I had never heard or read anything about San Galgano, but my husband had saved a clipping from an old copy of Italy Magazine (2014), and it had made the “Tuscany day tripping” file.
With this torn, wrinkled page in hand, we set out as the weather was becoming increasingly cool and the sky darkening overhead. We anticipated an unpleasant weather day, by Tuscan standards.
“Either you run the day, or the day runs you.” – Jim Rohn
The rain which began softly with light repetitive ‘taps” on the windshield was now coming down with increasing force. The windshield wipers making that familiar “groaning” sound under the weight of their work.
With lightning clapping in the distance, we were off in the direction of San Galgano which lies south of Siena.
Following SS73 the car began climbing higher with the rising elevation of the hills surrounding the Val di Merse and each turn became tighter. The changing scenery provided us with an appreciation of the large areas of Tuscany that are Bosco (wooded).
The car continued to inch forward in the downpour. A few felled Cyprus trees were lying on the side of the road, obviously a result of a direct lightning strike. Undaunted, we carried on.
I let out an audible “ah” as we came upon a small perfectly preserved one humpback Roman bridge. I have friends who are Roman enthusiasts who would have appreciated this discovery.
Following the signs, we could see the area was flattening in the valley and there in the distance, Cyprus trees lining the road leading to San Galgano could be seen.
Before visiting San Galgano, there are several things to understand:
Galgano Guidotti was born in 1148 and what we would describe today as a man seeming to be in the midst of trouble or looking for it. An Italian Knight, San Galgano had tired of the wars, violence and the simple mayhem of life. He renounced his worldly possessions as his wealthy family and perplexed fiance protested.
As legend has it, San Galgano had two visions: one of the angels (Archangel Michael showing him the way to salvation) and one of the 12 apostles advising San Galgano to go to Montesiepi, abandon his sinful life and begin a hermitage.
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”-Epictetus
San Galgano began his hermitage in 1170 in the Rotonda di Montesiepi, which was built on the same site as the present day Abbey of San Galgano. Galgano would live in the Rotonda di Montesiepi for 11 years, dying at the age of 33 (1181).
The rotunda chapel has a hypnotic design of 24 concentric circles of white and terracotta stones and in the middle of the Rotonda lies the stone in which San Galgano embedded his sword.
To demonstrate his commitment to a life of peace and his renewed faith, San Galgano drove his sword deep into the stone (1170).
To prove the authenticity of the sword in the stone, testing was completed which dated the sword composition and the style of the weapon, to the late 11th/ early 12th century. To further test our faith, a cavity containing a body was found beneath the stone from the same time which is believed to be San Galgano, thus silencing the skeptics. https://www.unmyst3.com/2013/09/the-sword-of-saint-galgano.html
In reality, it is San Galgano and not King Arthur of Lancelot fame whose sword was thrust into stone. However, there are many aspects of the legend of San Galgano which are believed to have influenced the tales of King Arthur.
After San Galgano’s death, nineteen miracles were attributed to him. He was the first person to be canonized in Italy (1190) by Pope Lucius III.
Apparently, those that doubted the miracle of the sword in the stone found themselves in peril; three monks tried to remove the sword. One drowned in a local river, one was incinerated by a lightning strike and the third ( apparently an assassin sent by the Devil) was attacked by wolves and then lost his hands while trying to remove the sword.
The Abbey of San Galgano:
The Gothic Abbey of San Galgano was built between 1218 and 1288 by the Cistercian Monks.
It is the first gothic church built in Tuscany and before the roof deconstruction caused by the Campanile (bell tower) collapse in 1786 (lightning strike), it was a Romanesque church.
The famine in 1329 and the plague in 1348 hit the community badly. In 1363 John Hawkwood (an English mercenary) and his men despoiled the monastery and at the end of the 15th century, the monks having had enough relocated to Siena.
Even without its roof, the Abbey is intoxicating and provides a glimpse into an ancient life from within its imposing walls while the now clear blue skies peek in.
Despite the soaring walls and the sheer enormity of the building, there is a peacefulness amongst this aging ruin, a reprieve from the calamity of life.
The Rotonda di Montesiepi continues to be used for church services and fittingly, it was Sunday when we took our day trip to San Galgano.
As we walked the rain-soaked road toward the on-site Agriturismo with an Osteria, we followed a group of families that had shared devotion in the Rotonda.
With our bellies filled with home-made pasta washed down with robust Vino Rosso (red wine), we discussed the miracle of simply arriving at San Galgano as the lightning could be heard clapping overhead.
I whispered, ” San Galgano we believe in miracles and the sword in the stone”, hoping that we would not suffer the same fate as the incinerated Monk, as we cautiously stepped outside.
” There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle “. – Albert Einstein
Musical events are held in the Abbey of San Galgano, to add some magic to your life check out the San Galgano facebook for the schedule.