The Sword of Saint Galgano

According to legend, Galgano Guidotti have stuck his own sword onto a rock and using it as a cross. For centuries, the sword was believed to be a fake to everyone but the most devout. The sword's pommel is flat and of a slightly egg-shaped, truncated form, and the guard is a straight bar of steel. Obviously it is a 12th century basic sword. The dimensions are: height of grip & pommel 144 mm, guard width 172 mm, blade width 43 mm. The sword of Saint Galgano (San Galgano) can still be seen at the Rotonda at Montesiepi, near the ruins of San Galgano Abbey.

Galgano Guidotti was born in 1148 near Chiusdino in the modern province of Siena, Italy. After spending his youth as a brave knight, in 1180 Galgano abandoned it in favour of a pious hermitage in the place now known as Rotonda di Montesiepi. To show his will to change his life he put his sword inside a stone at top of Montesiepi, thus changing the sword into a cross. One year later in 1181 Galgano died (His alleged date of death is December 3, 1181, now celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church, but other scholars assign it to November 30, 1180) and in 1185 Pope Lucius the 3rd declared him a saint. After Galgano’s death, countless people have tried to steal the sword. In the chapel you can see what are said to be the mummified hands of a thief that tried to remove the sword and was then suddenly slaughtered by wild wolves.

A round church was built over his tomb, where pilgrims came in large numbers and miracles were claimed. A papal commission of enquiry was set up in 1185; it is probable that Galgano was canonised in 1190. In that year Cistercian monks took over Monte Siepi at the request of Hugh, bishop of Volterra, but most of Galgano's monks left, scattered over Tuscany, and became Augustinian hermits. By 1220 a large Cistercian monastery was built below Galgano's hermitage: they then claimed him as a Cistercian saint. His cult was lively in Siena and Volterra, where numerous representations survive. The ruins of his hermitage can still be seen, while his cloak is kept in the church of Santuccio at Siena.

San Galgano's hermitage on the hill is called Montesiepi. The small round chapel of Montesiepi preserves the sword in the stone that San Galgano plunged in 1180 into a rock to have an altar to pray at. The inside of the domed roof is constructed with 24 concentric circles of alternating white stone and terracotta - a different and very beautiful small "neo-Etruscan" space. The church also preserves a series a frescos by the Sienese painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti and also offers a breathtaking view of the Abbey, the neighboring buildings and the beautiful surrounding countryside.

Sword of San Galgano

While the sword was considered a fake for years, recent studies examined the sword and the hands, and the dating results as well as metal and style of the sword all are consistent with the late 1100s - early 1200s. If the sword really dates to 1180, decades before the first literary reference to the "sword in the stone," it would support the theory that the Celtic myth of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur developed in Italy after the death of Galgano. "Further evidence may lie underneath the rock, but the Arthurian link is almost impossible to prove. It will remain one of the many mysteries that surround Saint Galgano. This may mean that the story on which the English sword and the stone is based on originated with Guidotti in Italy.


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