Paradoxplace Tuscan Photo Pages

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Eremo and Abbazia di San Galgano South West Tuscany

(and a 'real pasta' lunch opportunity nearby)

(chronology link)

 

Italian Cistercian Abbey Pages

 

LINK TO LARGE PHOTOS OF

THE ABBAZIA DI SAN GALGANO AND THE EREMO DI SAN GALGANO

Above is the unusual Etruscan style domed rotunda protecting the sword of San Galgano (Galgano Guidotti 1148 - 1181), which is still in the rock he plunged it into in 1180, after deciding to renounce the high life and live as a hermit on top of the hill (not a good health choice, he only lasted just a year before catching cold and passing on to greater things).  The inside domed roof is constructed with 24 concentric circles of alternating white stone and terracotta - a different and very beautiful small "neo-Etruscan" space.  Two beautiful artefacts associated with Galgano are the silver reliquary containing his skull and a silver and enamel crozier - both exhibited at the 2003 Duccio exhibition in Siena

 

Above left, another view of the Eremo.  Nearby (above right and below) is the grand (now roofless) Gothic Cistercian Abbey of San Galgano, built between in 1224 and 1288, right at the end of the Cistercian abbey building boom in Northern Europe, as a daughter house of Casamari, which in turn was a daughter of Saint Bernard's Clairvaux.  It was Tuscany's first full on Gothic church, and later probably a model for Siena Cathedral

 

These were a later breed of Cistercians - organizers of trade fairs (their site was the last overnight stop before Siena), managers of the Sienese treasury and engineers for its public works (especially water).  Excavations have also uncovered evidence of an early iron smelting works in  the Abbey grounds (Cistercians pioneered some of the iron-works in central France).

 

From the mid fourteen hundreds the abbots became "Commendatari" - political appointees who could collect (and keep) "commende" - commissions demanded on everything that happened around the Abbey and its estates.  A hundred years later, abbot Girolamo Vitelli - now in charge of just five monks - sold all the "objects" he could lay his hands on, including the lead from the abbey roof!  By the sixteen hundreds the big abbey was abandoned and its records and treasures all gone. 

 

The 36 meter bell tower collapsed on 6 January 1786, though that could have been in part godly justice as campanili and towers were specifically forbidden in the earlier Cistercian abbeys because of Saint Bernard's desire to avoid distraction and ostentation.  The collapsing tower also brought down a large slab of the rotting roof and associated masonry, making the place an even more accessible open quarry for local builders.

 

see also this link.

 

This is a template showing the standard layout of later Cistercian Abbeys - the green/blue areas are those reserved for the lay brothers, who were not allowed to mix with the "real monks", even to the extent of having a solid screen (=wall) dividing the nave of the abbey.  At San Galgano only the chapter house (16), roofless abbey, and a corner of the cloisters remain, but it is easy to stand there and imagine how the rest would have fitted in with this plan.  For example, the photo below right was taken from around where the number 25 is (the middle of the refectory). Also included in the plan are the cloisters (15), monks' dormitory (18), scriptorium (22), novices day room (23), kitchen (28), lay brothers' refectory (31), store room (33) and lay brothers' dormitory (35).

LINK TO LARGE PHOTOS OF

THE ABBAZIA DI SAN GALGANO AND THE EREMO DI SAN GALGANO

The vaulted chapter-house - one of the few remaining parts of the old abbey buildings.

Postcards from the Hermitage.  San Galgano's sword (below left) is in the centre of the circular chapel,  embedded in the rock into which, according to tradition, he plunged it in 1180 - a) to renounce force and b) to make a neat cross as a centrepiece in his twig hut.  Some speculate that the sword in the rock in the depths of Tuscany may have been the source of the Arthurian "Excalibur" tradition*.  Others more cynical speculate that it is not a sword at all but just a hilt (but could still have given rise to "Excalibur").  Whatever - it makes a good story and was the reason for an unusual and beautiful little building.

 

 

 

* There were two major swords in the Arthurian tradition - one which he pulled from a rock to show he was the rightful King, and another which was handed to him via the hand of a lady breaking the surface of a lake.  The latter is certainly called Excalibur, and the former (with otherwise no name) is sometimes said to be Excalibur as well.

LINK TO LARGE PHOTOS OF

THE ABBAZIA DI SAN GALGANO AND THE EREMO DI SAN GALGANO

THE BEST PASTA IN TUSCANY

 

To get to San Galgano take the Siena road from Monteciano and turn left in about 4 kilometres (the abbey is signposted).  If, instead of turning left, you keep going for another 3 kilometres to the minor road junction (Ponte Feccia) and feel like a real pasta, go to the very ordinary looking  bar "da Pallina"  opposite the Consorzio Agraria and have the pasta of the day in the little restaurant area attached to the bar - it doesn't get better than this.

 

 

 

LINK TO SAN GALGANO WEBSITE

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