San Galgano Abbey and the legendary Sword in the Stone

Abbazia di San Galgano, Chiusdino, Siena, Italija

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San Galgano Abbey

The building made up of the Hermitage (also called Montesiepi’s Round) and of the ruins of the big St. Galgano’s Cistercian Abbey, is one of the most enchanting views in Tuscany.

This is despite the essentially ruined state of the abbey – it has no roof and many internal walls and original buildings from the abbey complex can nolonger be seen. The San Galgano Abbeys shape is the classic Latin cross. The Round or Montesiepi’s Hermitage was built right after the death of the saint, over the ancient hut where St. Galgano spent his last year of life.

San Galgano Abbey and the legendary Sword in the Stone

This little group of buildings that includes the chapel and also a later chapel and a rectory. Apart from the San Galgano sword in the stone, which can still be seen here, the other highlight is the striped roof of the rotunda, with the 24 concentric rings made of alternating white rock and small red bricks – quite a feat in the 12th century! There are also some medieval frescoes to be seen on the walls.

Montesiepi’s Round was built between 1182 and 1185, over the hut on the hill where St. Galgano lived during his last year and right there where he had placed his Sword in the stone. At the beginning it was the tomb of the Saint, who had been buried north of the Sword, so that he could “see” Chiusdino through the entrance door.

Only in 1218/1220 began the construction of the big Abbey downhill. The building went on until 1268, when the San Galgano Abbey was officially consecrated by Volterra’s Bishop Alberto Solari.

San Galgano Abbey and the legendary Sword in the Stone

The Abbey knew 100 years of great prosperity until 1364, then followed a slow decline due to the unfortunate Commenda’s practice. We’ll just cite one misdeed as an example: in 1550 the commendatory Girolamo Vitelli even sold the lead roof, after the jewels and a lot of other things.

Despite some attempts to bring back the monastery into use at the end of 1789, after that Montesiepi’s Round had been put up in Pieve, the big abbey was deconsecrated and left for good to lie in ruin.

The San Galgano sword in the stone

Scholars disagree about whether this ‘San Galgano sword in the stone’ was made as a fake after the story of King Arthur became well known in Europe, or whether it existed before that time and was the inspiration for the story. Nowadays any connection between a place and the story of the Holy Grail attracts attention and there are many stories claiming Galgano was perhaps the original King Arthur, or the related German character Parsifal, and the Holy Grail is hidden here somewhere…

San Galgano Abbey and the legendary Sword in the Stone

You might be disappointed to find that both the stone and sword are now protected by glass so you can’t try pulling it out!

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The Hermitage

The Hermitage was consecrated in 1185 by Volterra’s bishop Ildebrando Pannocchieschi, with the imprimatur of Pope Lucio III. The little building is made up of the church, the chapel with Lorenzetti’s frescos and the entrance pronaos.


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The church is based on a circular plan, only broken off by the little apse. The roof is constituted by a beautiful semi-spherical dome with alternate chromatic sectors. Inside, right at the centre of the Round, there is the famous St. Galgano’s Sword, that has been in the stone for longer than 800 years.

San Galgano Abbey and the legendary Sword in the Stone

St. Galgano

St. Galgano’s story is a bit unusual, but it’s very similar to St. Francesco’s one, that is much more famous.

Born in Chiusdino in 1148 from Guido and Dionisia, Galgano Guidotti is said to be born for the intercession of the archangel Michael. Galgano led a dissolute life until the age of 20, when the Archangel Michael appeared to him in dream twice.

In this way began young Galgano’s conversion. He started to preach about Siena and in the nearby, until the time he withdrew to a hut that will become his Hermitage on the Mount Siepi. He met Pope Alessandro III who blessed him and encouraged him to build an Abbey near the hermitage.

He came back to the hermitage where, despite her mother’s and Polissena’s (his fiancée) despair and the scorn of the others knights, he performed his only known miracle: he deeply stuck his sword in the stone (1180?), so that the hilt could form a cross. He died at the age of 33 on December, 3rd 1181.

That was the same year when St. Francesco was born. According to the legend, on the occasion of his burial gathered the bishops of Volterra (Ildebrando Pannocchieschi), of Massa Marittima, of Siena and the Cistercian Abbots from Fossanova.

The Dome

Extremely elegant, the dome is formed by sectors of white stones that alternate with sectors of red bricks. It recalls the Roman-Etruscan graves of Cerveteri or Vetulonia, or even Cecilia Metella’s tomb on the Appia Road in Rome (this latter is finally available for tours, after a lot of years).

Lorenzetti’ chapel – Stories of the Virgin

The small chapel is posthumous if compared with the rest of the Round. It was built and badly connected to the Round only in 1340, by will of Vanni of the Salimbeni.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti was called to fresco it. In the small chapel there is a jewel of art: the Annunciation with the Sinopia (discovered in 1966) of the Virgin, almost “terrified” of the Annunciation itself.

San Galgano Abbey and the legendary Sword in the Stone

Credits:

  • photo by Alexmar983 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • photo by Massimo Civitelli – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • photo by Adrian Michael – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
  • photo by Vignaccia76 – Own work, CC BY 3.0
  • Wikipedia
  • www.sangalgano.info
  • www.italythisway.com

This little group of buildings that includes the chapel and also a later chapel and a rectory. Apart from the San Galgano sword in the stone, which can still be seen here, the other highlight is the striped roof of the rotunda, with the 24 concentric rings made of alternating white rock and small red bricks – quite a feat in the 12th century! There are also some medieval frescoes to be seen on the walls.

Montesiepi’s Round was built between 1182 and 1185, over the hut on the hill where St. Galgano lived during his last year and right there where he had placed his Sword in the stone. At the beginning it was the tomb of the Saint, who had been buried north of the Sword, so that he could “see” Chiusdino through the entrance door.

Only in 1218/1220 began the construction of the big Abbey downhill. The building went on until 1268, when the Abbey was officially consecrated by Volterra’s Bishop Alberto Solari.

The Abbey knew 100 years of great prosperity until 1364, then followed a slow decline due to the unfortunate Commenda’s practice. We’ll just cite one misdeed as an example: in 1550 the commendatory Girolamo Vitelli even sold the lead roof, after the jewels and a lot of other things.

Despite some attempts to bring back the monastery into use at the end of 1789, after that Montesiepi’s Round had been put up in Pieve, the big abbey was deconsecrated and left for good to lie in ruin.

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