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. After a life dedicated to worldly pleasures and violence, his path to holiness began with a vision of the Archangel Michael who asked him to abandon his ruthless life and dedicate himself to God.
Here Galgano tested his faith by making a cross out of a symbol of violence – thrusting his sword into the rock, that “yielded like butter’.
After that he retired to a hut and a memorial chapel was built over the hermit’s grave. A few years after his death, 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 the other struck by lightning.
⇒ Discover some other mysterious and unusual places to visit in Tuscany. including haunted castles and some macabre relics.
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.
A recent scientific research has proved that the sword is indeed from the 12th century.
Don’t miss the suggestive ruins of San Galgano Abbey .
Visit the small hilltop town of Chiusdino with the Sacred Art Museum “Museo Civico e diocesano di arte sacra di San Galgano” where you can see some interesting paintings dedicated to the life of San Galgano.
Siena is a 45 minute drive away.