1.7 Siena – Chiusdino, in the footsteps of St Galgano

The Church of the Santuccio 

On the high altar of the Church of the Santuccio, there is a large canvas depicting The Madonna and Child with Saints, a work that was begun by Francesco Vanni in 1610, continued by Ventura Salimbeni, and finally completed by Sebastiano Folli in 1614. Two additional works of art can be found at the side of the altar, evoking the musical passion of the young Augustinians of the Church of the Santuccio, who loved to play music and dedicate themselves to song. The first, attributed to Antonio Buonfiglio, shows St Cecilia playing the organ and dates back to the first quarter of the 17th century. The second is a fresco that depicts the Concert of Angels, signed by Ventura Salimbeni and dated 1612. The cycle of frescoes on the walls, completed by Ventura Salimbeni, illustrates six stories from the life of St Galgano. We begin in Siena, at Via Roma 69, as we embark upon a journey in the footsteps of Galgano Guidotti, a knight and then a saint who lived in Chiusdino, Tuscany, during the 12th century and elected to lead the life of a hermit. Of all the episodes depicted in the church, the most prominent is that of the sword in the stone, which is shown plunged into a boulder with the saint kneeling alongside it in prayer. This episode marks the end of the saint’s military life and the beginning of his life as a hermit. For a long time, the Church of Santuccio safeguarded the relic of the head of St Galgano; it was made by Lando di Pietro and kept within the precious silver reliquary created by Pace di Valentino, which is today displayed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Works of the Cathedral) (Piazza del Duomo, 8). During the suppressions of religious orders that took place between the end of the 18th century and the second half of the 19th century, the church was not abandoned but became a place of refuge for nuns from other monasteries. At the start of the twentieth century, the few nuns who still lived in the convent were transferred to another monastery, and the adjacent monastic building found use as a vocational school. The church came into being as part of the convent near Porta Romana along the pilgrimage route to Rome, and features a Renaissance brick façade embellished with an attractive gate. Inside, we find a painting of the Madonna and Saints by Raffaellino del Garbo (1502) set within a frame created by Antonio Barili. This is the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which can be visited free of charge during the opening days of this site of national cultural significance. 

Palazzo di San Galgano

 A little further, at Via Roma 47, we find Palazzo di San Galgano, an historic building located just a short walk away from Porta Romana. Its origins date back to the 15th century, when it found use as a civic residence for monks from the Abbey of St Galgano. Indeed, on 24 January 1474, Giovanni di Niccolò, the Abbot of the Cistercian monastery of St Galgano, declared his intention to build «a house along the main road […] with six doors and two large windows, and a loggia with single columns […], and with beautifully carved stonework» at the church of Mary Magdalene. Significant transformations took place from the end of the 16th century, when the palace first became the seat of the Congregation of the Abandoned before then becoming home to the Virgins of Relief. The most significant modifications to the outside included the addition of a brick loggia to the top floor of the façade that overlooks Via Roma, while the interior alterations included a colonnaded courtyard (1600) and the Holy Stairs along with the Chigi Chapel (1710). 

Pinacoteca Nazionale 

Our journey in the footsteps of St Galgano continues to Via San Pietro, 29. Here, we find ourselves inside the National Gallery, standing before a priceless panel that depicts St Galgano sculpted from grey Montagnola marble. This work of art was created by a Sienese sculptor who was close to Agostino di Giovanni and Giovanni d’Agostino, and active in Siena between 1330 and 1340. The relief is characterised by two iconographic variations: firstly, Galgano is not shown wearing the robe of a knight, but rather that of a monk – not unlike the uniform worn by Don Stefano in the ‘Biccherna’ of 1320, which may underline his identification with the abbey’s Cistercians as their head. Secondly, the place where Galgano inserts his sword is a mount consisting of six heraldic peaks, alluding to the hermitage of Montesiepi. Both Galgano’s hairstyle, which finishes with a curl just below the ears, as well as his long and wide monastic habit, recall the Effects of Good Government, a fresco painted at around the same time by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico

The Hermitage of Montesiepi 

At this point, we leave Siena by car and head along the SS73 towards Chiusdino. After approximately 33 km, we reach Valdimerse and the hermitage of Montesiepi. Together with the ruins of the abbey of San Galgano, it constitutes the most important religious and monumental complex in Chiusdino, and in the whole region of Siena in general. It is also one of the most significant examples of Gothic-Cistercian architecture in Italy. The hermitage of Montesiepi towers above the abbey in a lonely and silent corner of the land with a unique fascination somewhere between mysticism and spiritualism. The hermitage sits on the top of a hill surrounded by oak trees. Galgano, the young knight from Chiusdino, retired here to lead the life of a hermit in December 1180, before dying here the following year. The site was originally conceived as a mausoleum to safeguard both the saint’s tomb and the precious sword in the stone. In the chapel, visitors can see the sword of St Galgano itself, which stands as a silent yet eloquent witness to the conversion of the young man from Chiusdino. The frescos by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the small oratory near the Rotonda, the small circular chapel, are not to be missed. The hermitage was completed in 1185, the year of St Galgano’s canonisation by Pope Lucius III. The canonisation itself took place in Montesiepi from 4 – 7 August 1185, four years after Galgano’s death. The documentation gathers together the testimonies of twenty witnesses, including Galgano’s mother, the hermits who had known him, and numerous individuals who received miracles through his intercession.

