The story of King Arthur and his legendary sword Excalibur which he pulled out of a rock to prove his divine right to the throne is well known. But what is fiction to the British, is fact for Italians—for in a Tuscan abbey in Montesiepi, is a sword plunged into solid rock.
The sword, of which only the hilt and a few inches of the blade is visible, is now preserved at the abbey of San Galgano in the town of Montesiepi, 30 km from Siena. Legend has it, that the sword was driven into the rock by Galgano Guidotti, a 12th-century Tuscan nobleman, who after seeing a vision of the Archangel, renounced his life of violence and lust in favor of a pious hermitage, and was later made a saint.
The sword of Galgano Guidotti, embedded in stone. Photo credit: lkonya / Shutterstock.com
Born in 1148 in the small town of Chiusdino, Galgano is said to have led a ruthless life in his early years. Though he became a knight and trained in the art of war, he was said to be arrogant and led the life of a thug, until Archangel Michael appeared before him and showed him the way to salvation. In his vision, Galgano followed Archangel to the hill of Montesiepi where he met the twelve Apostles and the Creator himself. After the vision, Galgano’s horse refused to obey his orders and led him to the hill where his vision happened. Convinced that this was a sign, Galgano decided then and there to renounce his villainous life.
A voice then told him to renounce all material things, to which Galgano replied that it would be as hard as splitting a rock. To prove his point, Galgano drew his sword and plunged it into the rocky ground. To his surprise, the rock yielded like butter and the blade went through. Galgano got the message, and took up permanent residence on that hill as a humble hermit. He never left the hill, living in poverty, accompanied by wild animals and occasionally visited by villagers and monks.
According to another version of the story, Galgano wanted to make a cross on the hill but with no wood around, he decided to plant his sword in the ground. The sword is said to have immediately become one piece with the ground so that nobody could remove it.
For centuries, the sword was assumed to be a fake. But after examining the composition of the metal, researchers said that the style was compatible with the era of the legend. Ground-penetrating radar analysis also revealed that beneath the sword there is a cavity, about two meters by one meter, which is thought to be a burial recess, possibly containing the knight’s body.
It has been argued that the legend of Saint Galgano formed the inspiration for the medieval legends about King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone.
“A story like that of Saint Galgano could travel all over Europe, and it is interesting to note that the first story about Arthur pulling a sword from a stone (or more exactly an anvil on top of the stone) appears in the decades following Saint Galgano’s canonization in one of the poems by the Burgundian poet Robert de Boron,” says Björn Hellqvist.
Saint Galgano’s sword embedded in stone in Montesiepi’s Hermitage. Photo credit: lkonya / Shutterstock.com
Hermitage of Montesiepi. Photo credit: lkonya / Shutterstock.com