THE SWORD IN THE STONE BETWEEN MYTH AND HISTORY

Discovering the sword in the stone. A trip through Tuscany between the Abbey of San Galgano and the Hermitage of Montesiepi.

At least once in a lifetime, everyone heard of the legendary sword in the stone. The famous sword that has to be pulled from the stone in which it is stuck, to give strength and power to the man who will have the necessary moral value and the physical virtue.

The tales of the Sword in the Stone, King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table that characterized the Medieval Breton Cycle thanks to the work of Chrétien de Troyes who tells of their deeds in his poem “Perceval” in 1190, inspired fairy tales and movies: from the Disney cartoon movies to the most recent “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” with Jude Law and Charlie Hunnam, and also the “First Knight” with Richard Gere and Sean Connery in the role of King Arthur.

The Abbey of San Galgano

Maybe not everyone knows that the sword in the stone is real and it is in Italy. We are in Tuscany, in Val di Merse, more precisely in Chiusdino, a small village about 30 km from Siena. In this area surrounded by the Tuscan hills and by nature, stands the majestic Abbey of San Galgano. A cypress-lined road brings the visitors in front of this abandoned and almost forgotten building which rises out of nowhere imperious and melancholic.

The Abbey of San Galgano

The Abbey dates back to the XIII century (1220-1268), and suffers the inevitable ravages of time. So, the covering is just a distant memory of the past centuries, the glass windows and the floor have been destroyed, whereas the interior lining and everything that decorated the Abbey in the past now is gone, sold or stolen. Centuries later of the whole Cistercian Abbey in Romanesque and Gothic style, there are just the pillars and the walls of the naves but, despite that it still keeps its mysterious and timeless charm.

The sword in the stone

Surprisingly this is the place where the sword in the stone is kept or better where it is stuck. Actually, by going along a short path you can reach a high ground where it stands the Hermitage of Montesiepi. A sword stuck in stone comes to light from the ground inside the Hermitage. It has a round shape and it is protected by a case. And now an obvious question comes to mind: does the sword in the stone really exist or is it just an odd similarity?

The sword in the stone

None of these two theories is true. Clearly, there is not an enchanted sword capable of giving magical powers, but the fact that the sword lies in Tuscany does not mean that we want to make a connection with the fictional story which everyone knows. Actually, maybe it was the sword itself which inspired the tale of King Arthur, as the expert in the field and author of “L’enigma di San Galgano” Mario Moiraghi says.

The life of Galgano Guidotti

According to the historical documents, actually the sword in question once belonged to Galgano Guidotti, born in Chiusdino in 1148. About Galgano, we know that he was born in a noble and rich family and that he was destined to become a knight because of his birthright.

So, Galgano lived an immoral and cheerful life, made of bad habits and pleasures. But, according to the legend, when he was 33 years old, the Archangel Gabriel appeared in his dream to bring him to Montesiepi where the young man converted to Christianity. As an act of faith and renunciation of violence, in that same spot Galgano plunged his sword into the stone and shaped a votive cross with the hilt. This was a symbolic gesture by which Galgano gave up on his status as noble knight in order to dedicate himself to a life as a hermit made of isolation, sacrifice and spirituality.

The Hermitage of Montesiepi

Quickly the model and the devotion of Galgano spread and create proselytes. A few years later after his death in 1181, Galgano was declared a saint and became the protagonist of one of the first historically proved canonization processes. In 1185 his followers decided to build a Hermitage in his honour as a sign of devotion.

The Hermitage of Montesiepi

The Hermitage or Rotunda of Montesiepi due to its unique circular shape, basically consists of one small church where there are two elements that catch the attention: the vault which is decorated with concentric circles and the sword of the saint which lies at the exact center of the chapel. Over the centuries there have been some additions to the original building such as an atrium, a rectory, the bell tower and a side chapel enriched by the frescoes of Lorenzetti who is one of the leading exponents of the Sienese artistic heritage during ‘300.

Investigations by CICAP

Even the CICAP, the Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Pseudo sciences, showed interest in San Galgano and in his role between myth and history. So, in 2001 some renowned experts carried out an accurate investigation of the site by using modern research methods such as Geo radar equipment and the Carbon 14 dating method. Thanks to this investigation they discovered that not only the iron sword, which belonged to that period because of its style, but also the bone fragments taken from the so-called “mani degli invidiosi” (“hands of the envious people”), that are the remains of those monks that, according to the mythology, tried to pull out the blade from the stone, date back to the XII century.

So, while we are waiting for further investigations, it’s interesting to note that the examinations carried out until now haven’t denied the legend of a more and more fascinating and mysterious place yet. 

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