The Legend of the Sword in the Stone is Real!

The true story of the sword in the stone, San Galgano, Siena

5 min
King Arthur and The Sword in the Stone

Whether you’ve seen Walt Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone” or read T.H. White’s novel about this legend, the story is in fact very real and the sword in the stone originates from Tuscany! Luckily Walt Disney’s King Arthur was only a fantasy and wasn’t actually able to remove the sword, otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to see it in the beautiful town of San Galgano, within the Province of Siena. Using google maps to arrive, passing by narrow country roads, captivating the green rolling hills of Tuscany and having mini heart attacks with many tractors taking up more than half the space of the road, we hoped that Archangel Michael had also come to us as he supposedly did to Galgano the knight in a vision to help guide him to the gorgeous hilltop where the Hermitage of Montesiepi lies. With the occasional deer, wild boar, rabbits and hares crossing the roads - yes, expect to see the adorable wildlife while passing through country roads - we finally saw the Hermitage on the hilltop in San Galgano after an hour drive from La Torre and felt so excited to learn more about the legend!

Saint Galgano Guidotti

The town of San Galgano was named after its Saint, Galgano Guidotti who lived there as a hermit during the last year of his life. The story states that his horse would not take any orders from him and when he finally climbed his horse it gallopped directly to the hilltop of Montesiepi. Upon arrival to the town, he stuck his sword that he had used as a knight into a large stone right up to the handle as a symbol of ending his life as a knight to commit to God - according to the folklore he also used the sword in the stone as a crucifix during his prayer time. Due to Galgano's divine act, four years after his death in 1181, he was canonized by Pope Lucius the third and there is a feast for him every year on the 30th of November. As centuries passed, many people attempted to pull the sword in order to steal it - however all with failure. Within the Hermitage, we saw what is said to be the mummified hands and forearms of a man who in his petty attempt to steal the special sword, was devoured by a pack of wolves, torn literally to pieces! Aside from the failed trials of theft, for many years the sword was actually thought-out to be a forgery with a few critics doubting its authenticity. Although, more current studies by the University of Pavia have proven that the style, form and material do in fact date back to the 12 century, between 1100-1200. As the last attempt to extract the sword caused some damage to the fragile iron, today, the sword in the stone is armoured from robbery by a large reliquary with a transparent cover for tourists and visitors to be able to witness this amazing attraction. 

The famous and genuine sword in the stone

We learned that during his time of living in the now historic town, Galgano lived in an old hut, it was only by 1182-85 that the Hermitage of Montesiepi was constructed followed by the chapel, which the cisterian monks helped to build to fulfill Galgano’s wish of constructing a chapel as he wasn’t able to do so due to age and his death. By 1218, the growing number of pilgrims and monks visiting the Hermitage of Montesiepi meant that the Hermitage ran out of space to accommodate all the inhabitants as well as visitors, therefore the Abbey of San Galgano was planned and built spectacularly, becoming the second famous attraction within the area. Sadly, the number of visitors decreased over the centuries and in the 18th century the Abbey’s roof caved in, leaving it to the ruins we see today. 

The Hermitage of Montesiepi, where the sword in the stone lies

The Abbey of San Galgano

Aside from seeing the stunning sword in the stone, while we were touring the Chapel we were informed that there is another legend connected to the place. For centuries, locals have held the story that there is a Holy Grail, the chalice of Jesus that he had used during the last supper. We were told that the divine chalice is hidden in a top secret location underground inside of the Hermitage and can be found by moving one of the stones on the floor - we tried our best to look for the stone but no luck! This mystery is yet to be proven, however we find it interesting that part of the building of the Hermitage is shaped like the inside of a chalice. 

The wedding taking place at the Abbey

As Tuscany became a more famous place to visit during the 20th and 21st centuries, there has been a significantly higher number of tourists in San Galgano and in Siena in general. In fact, after researching about the place, we found out that in 1983 the film Nostalghia by Andrei Tarkovsky shot some scenes at the Hermitage and the Abbey! This legend is also mentioned in season 7 of Forged in Fire, a TV series where bladesmiths recreated the 'exalibur', a medieval broadsword that was influenced by Galgano's sword. We really recommend taking a visit to this historic town in order to witness for yourself the real sword in the stone as tickets are only 4 euros and even the journey to get there will leave you in awe of Tuscany’s nature and organic beauty. If you're thinking of places to have a wedding ceremony, we believe that the Abbey of San Galgano could the place to celebrate your legendary day! We actually got to see part of a wedding when we visited, the musicians were also fantastic!

You can read more about the actual store of the sword in the stone, here.