Inside Montesiepi chapel located in a small village in the province of Siena in beautiful central Tuscany, there is one of the strangest relics ever discovered. In this little round building, is embedded the sword of Saint Galgano, seemingly thrust into the bedrock up to the hilt.
How the sword came to rest in the stone has been a mystery to historians and archaeologists for centuries.
Local legends tell of the sword’s owner Saint Galgano, who lived in the 12th century A.D.
The Tale of Saint Galgano
Galgano Guidotti was born into a noble family in Chiusdino near modern province of Siena, Italy in 1148. Being the son of the minor noble, in his early years he led the selfish and decadent life of a wealthy knight, only interested in the worldly pleasures that his power and status could bring him.
Trained in the art of war, Galgano was both arrogant and violent, as was common for those of his caste. However, all of that changed when he renounced the thrill and honor of battle to become a hermit.
What changed Galgano’s path was a vision of the Archangel Michael, who is described in Biblical texts as having a warlike appearance and role, leading the Armies of Heaven against the forces of evil.
A version of the legend tells that Archangel Michael appeared before Galgano and showed him the path to salvation and holiness, instructing to leave his weapons behind and forsake fame and fortune.
The next morning, Galgano declared his intention to become a hermit and would take up residence in a nearby cave. Unsurprisingly, his abrupt decision met with ridicule and incomprehension from his family and friends, who were nobles themselves.
After failing to sway her son’s decision, Galgano’s mother managed to persuade him to pay a last visit to his fiancée before completely renouncing all worldly pleasures.
Dressed in an expensive nobleman’s clothes, he rode his horse to meet his wife to be. However, on his way there, his horse suddenly reared, throwing him off its back. At that moment, Galgano felt as if he was being lifted to his feet by an invisible force, then a heavenly voice ordered him to go to Montesiepi, a hill near his home town of Chiusdino.
Upon reaching the foot of the hill, the voice instructed Galgano to be still and to look at the top of Montesiepi. There he saw a rotondo, a round temple with Jesus and the Virgin Mary surrounded by the Apostles. The voice continued to guide him as he climbed the hill. The higher he reached, the fainter his surroundings became. Only the temple remained visible.
When he reached the top of the hill, the voice resounded, commanding Galgano to renounce all of his worldly desires and his immoral, self-centered lifestyle.
Galgano, however, objected that this request was too difficult for him. For him to become a holy man would be as difficult as splitting a rock with a sword. Surely, such a feat was impossible.
To prove his point, he drew his sword and attempted to thrust it into the rocky ground. But to his tremendous surprise, his blade went through the stone with as easily as a sharp knife slicing through butter and remained firmly in place, no matter how hard anyone tried to remove it.
In a state of shock and awe, Galgano followed the divine message, and took up permanent residence on the very same hill as a humble hermit. Leading an austere life, his simple existence as a holy man stood in stark contrast with his previous extravagance.
While living alone in the wild, he was occasionally visited by the peasant looking for a blessing. He also made friends with wild animals living around.
Another legend has it that the devil once sent an assassin in the guise of a monk to kill Galgano in order to prevent him from staying on his path of holiness.
However, he survived the ordeal thanks to the timely presence of wild wolves Galgano was living with. They came to his rescue and attacked the killer before any harm could come to the hermit.
At the age of 33, Galgano passed away in 1181 and was canonized four years later. His funeral was, at the time, considered a major event with the presence of many bishops and Cistercian abbots.
A few years after Galgano’s death, a round chapel, known as the Cappella di Montesiepi, was built over the purported tomb in honor of him. The chapel has ever since, housing the legendary sword of Saint Galgano.
This mysterious highlight has attracted thousands of tourists as well as archaeological researchers for centuries.
For centuries, the sword in the stone in Montesiepi was widely believed to be a man-made legend, the stuff of local superstition. However, recent research shows that this sword indeed dates back to the 12th century, when Galgano lived.
In 2001, a metal analysis conducted by Luigi Garlaschelli of the University of Pavia revealed that the “composition of the metal and the style are compatible with the era of the legend”. The analysis also confirmed that the upper piece, including the hilt and part of the blade, and the hidden blade beneath are authentic. They belong to one and the same artifact.
In addition, with the help of a ground-based radar scanner, the researchers also found that there is a 2 meter long, 1 meter wide cavity underneath the sword. “It seems likely to be the grave of Galgano that people have been searching for for over 800 years,” Garlaschelli said.
The story of Saint Galgano’s sword speaks of faith, humility and a saint’s path to holiness. Taking the divine message as guidance, he was willing to give up all worldly desires to consecrate his life to faith and finally, ascend to Heaven.
For over 800 years of history, the legendary sword in the stone has remained intact as a strong proof of a miracle that once manifested in the life of a saint, saving him from perdition.
(The cover photo: The sword in the stone at the Montesiepi chapel. (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported))