The Abbey of San Galgano: Tuscany off the beaten path

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Have you ever heard about the Abbey of San Galgano? It’s a magical place not far from Siena, Italy. Are you fascinated by those abandoned places, with a surreal atmosphere and mysteries all around?

Abbey of San Galgano
Abbey of San Galgano

This Abbey has 800 years of problematic history and an appealing legend. It’s a unique place in the world, that will stay in your memories forever. In this article we’re gonna tell you the story of the Abbey and show you amazing pictures that will make your mind fly.

Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

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The Abbey of San Galgano: everything you need to know

This is one of the places to visit once in a lifetime. If you are planning a trip to Tuscany, make sure not to miss it. Save this guide and bring it with you!

How to get there

maps-san-galgano
Source: Google Maps

The entire site of San Galgano is composed by the Abbey and the hermitage of Montesiepi. They are close to each other, so you can just walk between them.

The Abbey is around 30km south from Siena, and 60km from San Gimignano. Unfortunately there is no public transport at the moment, but you can rent a car and drive. The road is panoramic and the view is beautiful, so you won’t be bored.

We came all the way from San Gimignano and we had a nice encounter. On the way back, a deer family crossed the street and stopped few meters from the car. So sweet! So if you are going to San Gimignano, check this link. And be sure to visit the Abbey of San Galgano the next day!

History

View of the Abbey
View of the Abbey

The Abbey was once a settlement of monks, who were administrating justice in Val d’Elsa at that time. Before going into the current state of partial destruction, it was a Romanesque church. San Galgano is the name of the Saint that redeemed himself after having led a ruthless life in his early years. After having had two visions of angels and apostles, he abandoned his sinner life in favour of hermitage in the place nowadays known as Rotonda di Montesiepi. But we’ll talk about it in the next paragraph.

The abbey was a jewel in its early years. But then, the food shortage in 1329 and the plague in 1348 hit deeply the community and in the end of the 15th century the monks abandoned the place. Before that, John Hawkwood (an English mercenary) and his men despoiled the monastery in 1363. By the end of the 14th-century, only the abbot remained in the monastery.

Nowadays: present situation

The front of the Abbey
The front of the Abbey

Currently the abbey has no roof, destroyed in 1786 by the fall of the campanile. It definitely add charms to the place: the Abbey of San Galgano now presents a view of the sky above. The aren’t so many old cathedrals in the world that have no roof! On the other side, the walls have stood for centuries.

The entrance fee is just 3 euros. There are no guided tours, but you will receive a small paper guide with some basic information. And with our guide, you won’t need anything else! The most significant features of the building can be seen through the side panels. The large windows along the outer walls remind of how grand the Abbey must have looked before its decadence began.

Columns
Columns

We warmly suggest you to take your time and enjoy this magnificent place. Go around the columns and explore each corner of the Abbey, and try to find the best angle for your photos. Check the gallery at the end of the post!

The sword in the stone legend

King Arthur

Have you ever heard about the sword in the stone? It’s one of the most famous legends of all time. Do you remember King Arthur and Excalibur? If not, here you have a brief recap. At the beginning of the VI century, the magician Merlin announced that “only the man who can remove the sword in the stone would become king”. After that Arthur, kneeling in front of the rock, did just that: he took the sword (it can be Excalibur), carried it up to the Cathedral and placed it on the altar.

Well, Tuscany has its own legend and its own sword in the stone. And you can actually still see it! Now, who was San Galgano?

San Galgano

The Sword in the stone
The Sword in the stone

As written above, his complete name was Galgano Guidotti, born in 1148. He was one of those guys constantly looking for trouble and easy pleasures. One night, he had a vision: Archangel Michael showed him the way to salvation. The next days were quite chaotic for Galgano. Briefly, first he was going to become a hermit and living in a cave, but then he had another vision and he heard a clear voice. So he followed the instruction of this voice and he went to Monte Siepi, a small hill close to Chiusdino. Once there, he abandoned his sinful life and, to prove his faith, he pierced his sword into the rocky ground. Such a miracle!

Later on, Galgano took up permanent residence on that hill as its modest hermit. He led a life in poverty, meditation and dedication to God. He finally died in 1181, at the age of 33 years, and was canonized four years later.

Can these two legends be correlated? Maybe. It has been said that the legend of San Galgano created the ground for the medieval legends of King Arthur and the Sword in the Stone. It is interesting to know that the first written story about Arthur removing a sword from a stone, appears right after a couple of decades after Saint Galgano’s canonization. Coincidence? Maybe.

Don’t try to pull the sword from the rock…

There’s one last thing you should know. The legend says that three monks didn’t believed this story, and they thought that the sword was just a bunch of nonsense. So they went there, ridiculing the Saint and the legend itself, and they tried to remove the sword from the stone. You can see how it ended from the following photo.

Hands of the monk
Hands of the monk

One fell into a river and drowned, another one was incinerated by a lightning. The last monk was haunted and almost eaten by a wolf, and later saved by invoking Galgano himself. Unluckily, he lost his hands somewhere around the sword. Later on, these hands were put in a showcase in order to worn the unfaithful ones. Believe it or not, they are were quite scary!

Gallery

Look how beautiful is the Abbey, even during a cloudy day.

 

Have you liked the story of the Abbey of San Galgano? Do you know some other similar, fascinating places in Europe? Leave a comment below and share the article within your friends!

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