Thirty kilometers southwest of Siena, among the hills of Tuscany, are the ruins of an ancient Cistercian Gothic abbey. In one of the nearby chapels you will find one of the most remarkable relics of the Middle Ages: the sword of St. Galgano Guidotti. When tourists visiting Siena wonder what can be seen in the city, apart from the beautiful hills and villas, one answer is “visit the village of Chiusdino” for the magnificent medieval architecture, its outdoor opera festivals and to see the real sword in the stone.
Yes: the sword of St. Galgano is buried to the hilt in a stone preserved in the chapel of Montesiepi in Chiusdino.
The history of St. Galgano was recently compiled by the Italian academic Mario Moiraghi, who made a comprehensive historical-literary study comparing the history of the saint with the legends of Percival and Arthur. In his book L’enigma di san Galgano, he puts forth his findings and posits that the Arthurian legend of the sword in the stone was inspired by this stone in Tuscany. St. Galgano, he notes, was born around 1148 and died in 1181, well before the 13th century publication of Robert de Boron’s “Merlin.” Moiraghi also brought in a team of scientists from the University of Pavia to study the sword and test small samples, confirming that the object dates from the 12th century.
So the so-called “case of the Italian Excalibur” is authentic. But how was it done?
“Dating metal is a very difficult task, but we can say that the composition of the metal and the style are compatible with the era of the legend,” said Luigi Garlaschelli, of the University of Pavia. “We have succeeded in refuting those who maintain that it is a recent fake.”
Ground-penetrating radar analysis revealed that beneath the sword there is a cavity, 2m by 1m, which is thought to be a burial recess, possibly containing the knight’s body. “To know more we have to excavate,” said Garlaschelli, whose findings have been published inFocus magazine.
Carbon-dating confirmed that two mummified hands in the same chapel at Montesiepi were also from the 12th century. Legend has it that anyone who tried to remove the sword had their arms ripped out. Says Moiraghi, “The sword which, having being plunged into the stone becomes a cross; this is a true symbol of the Christian life — the transformation of violence into love.”
Who was St. Galgano?
Son of an illiterate feudal lord, Galgano was well known for his arrogance, selfishness and thirst for trouble until the day when he had a vision in which the Archangel Michael invited him to change his life.
Without thinking twice, Galgano decided that he would become a hermit. As he climbed the mountain on which he would devote his life to contemplation, a voice told him he had to leave all traces of licentiousness, to which the saint replied, “It would be easier to cut a stone with this sword to do that.”
To his surprise, when he went to stick his sword in the rock to prove his point, the sword sank smoothly. Faced with the sword, Galgano would kneel to pray for the rest of his hermit’s life. Four years after his death he was canonized, and a chapel was built around the sword, in 1189: the “Rotonda della Spada.”
Today, summer visitors to the ruins of the Abbey of Saint Galgano can enjoy festival performances of Aida, Cavalleria Rusticana, The Barber of Seville and other great operas in the ruins of the old abbey, under a starry sky, surrounded by medieval architecture, and what might well be the true source for the story of the sword in the stone.
Translated from the Spanish.