San Galgano, born in 1148, later became an untamed knight, vicious an full of lust.
One day, Archangel Michael appeared to him, showed him the way to salvation, and even told him where he should go. The morning after Sir Galgano announced that he was going to become a hermit and took up residence in a cave.He was ridiculed by friends and relatives for his choice.
Dionisia, his mother, convinced him to wear his noble robes and at least pay a last visit to his fiancée. Somewhere along the way: it happened. His horse reared and he fell. To his amazement, he felt as if he was being lifted to his feet while a seraphic voice and a will he was unable to resist led him to Monte Siepi, a rugged hill under Chiusdino. The voice bade him stand still and look up; at the top of the hill there was a round temple with Jesus and Mary surrounded by the Apostles. The voice told him to climb the hill, the vision faded. When he reached the top the voice spoke again, inviting him to renounce worldly pleasures.
Galgano objected that though giving up worldly pleasures sounded good, but doing so would be as easy as using his sword to split rocks. To prove his point, he drew his weapon and thrust at a stone, fully expecting the blade to snap. It penetrated to the hilt, and Galgano never left the hill again
His contemporaries say that though he lived in poverty, Wild animals were frequent companions, as were the local farmers, who came to talk and ask his blessing. Galgano soon faced the Devil, who sent an evil man disguised as a monk; the wolves that lived with Galgano killed the would-be assassin and gnawed at his bones. One year later, Galgano died.
The funeral was a major event, attended by bishops and three Cistercian abbots, including one who got lost while trying to go to Rome. Or had he been led? The next year the Bishop of Volterra gave Monte Siepi to the Cistercians monks, aware that they would build a shrine to Galgano’s memory. They began building in 1185 (the year Galgano was canonized), erecting an oddly beautiful temple.
After the Saint’s death his scalp continued to grow blond curlsfor a long time, the miraculous head was placed in one side chapel, and the chewed bones of the arms of the evil man in another. The crowds of pilgrims were so numerous that the Cistercians were authorized to build another monastery named after the Saint a short distance away, They built one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings of Italy. The monastery rapidly became powerful, and respected: Monks from San Galgano were appointed to high offices throughout Tuscany. Later absentee abbots of noble lineage viewed the property as something to be exploited.
Exploit they performed, until the local lord removed and sold the leading from the roofs of both the round temple and the abbey in 1548. The temple survived, but the roof of the abbey collapsed. When a local noble stopped to visit a century later, he found grass in the nave, and just one monk, dressed in rags, the nobleman was outraged. The Pope suppressed the abbey in the early 1700s and declared the round temple a parish church.
This would be just a curious legend, but the round temple is still standing, and still has both the sword in the stone and the gnawed forearms (Galgano’s head is now in Chiusdino). The walls of the abbey are also still standing, and it is hauntingly beautiful, a hint of mist rises from the valley floor.
San Galgano is in the Val di Merse, about 30 km southwest of Siena. To reach it, take State Highways 73 and 441, towards Massa Marittima (San Galgano is about half way between Siena and Massa Marittima). It’s a very pretty drive, and the grass makes the abbey a perfect spot for picnicking. The round temple is, like most Italian churches, open in the morning. The abbey is open all the time.