San Galgano …or our current unwise rulers to try anyway and get their just dessert?!