The sword in the stone of San Galgano


The San Galgano abbey, a few dozen kilometers south of Firenze, is a huge gothic church from the early 1200s made unique by its strangely dilapidated state. Its success only lasted two centuries, after which it was abandoned. In 1786 its bell tower crumbled, crashing through the roof: local people took the hint and started using the ruins as a source of material to build their houses – so what you see today is just a majestic but empty, open-air shell with grass as a floor.

This would be enough to grant a visit, but even more interesting is the small chapel of Monte Siepi, standing on the next hill. Built in 1183, it is the reason behind the existence of the abbey itself. The whole chapel in fact was built around one of the most peculiar Christian relics worldwide – which couldn’t be moved from there.
We are talking about no less than the sword in the stone, which was placed there by Saint Galgano as a sign of his conversion from military into a life of worship. Since you are probably wondering: yes, there is a possibility that this is the actual sword from the Arthurian legends, since the event is concurrent with the time the legends were written and Galgano is the Italian for Galwain, one of the names of the Arthurian knights. It is equally possible that Galgano was inspired in his action by the British tales.

While the sword keeps its original placement, now protected by a plastic dome, until 1924 it was simply – and tightly – inserted in a crack from which it could be extracted. To prevent thefts, the local priest poured molten lead into the crack to permanently seal the sword in. This didn’t deter further vandalisms however, and the relic was broken twice, in the Sixties and in 1991. Now repaired, it can be seen but not touched anymore.