Guided tour San Galgano Abbey and Chiusdino
San Galgano Abbey
Ruins of the abbatial church
‘Sword in the rock’
Historic centre of Chiusdino
Museum of Chiusdino
Duration of tour: 5 hours
Suitable for children: sì
Access for differently-abled: no in San Galgano’s birthplace
Difference in level: 40 metres
(Montesiepi Hermitage and Chiusdino)
The Visit to the Abbey of San Galgano
The fascinating ruins of the Abbey of San Galgano still stand impetuous in the Siena countryside, telling us the centuries-old history of the Cistercians, the monks who lived here until the sixteenth century.
We begin our guided tour to San Galgano from the courtyard in front of the Abbey complex, by crossing the path that was once the entrance to the grandiose complex. Starting with the surviving environment of the Scriptorium, we see how the writing activity of the Cistercian monks was organized here. Walking through the spaces of the Scriptorium, we will also discover Abbey’s decorations have survived, even of complex symbology.
Inside the Chapter House, built according to the canons of Cistercian architecture, we will see what the underground staircase – which can still be seen in the centre of this space – was used for.
The romanesque Montesiepi Hermitage
The majestic Abbey church
Then reaching the majestic Abbey church which, as a stone skeleton still standing solemnly towards the sky, you will be fascinated by this that has become both an icon of the medieval imagination – this thanks to the fact of showing itself as a suggestive ruin – and above all to be the first significant example of Gothic architecture in Tuscany, built thanks to the expertise of the same Cistercian monks who – remember – in the same decades in which they erected the walls of this large Abbey, they were also called by the Republic of Siena to supervise both to the management of the financial magistrates (Gabella and Biccherna) and to the construction site of the city’s cathedral. For over a century, the Abbey of San Galgano has been exerting great attraction for many visitors, but even for great cinema personalities, as happened to the Soviet director Andrej Tarkovskij who wanted to shoot some scenes of his masterpiece: Nostalghia.
The sword in the rock really exists and is here
A few steps from the abbey, we visit the Montesiepi Hermitage, a beautiful Romanesque church that retains the peculiarity of being circular in shape.
Inside the Rotonda di Montesiepi is where you will finally find the ‘legendary’ Sword in the Rock – today protected under a glass bell. The story of San Galgano is certainly known precisely thanks to this object which, in the collective imagination, we immediately get to associate with King Arthur.
But while that of the British king is an affair handed down from epic literature, the earthly affair of the knight Galgano has really taken place and the records of his canonization process bear witness to it. Of Galgano we then retrace the salient events, so you will find out why, at some point in his life, the knight decided to become a hermit and why his sword is here, stuck in the rock – inside a church that, among other things, it also has a singular shape connected to that of some templar buildings and to the Roman age mausoleums. Finally, we discover what are the symbolic similarities and differences between the sword of King Arthur and the Galgano’s.
The ‘sword in the rock’
San Michele Prepositura Church, Chiusdino
The Visit of Chiusdino
However, to fully understand the life and the events related to Galgano, we need to visit the village of Chiusdino; this suggestive village of Lombard origin was where San Galgano was born around the middle of the XII century. The historic centre still retains its medieval Curtis-shaped structure intact; thanks to the series of alleys, monumental entrances and churches, it represents one of the most fascinating places to visit in Val di Merse.
We begin the visit of Chiusdino with the Prepositura church dedicated to San Michele Arcangelo. Although the interior has been remade in recent times, what is interesting to see is the relic of San Galgano’s skull which is now kept inside a modern-style display case.
The visit to the Museum and the Reliquary of the head …
Leaving the church, we cross an alley that directly leads us in front of San Galgano’s birthplace. Here inside, besides the Oratory which is cared for by a Confraternity dedicated to the saint, there is a stone that recalls a truly prodigious event and which involved the horse of the hermit saint …
We end the visit to San Galgano Abbey and Chiusdino with the Diocesan Museum which can be accessed with the ticket already purchased to visit the Abbey. The building, although small in size, offers the opportunity to learn about important artworks from the area, including local feudal families’ coats of arms, the original marble reliefs – of Sienese artists – which were once on the facade of San Galgano’s birthplace and, last but not least, the Reliquary of San Galgano’s head, a masterpiece of the thirteenth century Sienese goldsmith’s art, temporarily exhibited in this institution and coming from the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo of Siena.
We see together this precious artefact – made by the goldsmith Pace di Valentino – going to discover the San Galgano life’s episodes that feature there and connecting them to the symbols of the rest of the reliquary.
The guided tour of the Abbey of San Galgano and the village of Chiusdino enables you to discover one of the richest areas in history in the Val di Merse and to travel back in time, on the tracks of knights, pilgrims and cathedrals builders.
San Galgano Abbey’s ruins
Detail of the Reliquary of San Galgano’s head