The legends of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table are among the most famous in the world. They include the legend of King Arthur’s famous sword, the Excalibur, which according to the legend could be only pulled out of a stone by the true king of Britain. There is a similar, though much lesser known story in Italy in the region of Tuscany. Some even suggest that the Italian story is the inspiration of the British legend. This is the legend of the sword of San Galgano.
San Galgano was a Catholic saint from Tuscany born in Chiusdino in around 1148, in the modern Italian province of Siena. San Galgano was the first saint whose canonisation was conducted formally through a procedure by the Roman Catholic Church. Therefore, much of his life is known through the procedural documents. The canonisation was carried out in 1185, a few years after his death in 1181. There are also a number of works about Galgano’s life written by later authors.
Galgano’s mother’s name was Dionisia, while his father’s name was either Guido or Guidotto. In his youth, San Galgano was said to be a knight, who was very arrogant and also violent as he was skilled in the art of war. He was also said to be fully immersed in his worldly life and its pleasures. However, this soon changed when he renounced the world and became a hermit.
Galgano’s transformation began when he had a dream of the Archangel Michael, who was generally shown as a warrior saint. The archangel appeared before Galgano and showed him the way to salvation. Though he was dissuaded from renouncing the world by his friends and family, his mother asked him to meet his fiancee for one last time. On the way to meet his fiancee, Galgano’s horse reared up and he fell from its back. Then an unseen force lifted Galgano onto his feet and a voice led him to the hill of Montesiepi.
When San Galgano reached the foot of the hill, the voice ordered him to look towards the top of the hill. San Galgano was then said to have seen a vision of a circular chapel with Jesus and Mary and the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Then, the voice told him to climb to the top of the hill, where it commanded him to renounce all his worldly desires and pleasures.
San Galgano, however, opposed this, saying that this was about as easy as slicing stones with a sword. To prove his point, he drew his sword, and thrust it into a stone. To his amazement, the weapon went through the stone like a hot knife through butter, and has been stuck in the stone ever since. San Galgano understood the message and lived the rest of his life on Montesiepi as a hermit. After San Galgano’s death, a round shrine was built on the top of the hill, with the sword in the stone of San Galgano as its main draw.
For centuries, the sword in the stone was generally believed to be a fake. However, a recent research showed that the sword is indeed from the 12th century, based on its design and the metal which was used. The study also found that a cavity existed beneath the sword which was thought to probably contain the body of San Galgano. They found this out with the help of modern radar equipment. Thirdly, the carbon-dating of another attraction of the shrine which was a pair of mummified hands found that they also dated to the 12th century. The hands are said to be those of an assassin who was sent by the Devil, according to legend, to Montesiepi to kill San Galgano. The assassin was killed by the wild wolves who lived on the hill, who had befriended San Galgano and protected him. The assassin’s hands were then mummified and displayed at the chapel.