Abbey of San Galgano - Montesiepi Hermitage

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Abbey of San Galgano - Montesiepi Hermitage

 

Colours and shapes strike the soul when you arrive at the Abbey of San Galgano (Siena). A unison of antiquities, medieval history and mystery, immersed in a landscape as unique as the Tuscan one. Perhaps not many people know the charm of this place, about thirty kilometers from Siena. Here, the Cistercian monks began the construction of an abbey church in Gothic style in 1218, which was completed in 1288. What remains today is the stone skeleton of the structure, without a roof. Still there standing, rooted in the ground.

A little further on, we find the chapel known as the Hermitage or the Round of Montesiepi (1185), guardian of the tomb of San Galgano and of that sword in the rock that marked the destiny of these places.

Basilica San GalganoThe Abbey is linked to the figure of San Galgano, who here in 1180 began to live a period as a hermit. Galgano Guidotti di Chiusdino was a Tuscan knight, who later became a hermit on this hill, which bears the name of Montesiepi hill. The decision was induced by various dreams and visions that led him to deny his previous life and to face a profound inner change. Legend has it that right here, Galgano put his sword into the rock as a sign of detachment from previous life. It was Christmas Day of that distant year, he inflicted his sword on the ground in order to turn the weapon into a cross. The sword was stuck in the stone for long centuries up to us... and today it is still there, exposed to curious and devoted. Perhaps not a few, however, once visited these holy places, will ask themselves if the popular tradition is true, which actually recognizes the leader who later became a saint, in William X of Aquitaine, father of Eleanor, and somehow linked to the events of the Arthurians myths and the Holy Grail as described by Chrétien de Troyes, French poet of medieval literature who lived in the 12th century and is known as the Trouvère of novels dedicated to the Breton cycle (author of Le Roman de Perceval ou le conte du Graal, a work in which the Holy Grail is mentioned for the first time). Before you are caught by some bold new King Arthur (the sword is protected by a glass case), you will be amazed by the beautiful architecture that this place still retains.

The sacred geometry of these places is incomparable. The site itself is made up of the carcass of the structure of the Abbey of San Galgano, reduced to the walls and without the roof, and 6 minutes walk from the Rotonda (the Hermitage) still well preserved. The construction of the abbey was completed in 1268, when it was officially consecrated by the Bishop of Volterra (Alberto Solari). These were the years of great prestige and financial wealth for the entire complex: monks were taking on a decisive role in the economic and cultural life of the Republic Basilica San Galganoof Siena; so important that they were assigned architectural responsibilities, such as those of the construction of the Siena Cathedral (it is reported that friar Melano of the Abbey of San Galgano, in 1266 took on Nicola Pisano for the construction of the famous pulpit of the cathedral), and then reclamation and construction of aqueducts, up to important financial roles, such as the management of the Treasury of the Republic itself. The monastery's land was so large that a dispute between the Republic of Siena and the Papacy was triggered. The famine and plague that raged in the city in the first half of the fourteenth century spared no one, not even the monks. In the 16th century, the abbey order was still in vogue, but in the following century the historical evidence documents part of the collapsed roof and the total collapse of the same two centuries later due to lightning. In 1576 it was reported that only one monk lived in the monastery. After the series of misfortunes, in 1789, with the Rotonda di Montesiepi elevated to Pieve, the great abbey was deconsecrated and left definitively to ruin.

Basilica San GalganoThe ruined structure of the church has the apse facing east and has a double sloping facade. Floor and roof are now non-existent. The building is 69 meters long by 21 meters wide and originally was a Latin cross plan, with three naves and the main portal still decorated with a frieze in which are carved figures. On the left side of the structure is remarkable the façade of the transept, with architectural elements of great importance, so in particular the apse, enclosed between two buttresses and with two orders of openings of three single lancet windows with pointed arch. On the right side, there was the cloister and today you can still see the signs of what was the social life of the abbey. Among the various areas of the structure, at the southern end of the ground floor was a vast environment, known as the scriptorium, where monks copied the manuscripts.

Spada nella Roccia - Basilica San GalganoA circa 800 metri, l'Eremo di Montesiepi si presenta nella sua singolare forma cilindrica con architettura in travertino e mattoni, e decorazioni di sculture simboliche e uno stemma mediceo. Questa struttura è più antica della grande Abbazia. Fu edificata tra il 1182 ed il 1185, sulla collina dove San Galgano visse il suo ultimo anno di vita e proprio nel punto in cui infisse la sua spada nella roccia. Al suo interno è situata la tomba, posizionata a nord della spada e verso la porta d'ingresso, in direzione Chiusdino (il villaggio natale del santo). Cattura particolare l'attenzione l'ambiente interno, decorato in stile romanico pisano-lucchese. Al centro dell'abside è situata la pietra con inserita la spada di San Galgano, mentre alla sinistra troviamo una cappella riccamente affrescata nel Trecento da Ambrogio Lorenzetti, mastro pittore della scuola senese tra i più rinomati (suoi sono i famosi Trittico di San Procolo, 1332, conservato alla Galleria degli Uffizi di Firenze; la Presentazione al Tempio, 1342, oggi conservato sempre agli Uffizi; Annunciazione, 1344, conservato alla Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena).

Spada nella Roccia - Basilica San GalganoAt about 800 metres, the Hermitage of Montesiepi is in its unique cylindrical shape with travertine and brick architecture, and decorations of symbolic sculptures and a Medici coat of arms. This structure is older than the great Abbey. It was built between 1182 and 1185, on the hill where San Galgano lived his last year of life and right where he put his sword in the rock. Inside is the tomb, located north of the sword and towards the front door, in the direction of Chiusdino (the village where the saint was born). Particular attention is paid to the interior environment, decorated in the Pisan-Pisan-Luxe Romanesque style. In the centre of the apse is situated the stone with the sword of San Galgano, while on the left there is a chapel richly frescoed in the fourteenth century by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, master painter of the Sienese school among the most famous (his are the famous Triptych of San Procolo, 1332, preserved at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence; the Presentation in the Temple, 1342, today also preserved in the Uffizi; Annunciation, 1344, preserved in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena).

Magic, art and medieval mystery in a unique land like Tuscany.


How to get there:

The Abbey of San Galgano is located about 20 km south of Siena.

Take the SS223 Siena - Grosseto. At the junction for Monticiano (see distributor) follow the local signs.

 

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