| The legend of Saint Galgano
Galgano Guidotti was a dissolute knight who lived in Chiusdino in the second half of the 12th century. The Archangel Michael appeared to him one day, convinced him to repent and showed him the way to salvation. Sir Galgano announced his intention to become a hermit and live in a cave, but his friends and family made fun of him. His mother Dionisia convinced him to wear his noble robes and go to Civitella Marittima to see his fiancée Polissena Brizzi for the last time but along the way Sir Galgano's horse reared and the knight fell. He suddenly felt some force helping him to get back on his feet. The knight heard a seraphic voice which he was unable to resist and this led him to Monte Siepi, a rugged hill near Chiusdino. There he had the vision of a round temple and of Jesus and the Holy Virgin Mary with the Apostles.
The voice guided Sir Galgano to the top of the hill and invited him to give up his sinful life but the knight was hesitant and wittily replied that, even if he thought he should indeed change his life, changing would be as hard as splitting rocks with his sword and in saying this, he drew his weapon and thrust at a stone, fully expecting the blade to snap. To his great surprise, the sword cut the stone and entered into the rock to the hilt.
Sir Galgano did not leave the hill ever again. He lived in poverty, with wild animals as his only companions. The legend says that the Devil sent an evil man in a monk's disguise to murder Galgano but the wolves that lived with him tore the man to pieces, leaving only his hands.
The Hermitage of Montesiepi
The sword in the stone and the hands of the evil man can still be seen in the church of the monastery of Montesiepi, built at the end of the 12th century as a mausoleum for the saint. Saint Galgano is buried in the church. The church has a very peculiar shape, it is built as a rotunda and historians hypothesize that it was inspired by Castel Sant'Angelo, the Pantheon in Rome or even an Etruscan tomb as the many ones visible in Volterra, the town that once controlled this area. The church was enlarged in the 14th century with the construction of a chapel with frescoes by the Sienese painter Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
San Galgano and King Arthur
Over the centuries the sword in the stone and its legend have fascinated pilgrims and visitors from around the world. The many resemblances to the tales of the Arthurian cycle has probably not gone unnoticed.
Many scholars have pointed out the striking resemblance of the name of the saint, Galgano, with that of one of the knights of the Round Table, Sir Galwyn, who, by the way, was of Roman origin. Other scholars have insisted on the resemblance to the youngest of King Arthur's knights: Sir Gawain.
Of course, the sword in the stone is associated with Excalibur and a recent book by the writer Mario Moiraghi, The Enigma of San Galgano, proposes an interesting explanation for all these coincidences. The author claims that the story of the sword in the stone originated in Tuscany, in Italy and not in the Celtic fringes of Britain or in France as many believe and that it was added to the legend of King Arthur later on. Moiraghi supports his hypothesis with scientific tests which date the sword embedded in the rock in an abbey in Tuscany to the year 1180, years before the first attested literary reference to the sword in the Arthurian Cycle. The author also stresses how the inquiry which led to the canonisation of Sir Galgano contains a series of facts identical to the legend of Sir Percival, the finder of the Holy Grail.
If these hypotheses are true, then the legend of Excalibur could have originated in Tuscany, and have been exported to France by the Cistercian monks, whose responsibility in the diffusion of King Arthur's legends is widely acknowledged. Moreover the Abbey and the chapel dedicated to Saint Galgano and King Arthur's tomb in Glastonbury date back to the same period and this offers yet another link between this magic place in Tuscany and the most legendary of all kings.