Swords in Stone: An Article

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

The year is 1148 and a saint is about to be born. Of course, at his birth, the boy is no saint. In fact he grows into a knight, or at the time, little more than a mounted mercenary with none of the honor from that noble caste. His name is Galgano Guidotti, born in the sweet, olive tree scented province of Siena, Italy. A rotten child and an even worse adult, Galgano lived lustfully and much like a brigand from one violent encounter to the other.

Until he had a vision.

The Archangel Michael himself appeared to Galgano and told him that he would be protected and called on Galgano to repent of his many sins. Galgano agreed and he announced to his friends and family that he would leave his sordid life behind and from then on live as a hermit in a cave.

His mother and friends pleaded with Galgano not to abandon his life. They begged him to think of his poor fiancee and his future as a lord with lands and holdings. Would he really give all this up to live in a cave? At least speak to your fiancee who will no doubt persuade you. He agreed to at least speak to his future wife.

Somewhere along the road to see his soon to be ex-fiance, Galgano's horse threw him and instead of falling, he was lifted to his feet and as if by some mysterious force.

Galgano looked up and standing above him, were Jesus and Mary and the apostles. The figures stood on the crown of a hill and they bade Galgano to renounce worldly pleasures, and dedicate his life to god.

Galgano, having thought it all over during the ride to see his intended, had a change of heart. The life of a brigand was for him. He told the holy figures, giving up worldly pleasures would be as easy to do as break rocks with his sword. He drew his blade, flashing in the summer light and thrust it into the stone. Instead of breaking upon the rock, his blade slid cleanly into the solid rock, as though through one of his victims.

During this same time period, a new book was becoming wildly popular in Europe. Originally written in the 1130's by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the History of the Kings of Britain told fragmented tales of a king named Arthur and his knights of the round table. The same Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon who pulled sword from stone.

The common story we all know. Excalibur, the sword in the stone which only the worthy who is also the future king of Briton will be able to draw free. Young Arthur, thought to be a nobody takes hold of the sword and pulls it free, thereby claiming his throne and birthright.

The original sword in the stone has a muddy history. Geoffrey of Monmouth did not name the famed sword Excalibur, he called it Caliburn. The tale of pulling a sword from stone came from Robert de Boron's verses entitled Merlin. Shortly after Robert de Boron's story came Sir Thomas Malory in 1240 who claimed that the Arthur had, indeed pulled a sword out of a stone, but it was not the famed Excalibur. That sword Arthur broke in combat against a knight called Pellinor. Additionally, Arthur had pulled a symbolic sword from the stone that signified he was king, and ultimately no one believed that a sixteen-year-old with a rock-borne sword was a king.

Keep in mind, that before the 1200's, becoming king of anything wasn't necessarily a birthright. Kings, more often than not, became king because they had the power and means to act when the previous king died.

Kings took their thrones, they did not typically inherit them.

That is, until James VI of Scotland developed his theory on the Divine Right of Kings in the late 1600's. The notion in the 1200's of a boy being given the throne would have been outrageous. He might have a sword, but what is one sword to several armies loyal to another, more powerful claimaint?

Arthur did not obtain Excalibur, that bright and shining sword that gleamed with the light of thirty torches, until the famed Lady of the Lake gave him the sword in return for a favor. Even then Excalibur was not so valuable, as Merlin was said to have pointed out, that as long as Arthur kept the scabbard, no weapon could make him bleed. The scabbard was the true treasure, the sword becoming a tool.

However, this sword, given in exchange for a promise by the Lady of the Lake, was not the end of legendary swords.

Lady Lile of Avelon one day entered Arthur's court wearing a sword belt. Her arrival caused quite a stir as no woman ever wore a sword belt. She could not get the sword out of the scabbard or remove the sword belt herself, only a knight who is pure of heart could draw the sword and undo the belt, but the person who successfully claimed the sword must also give it back to her, or suffer the curse of it. Arthur and his knights all tried, and none of them could pull the sword free, yes, not even Arthur who tried valiantly and failed to prove his "pure heart".

It was Balin le Savage, a lowly knight, who succeeded in freeing the fair lady. Yet, when she asked for the sword to be returned from her, Balin refused, keeping the blade for himself. She warned him, that he would kill someone he loved, in fact another of his fellow knights within the next two months.

Although the legend of King Arthur is fraught with twists and turns not widely accepted by modernized tales, the sword in the stone myth comprised of several tales altogether, the true sword in the stone, still exists.

Galgano Guidotti, who thrust his sword into the rock at Montesipi in Tuscany, followed his visions and became a hermit living on the very spot where he'd thrust his sword into the stone. It is said he was protected by a pack of wolves, who eventually killed and ate an assassin who tried to murder Galgano one night after failing to pull the sword from the stone. The assassin's arms were left next to the sword, untouched by the wolves.

Galgano Guidotti died in 1181 and was shortly cannonized by the catholic church. The chapel of Montesiepi in Chiusdino was built on the very rock where St. Galgano lived and died. On one side of the church, they kept his head that continued to grow curly blonde hair long after his death. On the other side of the complex, they kept the assassin's arms. They also protected the sword still sheathed in stone. The site became so popular that a monestary was built nearby to handle the crowds. Yet, by 1548, the church was home to just one monk, dressed in rags.

Montesiepi Abby, Italy

In modern times, the chapel has been rebuilt and the sword? It is encased in glass, rusted, and buried to the hilt in pale rock. Leading to the next question: If the sword, known as the Italian Excalibur exists, how do we know it's even real?

An italian academic by the name of Mario Moiraghi worked with the University of Pavia to test samples of the sword and confirmed that the blade is as old as the legend says and is not a rusting fake. What's more, is that the blade extends underground to full size and the stone around it is miraculously unbroken. Even more surprising is what Ground Penetrating Radar found beneath the sword. A 2 meter by 1 meter cavity that might possibly contain the rest of the saint's body, absent his skull, which is still on display.

Oh, and the hands and partial arms of the assassin? Those too have been tested and are found to be as old as the legendary sword.

While the story of Arthur and Excalibur may not be true, science is proving that St. Galgano's sword in the stone is more and more real.

You can go to Italy and see the sword in the stone for yourself, however, I don't suggest trying to see if you are pure enough and noble enough to pull it from it's rocky resting place. St. Galgano's sword also has a curse. Anyone who tries to pull it out, well, legend has it that their arms will be ripped out.