Question: Where in the world can you find a medieval sword trapped in a stone (Hint: It’s nowhere near Camelot.)
Answer: Montesiepi Chapel, Tuscany
The Sword in the Stone—a fabled myth from the era of King Arthur or a true tale of a Tuscan Saint? No one knows the truth of this mysterious story, but one thing that is certain is that there really is a sword driven into a stone at the Montesiepi Chapel in central Tuscany, Italy.
Positioned in the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside, Montesiepi Chapel was built to honor the life of Galgano Guidotti, the man who is believed to have plunged his sword into the ground, and who would later become the Catholic Saint, San Galgano. Born in 1148 during a time of bloody medieval battles and religious strife, Galgano was raised by a noble family to be a ruthless knight; however, he later abandoned his violent life, living as a hermit nearby the area that Montesiepi Chapel would eventually be built on.
The story of the sword goes that on one fateful day in the year 1180, he began having visions of Archangel Michael leading him to god. In these visions, Michael told Galgano to relinquish his possessions and commit himself to God. The powerful visions overtook him, and to symbolize his faith and his promise to never hold a weapon again, he stabbed his sword into bedrock. Somehow the sword did not break, but instead sliced easily through the rock, creating the shape of a cross.
Following that momentous day, Galgano would return to the sword, using it as an altar to pray. After his death, Galgano was canonized by Pope Lucius III in 1185, and monks soon built Montesiepi Chapel, a Romanesque-style rotunda, around his sword. The site became a place of Catholic pilgrimage in the centuries to come, and so many monks visited that an abbey, known as the Abbey of San Galgano, was constructed nearby to house the visitors.
While many skeptics still speculate that the sword is a fake, experts who have examined the sword and its metal have concluded that it is consistent with the style of the late 1100s to early 1200s. It might be impossible to know the true story behind the sword, but its defiance of the laws of nature certainly makes it a sight to behold.
6 More Intriguing Facts About San Galgano
- Radar analysis of the ground reveled a six-foot by three-foot large cavity beneath the sword, believed to possibly contain the remains of Galgano’s body.
- While the whereabouts of his body are unknown, his head is kept as a relic in Chiusdino, Italy.
- Many people have attempted to steal the sword, and on display at the chapel are the mummified hands of an apparent attempted thief. It is believed that during his effort to steal the sword, he was suddenly killed by wild wolves, with only his hands remaining.
- The first story that mentions King Arthur pulling a sword from a stone appeared in a poem written in the 13th century—several decades after Galgano was canonized by the Roman Church. The news of Galgano may have traveled across Europe in that time and inspired the legend.
- The numerous pilgrims to the site have claimed to witness miracles performed there, with at least 18 being documented.
- The neighboring Abbey of San Galgano is considered to be one of the most prestigious examples of Italian Gothic-Cistercian architecture. However, over time the building fell into disrepair, and in 1787 lightning struck the abbey’s bell tower, collapsing the tower and the roof.
Witness the astonishing sword and stone when you travel on O.A.T.’s Tuscany & Umbria: Rustic Beauty in the Italian Heartland adventure.