Cover photo credits © iStock/Michele Caminati
Cover photo credits © iStock/Michele Caminati

San Galgano Abbey and the sword in the rock, Tuscany

4 minutes to read

San Galgano Abbey is a Cistercian Abbey located in Tuscany- just 35 kilometers from Siena- famous for its roofless shape, and the legend of the sword in the rock. This place of worship consists of an enormous abbey, now desecrated and disused but still very beautiful to visit, and the Montesiepi Rotunda, where the famous sword in the rock is still visible.

The Abbey perfectly respects the rules of construction of the Cistercian abbeys, according to the "rule of San Bernardo," which established precise regulations regarding the position, layout, and distribution of buildings.

According to this rule the Abbeys had to rise along the main roads (in the case of San Galgano Abbey, the Via Maremmana), to facilitate travel and communication among them; in general these stood near rivers or streams, or in wooded or marshy areas, to be able to clean them and then exploit the land. From an architectural point of view, the buildings had to have absolute sobriety.

Picture © Credits to iStock/Antonello Proietti
Picture © Credits to iStock/Antonello Proietti

The construction of this Abbey began in 1218 to finish in 1341. Although, starting from 1288, it was already consecrated.

The Abbey soon became very rich and powerful, so much that it could influence the politics of the Republic of Siena.

But towards the end of the 13th century, the incursions of Florentine mercenaries and the plague led to a sharp decline in the monastic population, which from 60 monks passed to only 36 in 1926. At that point, it was decided to transfer the entire monastic community to Siena, in the Palace of San Galgano, today the seat of the Faculty of Philosophy for the University of Siena.

San Galgano Abbey
San Galgano Abbey
Strada Comunale di S. Galgano, 53012 Chiusdino SI, Italia

The sword in the Rock

A short walk leads from the Abbey to the Hermitage of Montesiepi, a small round-shaped building, which is flanked by the sword in the rock; according to legend, the knight Galgano at one point decided to become a hermit and stuck his sword in the rock, to turn it into a cross.

And it, by divine virtue, was welded in such a way that neither he nor others, with any effort, could ever have extracted until now.
Picture © Credits to iStock/Ikonya
Picture © Credits to iStock/Ikonya

In reality, the sword in the rock could be easily extracted until 1924, when the pastor, to prevent any theft, poured molten lead into the crack and blocked the blade in the rock. In the 1960s the sword was broken by a vandal, and later it was repaired, and rigid plastic protection was added.

Picture © Credits to iStock/Ikonya
Picture © Credits to iStock/Ikonya

This place exudes an incredible charm and immerses its visitor in a halo of magic and mystery. Not far from the Abbey, in the small town of Chiusdino, there is the San Galgano’s birthplace.

Eremo di Montesiepi
Eremo di Montesiepi
Strada Comunale di S. Galgano, 53012 Chiusdino SI, Italia
Casa Natale di San Galgano
Casa Natale di San Galgano
Via Paolo Mascagni, 25, 53012 Chiusdino SI, Italia

Therefore, a beautiful trip around Siena leads us to relive a story whose protagonists are a rotunda, a knight, and a sword in the rock. However, we are not in the reign of King Arthur but in the San Galgano Abbey, an immense roofless cathedral that rises majestically in the middle of nowhere. After Galgano's death, a simple and essential rotunda was built around the sword, before the additions that were made later.

Picture © Credits to Matthias Rabbione
Picture © Credits to Matthias Rabbione

From the Rotunda you reach the rectangular chapel, added in the 14th century and frescoed by the great Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Here there is also a shrine containing two mummified arts, of unknown origin. According to legend, they are the hands of one of the three envious monks who were attacked by wolves after trying to pull the sword from the rock while Galgano was absent. Probably this place was previously designated for the celebration of pagan cults, given the circular shape of the building and the position on a dominant hill.

The Museum of Sacred Art

Located in the historic center of the medieval village of Chiusdino, this museum, set up a few years ago, is almost entirely dedicated to San Galgano.

The museum is located within the historic Taddei Palace and spreads in over four floors with ten themed rooms. It houses works of art, bas-reliefs, paintings, treasures of sacred art, reliquaries, votive offerings, mostly coming from the churches and chapels of the surrounding area.

The windows of the museum offer a genuinely unique glimpse and open onto a magnificent landscape of the beautiful Tuscany.

Museo d'Arte Sacra di San Galgano
Museo d'Arte Sacra di San Galgano
53012 Chiusdino SI, Italia

Get married in San Galgano

For some years the Municipality of Chiusdino has included San Galgano Abbey among the places available for celebrating a wedding. It must be said that being a deconsecrated abbey, only civil and non-religious marriages are celebrated here. So, if you are about to organize your wedding, keep in mind this excellent location. 

For information you can contact the municipality of Chiusdino.

Picture © Credits to D2 Photography
Picture © Credits to D2 Photography

For the reception, or even for a lunch or dinner after the visit, you can stay on-site; in fact, the “Agriturismo e Casale Terre di San Galgano” is right next to the abbey, and its restaurant "Antico Tempio" offers tasty dishes of Tuscan culinary tradition. Both apartments and rooms are available at the farmhouse.

Agriturismo & Casale San Galgano
Agriturismo & Casale San Galgano
Strada comunale di San Galgano, 53012 Chiusdino

Mulino delle Pile

Staying in the same area, you can plan a visit to the scenery offered by the Mulino delle Pile, a completely renovated water mill, which since the 1990s has been the film set for a famous Italian biscuit and snack brand. Today the mill has been transformed into a farmhouse, with the name of Mulino delle Pile, and even the stay in this beautiful place is worthwhile.

Mulino delle Pile
Mulino delle Pile
Località Il Mulino delle Pile, 53012 Chiusdino SI, Italia

The author

Mara Noveni

Mara Noveni

My name is Mara, I am Italian, born in Rome and raised in the wonderful Tuscany. Always in love with reading and writing, I completed this way of expressing myself through photography, especially street and travel photography. Thanks to my many and long travel experiences, I have enriched my mind and my inner life.

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