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Abbazia di San Galgano

Gothic Cistercian Abbey Ruins in the South West Tuscany


Link to Large Photos of the Eremo di San Galgano

Link to earlier page on San Galgano and its history


a 'real pasta' lunch opportunity nearby       chronology link        Italian Cistercian Abbey Pages


Link to L'Abbazia Sant'Antimo - Italy's most beautiful and light filled Abbey



Abbazia di San Galgano Dawn


The Abbey of San Galgano in the early morning sun - them's sunflowers in the field - depending on when they are planted flowering time is normally some time in June.



The Cistercian Abbey of San Galgano started life in 1181 perched beside the hermitage on the hill, but things became a bit cramped and prone to slippage, and the lads naturally graduated down the hill to the dank and boggy field below, because draining swamps was what Cistercians did.  Then between 1224 and 1288 they built their monastery, including the first Gothic (abbey) church in Italy, now a roofless but well kept ruin.


San Galgano was 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 the model for Siena Cathedral.  These were also 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. 


From the mid fourteen hundreds the abbots became "Commendatari" - who were political appointees who could appropriate most of the abbey's revenues for their own private use.  So it is not surprising that things began to get run down.


A hundred years later, abbot Girolamo Vitelli - now in charge of just five monks - sold the last of the Abbey's "objects",  including the lead from the abbey roof (which act was a primary cause of the structural decay of many abbeys).  The bells had already gone. 


By the sixteen hundreds the big abbey was abandoned and its records and treasures all gone.  The 36 meter bell-less tower collapsed on 6 January 1786, though that could have been in part godly justice as campaniles 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 better open quarry for local builders and renovators.


Nowadays the ruin has been stabilized to ensure its enjoyment by present and future generations.


The East End of the Abbey church and transept , with the old dormitory, chapter house and scriptorium buildings on the left.  The building on the right is unidentified.

Looking east down the nave - in the early morning before human noises start  the air is filled with the soft sounds of doves and pigeons cooing

The South Transept - the door in "mid air" in the wall would have been preceded by "night stairs" leading to the choir monks' dormitory

The south side of the church looking across where the cloisters would have been. 


The north east corner of the cloister wall is all that is left cloister-wise, but the chapter house (below) has survived pretty well. 




San Galgano in November evening light (2007) - much more gentle than June!


The surviving lower facade facing on the west front looking towards the hermitage on the hill (which was built 50 years before the Abbey to house San Galgano's remains and his sword which he had plunged into a rock to make a cross out of the handle).

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