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St. Galgano's Abbey and the Sword in the Stone: Between Legend and Gothic Ruins

Monday 23 october 2023

Explore San Galgano Abbey: a fascinating journey amid mysterious medieval echoes and unforgettable Tuscan vistas

St. Galgano's Abbey and the Sword in the Stone: Between Legend and Gothic Ruins

An authentic testimony to the medieval era, the Abbey of San Galgano, debuts in the landscape between the villages of Chiusdino and Monticiano, like a mighty reminder of the past. A place that draws its roots from a remote history, guardian of enigmas, legends and treasures of a distant era. An exploration of this site, nestled among wonderfully green meadows, is a leap back in time to Tuscany.

Tales of a Moved Past

St. Galgano Abbey is inextricably linked to the figure of its saint, a former knight who chose to renounce worldly seductions and devote himself totally to religious life. Galgano Guidotti, who went from being a knight to becoming a hermit, devoted to a life of prayer and meditation, left the most lasting sign of his conversion by thrusting his own sword into a rock at the Hermitage of Montesiepi, turning it into a cross.

The Abbey and Hermitage of Montesiepi, two jewels of the Middle Ages

San Galgano Abbey emerges from the Tuscan hills with its poignant ruins. The imposing stone walls, guarding centuries of history, are the only reminder of what was once one of Tuscany's most flourishing monasteries of the Middle Ages. The salient absence of a roof, a detail that helps draw out the church's architectural structure, is a feature the Abbey shares with other historic churches scattered across Europe such as Melrose, Kelso and Jedburg in Scotland, or Tintern in Wales.

Eremo di San Galgano a Montesiepi - Geerd-Olaf Freyer
Eremo di San Galgano a Montesiepi - Ph. Geerd-Olaf Freyer/flickr

The Hermitage of Montesiepi, built around 1185, is the other jewel that completes the Abbey of San Galgano. Inside is the culmination of St. Galgano's myth: the "sword in the rock," a hilt and segment of a sword corroded by the years, embedded in a boulder. This element has aroused much speculation over time and is reminiscent of the chivalric myths of the time of King Arthur and the Round Table.

La spada nella roccia presso l'Eremo di Montesiepi
sword in the rock - Ph. Susanne & Ralf/flickr

Decline and Rebirth

The Abbey had its heyday in the 13th and 14th centuries, becoming a clear example of Italian Gothic-Cistercian architecture. However, its decline began in the 15th century, culminating later in the 18th century with the collapse of the roof and bell tower, and the deconsecration of the church in 1789.

Renewed interest in the Abbey occurred in the early 20th century, when its artistic and historical value were recognized. Conservative restoration, led by Gino Chierici and inspired by the principles of the father of restoration John Ruskin, turned meticulous attention to preserving the monument's original state, avoiding unjustified reconstructions.

Abbazia di San Galgano

Precisely because of these efforts, today the Abbey of San Galgano remains one of the most fascinating wonders of Tuscany, attracting numerous visitors each year, fascinated by its intriguing history and imposing yet decadent beauty. A true jewel of Italian heritage, it tells us of the times when the virtues of chivalry were forged in an unbreakable bond with spirituality.

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