San Galgano is an atmospheric ruined Cistercian abbey immersed in the Tuscan countryside. Its Gothic splendour and scenic location won’t fail to impress you.
San Galgano Abbey
Built in the 13th century by Cistercian monks following the model of their mother church in France, what remains is remarkably well preserved. From its scale alone, it’s not hard to see what economic and cultural importance it must have had in its day, and why it was so important to nearby Siena.
Its decline began with the arrival of the plague in 1348, and carried on with the plundering of the mercenary troops of John Hawkwood. Hawkwood was known in Italy as Giovanni Acuto, a mercenary in the pay of Florence, whose image can be seen in a fresco by Paolo Uccello in Florence Cathedral.
Eventually in 1474 the monks abandoned the building to its own destiny and later the lead from the roof was sold.
Today San Galgano is a photographer’s paradise, all grassy corridors and empty windows staring at the sky. Its arches and columns cast an endless procession of otherworldly shadows. Early morning and late afternoon are good times to visit as the light brings out the colour of the travertine.
⇒ San Galgano makes a perfect day trip from Siena.
In the Summer it is converted into a unique and atmospheric setting for evening open-air concerts during the San Galgano Festival.
Montesiepi Chapel – the Sword in the Stone
To learn about Saint Galgano visit the smaller (and intact) Romanesque Montesiepi Chapel, also dedicated to the holy hermit. It’s situated a few hundred meters away from the abbey, where he is believed to have pierced a rock with his sword.
The Eremo di Montesiepi is one of the best Romanesque churches in Tuscany.
Did you know?
Only the column capitals are decorated at San Galgano. This is typical of the sober architecture of Cistercian monasteries.
The legend of San Galgano
In 1180 the dissolute knight Galgano Guidotti , as he was travelling from his home in Chiusdino to the hills of Mount Siepi, had a divine vision. The Archangel Michael (some versions of the story says that he met the Creator himself) asked him to abandon his ruthless life. There and then he renounced the material world, and withdraw into the wilderness of this hills. To show his devotion he made a cross from his sword, thrusting it deep into a rock that “yielded like butter”. After this he lived out his life here as a hermit. He was canonised a few years after his death in 1181, and the Montesiepi Chapel was built in his honour.