We all know the legend of King Arthur and the Sword in the stone. But what you might not know is that Italy has its own version. And you can find it in the small chapel of Montesiepi, a few km. from Siena, in Tuscany. A place of magic and myth that originated in the Middle Ages. Here we take a closer look at the legend of the sword, and the story of the saint who put it there. A saint named Galgano.
He was born in 1148 into a time of bloody medieval battles and religious fervour. His parents, a wealthy and noble family named Guidotti, raised the boy to become a knight. He learned the noble arts of sword fighting and jousting, and dedicated his spare time to the pursuit of hunting and worldly pleasures. That is, until one day something happened that changed his destiny forever.
One day Galgano was riding near his home when the archangel Michael appeared to him in an immense flash of light. Later it happened again, but this time the angel invited Galgano to follow him. They crossed a field of flowers and went up to Mount Siepi where Galgano had a vision of the twelve apostles. Seeing this holy scene, Galgano was converted and thrust his sword into a rock right up to its hilt. Thus a symbol of war was turned into a cross, a symbol of peace.
Galgano made his knight’s cloak into a tunic and went to live in the woods, dedicating his life to God and prayer. Barefoot, eating nothing but wild herbs and berries, his new existence was far from the excesses of his youth. His story, found in Medieval texts, tells how he resisted the devil’s temptations and how he once miraculously mended the sword with a simple prayer after it had been broken by some envious monks. After his death the Pope made Galgano a Saint. His fame grew to a point where a chapel had to be built to protect the sword. This is the romanesque chapel of Montesiepi near Chiusdino in the province of Siena.
Here, in this small round chapel perched on the top of a Tuscan hill, you can still see the legendary sword stuck in the rock. Although it’s now protected by plexiglas, the magic lives on in this special place; a jealous guardian of a timeless legend.
However if you’re thinking it’s all just a nice story, you’re wrong. Or at least, only partly right. Recent studies have confirmed that the sword was indeed forged in the12th century. A fact that makes the legend that much more tantalising. Is it a symbol of good winning over evil? Or the conquering of one’s weaknesses and lower instincts to inspire something greater in yourself?
If you’re in this part of the world, you can come and decide for yourself. And while you’re here you can visit the nearby San Galgano Abbey. A ruined Gothic abbey from the 13th century, built to celebrate the cult of this very special saint. Thanks to the legend, the abbey grew very wealthy and powerful but fell into ruins during the 16th century. Today it is only a shell, but that hasn’t dimmed its majesty. Here the passage of time only adds to the air of enchantment. Visit yourself and you’ll see why this legend, just like that of Arthur, is destined to live on.
Ben Carson and Sabrina Nesi are both travel writers based in Florence, and co-founders of the website lovefromtuscany.com, an insider’s travel guide to Tuscany. Here they share their knowledge, and pour out all their passion for the art, culture, lifestyle and food of the region. They’re always looking for new stories to tell and hidden corners to explore. You can connect with them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and read their blog at lovefromtuscany.com/blog