Tuscany’s own “Sword in the Stone”. The Montesiepi Chapel is a quirky little church with an Arthurian story.
Near Chiusdino in the province of Siena in central Tuscany, there’s a round church that guards a very peculiar attraction. Inside the Rotonda (Rotunda, a circular building) is a sword firmly wedged inside a rock. Far from being a tourist trick, many believe it to be linked with the Templars. But we know that the man who pulled off the remarkable feat was no other than San Galgano, the hermit Saint.
Who was Saint Galgano?
Legend has it that the noble but dissolute knight Galgano Guidotti from Chiusdino travelled in 1180 to withdraw into the wildness in Montesiepi and renounce the material world. Here he tested his faith by making a cross out of a symbol of violence – thrusting his sword into the rock. After that he retired to a hut and a memorial chapel was built over the hermit’s grave. In 1185 Pope Urban III declared him a saint and an example to all Christian knights.
What to see in the Montesiepi Chapel:
The Montesiepi chapel is the only Romanesque rotunda in Tuscany. Built on the model of a Classical mausoleum and the Church of the Tomb in Jerusalem, the exterior is a mix of pale travertine and dark brick (a more economical variation of marble incrostation is common in the country areas of southern Tuscany). Visitors shouldn’t overlook the chapel’s interior where the bands of alternate colours are particularly striking in the ribless cupola.
There are some striking frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the northern chapel. And a case that contains a macabre relic: two arms. The legend has it that two envious monks tried to extract the sword from the rock, but God punished them accordingly. One was attacked by a wolf and th other struck by lightning.
To protect the sword from neverdowells, it is covered by a plastic case. Though it renders the effect so ugly that it seems an act of vandalism in itself.
Don’t miss the suggestive ruins of San Galgano Abbey .