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Saint Galgano and the Sword in the Rock

Original version
Galgano Guidotti was born in Tuscany, perhaps in Chiusdino, around 1148. His parents Guidotto and Dionisia were already quite old when he was born; his mother had been praying God to give her a child for quite a long time. Galgano had a well-to-do and pleasurable childhood, but growing up he led a dissulute and violent life. Seeing that her son had become a sinner, Dionisa constantly prayed the Archangel Michael to convert him. At the death of his father, Galgano did not shed a tear, but the same night he had a dream that troubled him: the Archangel Michael kept his mother Dionisia by the hand and invited her to help his son wear the armour of a knight because he had to follow him. Galgano did not give importance to the dream, but a few years later he again dreamed of the Archangel Michael who asked him to follow him. This time the Archangel led him to Mount Siepi where Galgano had the vision of a round building where the twelve Apostles were located and there he also had a vision of Christ. When he woke up he told his mother about the dream. One day, while Galgano was riding and thinking of his imminent wedding to Polissena, Archangel Michael wrapped in a dazzling light appeared to him again. Galgano’s horse was so frightened that Galgano fell off, he drew his sword with strength and this stuck in a rock forming a cross with the hilt; the Archangel disappeared and the branches of the trees formed a dome above the stuck sword. That day Galgano decided to become a hermit devoted to the Lord. The Devil, who could not lose such a sinner, urged the mother and the knight's girlfriend to visit him to make him change his mind, but to no avail. When Galgano went to Rome to the Pope, the Devil sent a small group of men to destroy the sword: they tried to shatter the rock, but they failed, then they destroyed the sword by tearing it to pieces. When Galgano returned and saw the disaster, he began to pray so intensely that the Lord miraculously made the pieces solidify. Polissena also decided to dedicate her life to God and to a life of prayer. Galgano died in 1181, while he was praying on his cross-sword.
Alternative versions
In one version, Galgano's horse throws him off while he is talking to Polissena and a mysterious force helps him get back on his horse. Moreover it differs because a voice leads him to Monte Siepi urging him to change his life and Galgano replies that it would be as difficult to change his life as it is to smash rocks with a sword; in saying this he draws his sword and plunges it into the stone thinking it would break, but to his astonishment the sword cuts the stone and is stuck into it to the end. Other versions are different in the way the sword is stuck in the rock: - in one version Galgano could not cut the wood with his sword to make a cross, he threw the sword to the ground and it alone stuck in the rock; - in another Galgano thrusts the sword into the ground as a sign of renunciation of violence, of farewell to arms and conversion; it is the opposite of what King Arthur does, who instead extracts it from the rock to defend the kingdom
Main characters
Galgano Guidotti: he was a carefree boy who loved riding and hunting. He had friends all over the Maremma and was betrothed to Polissena Brizzi. Dionisia: mother of Galgano and wife of Guidotto Guidotti. Very She had a great religious faith Polissena Brizzi: girlfriend of Galgano. After the conversion of Galgano, she too will dedicate herself to prayer and enclosure. Arcangelo Michele: a holy figure that allows Guidotto and Dionisia to have a child. It will help Galgano to give up his dissolute ways and will make him a faithful Christian hermit Devil: the one who will try to make Galgano sin again after he chooses to become a hermit. Thieves: these are the three characters sent by the Evil One who try to extract the sword from the rock while Galgano is absent. Failing that, they break it, but fate will rage against them: they will be struck by lightning and attacked by a wolf
Connected artistic / architectonic / historical heritage
The Hermitage was built above the tomb of San Galgano by the will of Bishop Ildebrando Pannocchieschi and its dome recalls the ancient Roman and Etruscan tombs. In the chapel there is a cycle of frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, including the very unique one of the "Madonna with three hands". The Abbey of San Galgano is now roofless but the visitor imagine its original impressive status, when the Cistercian monks created an economic empire around the abbey. The pointed arches and the large windows reach the blue sky above and the stars at night communicating a sense of freedom and breathtaking beauty. The abbey is now the ideal and unique setting for any type of cultural show and has perfect natural acoustics. The Sala Capitolare and the remains of the Cloister can also be visited.
Local traditions or historical connections
There are extraordinary similarities between the legend of the sword of San Galgano and that of King Arthur: - Galgano has the vision of a round structure. The table around which Arthur gathers his knights is round; - the 12 Apostles of the vision of Galgano and the 12 knights of Arthur in the Breton cycle; - the sword that Galgano thrusts into the rock and which Arthur extracts; - One of the knights of the round table was called Galgano (Gawayn) There is also a sword stuck in the rock at Rocamadour, in Perigord (France) on the path to Compostela and it is said that it could be the Durlindana, the mythical sword of Orlando, champion of Charlemagne in the cycle of The Chanson de Roland. The Abbey of San Galgano is the backdrop for important films such as The English patient by A. Minghella and Nostalghia by A. Tarkovskij, moreover and the Italian group Pooh and Iron Maiden chose the abbey as the setting for the videos for their songs “La casa del sole” and “Can I play with madness”
Didactical Relevance
The legend allows the students to discover the very interesting character of San Galgano and to study the connection with the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and with the legend of the Search of the Holy Grail.
Didactical Activity
Step 1: Start the didactical activity with Geography. Ask the students to geolocalize Chiusdino in Tuscany in Central Italy. Ask them to consider the central position Tuscany and to consider its economic relevance Italy. Consider the network of connections (the railways, the highways, the airports) which make the region a “hub” for tourism, economy, culture. Find out the resources for tourism offered by Tuscany, such as the museums, the monuments, the parks, the churches, the most important cities. Step 2: A study of the History of the Middle Ages can complement the general picture: have the students research on medieval history from the religious, social and political point of view. Focus on the figure of the medieval knight Step 3. Art: Ask the students to localize the Abbey and the Hermitage on the map of Tuscany and to look for pictures of its interior and exterior. Ask them to focus on the most important parts of the monuments. Point out the relevant elements which make the Abbey an example of medieval architecture in Italy. Step 4. Literature: It is important to teach the students how to read a legend and to connect it to local traditions and history. Ask the students to read the legend and reflect on it. The presence of the knight is common to many other legends all over Europe, ask the students to read the other legends by the partners on this “Parsifal” portal and to select those which have the knight as one of the characters, then ask them to find common elements and differences. To develop their creative writing ability, it is possible to ask the students to write their own version of the legend. Step 5: Religion. Ask the students to reflect on the lives of the most common saints, on the legends in which they are involved, on the teachings and messages and on their relevance in modern times. Step 6. A class trip to Chiusdino and to the Abbey and Hermitage (full day)


The abbey
A beautiful video by a drone
The original abbey
A short video with the digital reconstruction of the abbey and the cloister in their original beauty
The area around the Abbey and the Hermitage
The video shows the two monuments and the geographical area.


Inside the Hermitage
The Sword
The Hermitage of Montesiepi
A general view of the Hermitage inside which the Sword is present
The Abbey outside

External Sources

The Abbey and the Hermitage
The site offers the possibilty to choose the language of the description of the two monuments
The setting of the legend
The site is in Italian but it shows some breathtaking pictures both of the Abbey and of the Hermitage

PDF version of the legend in national language