The Abbey of St Galgano

Gazing at the imposing ‘roof-less abbey’ is like taking a journey within yourself. Construction of the abbey began in 1218 and was finally completed in 1288. The church perfectly respects the architectural canons of Cistercian abbeys: these were established during the rule of St Bernard, who provided precise rules regarding the location, design, and planning of abbey buildings. During the 13th and 14th centuries the abbey experienced a period of unexpected glory, before undergoing a slow and inexorable period of decline from the 15th century. Its decay culminated in the collapse of the vaults of the abbey’s church in 1781, the ruin of the bell tower in 1786, and the ecclesiastical sentence of desecration in 1789. After two centuries of neglect, the abbey underwent an impressive restoration at the start of the 20th century, which has allowed it to survive until the present day. The complex is made up of the roofless church and a building that extends along the right arm of the transept, constituting what remains of the abbey. This building was home to the sacristy, the parlour, the scriptorium, the chapter house, the archive, and, above, the dormitory and chapel. The abbey’s sizeable ruins, which have been cleaned, restored, and illuminated, are immersed in an atmosphere of solemn silence, which – together with the sword in the stone, which is watched over by the magnificent hermitage – will astound you, speak to your soul, awaken an intimate dimension within your heart, and bring to life images and stories that are the stuff of myth and legend.

The Life of St Galgano 

Galgano was born in Chiusdino around 1150 to a local family of minor nobility with vassalage links to the Bishop of Volterra, the feudal lord of Chiusdino. The name of Galgano’s mother, Dionisia, is certain, while that of his father, Guido, appears for the first time in a biography of the saint dating back to the first half of the 14th century. The name Galgano is by no means original, although it may bring to mind the name of Galvano, one of the Knights of the Round Table, which was commonly used in medieval Tuscany. It is likely that Galgano’s parents gave him this name as a tribute to Galgano Pannocchieschi. Pannocchieschi was Bishop of Volterra between 1149 or 1150 and 1168 or 1169, and was awarded temporal dominion over the city and surrounding countryside by Emperor Frederick Barbarossa when he endowed him with the title of Count, making him the Lord of Chiusdino. We know for certain that Galgano was a knight. “In terram” is written in both the record of Dionisia’s deposition, which was instrumental in Galgano’s canonisation, and in the oldest biographies of the saint: literally, “in terram” means “in the earth”, and not “in the stone”. Galgano’s gesture of thrusting his stone into the ground had huge spiritual significance for the knights of the Middle Ages, as the downturned sword evoked the shape of the cross. With this gesture, Galgano did not reject his sword but instead placed it in the service of a different form of chivalry from that which had governed his life up until that moment. This was, above all, a higher form of chivalry, as his conversion demanded: turning the sword upside down and inserting it into the ground in the form of a cross was a symbolic subversion of the weapon, transforming it from an instrument of violence (albeit one that might be used in defence of the law), to a symbol and instrument of reconciliation between God and men and therefore one of salvation. With this gesture, the knight Galgano enlisted himself into the militia of a master far greater than any earthly one: the Lord Jesus Christ. In the spring of 1181, Galgano visited Pope Alexander III to obtain the endorsement of his community. Upon his return from Rome, Galgano made contact with the monks of a monastery of the Williamite order, presumably the monastery of San Salvatore di Giugnano, otherwise known as San Guglielmo, located between the castles of Roccastrada and Montemassi, in the valley of the Bruna river, near Montesiepi. Galgano’s experience as a hermit in Montesiepi lasted less than a year: on 30 November 1181, Galgano died a holy death, and on 3 December was buried next to his sword. In the years between his death and canonisation, his tomb became a site of pilgrimage. The pilgrims who travelled to Montesiepi and the miracles that took place as a result of his intercessions attracted the attention of the Bishop of Volterra, Ugo, who visited Montesiepi to conduct an initial investigation into the virtues and miracles of Galgano. The investigation yielded positive results, and Ugo authorised the construction of a chapel to safeguard the saint’s tomb and sword. Ugo’s successor as the Bishop of Volterra, Ildebrando Pannocchieschi, persuaded the Supreme Pontiff, Lucius III, to begin a trial. The Pope appointed three commissioners who were entrusted with the task of verifying the sanctity of the young man from Chiusdino. We know for certain that these commissioners included Conrad of Wittelsbach, who was Cardinal Bishop of Sabina and Archbishop of Mainz. It is believed that the other two may have been Melior, Cardinal Priest of Saints Giovanni and Paolo, and possibly Ildebrando Pannocchieschi, Bishop of Volterra, himself. The Martyrologium Romanum, a periodically updated catalogue of all the Christian saints, which provides a summary of their lives and lists their celebration days, naturally includes the name of St Galgano. In the editio typica, an edition promulgated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1584, and in all subsequent editions until the version that was promulgated by Pope Pius XII in 1956, St Galgano’s feast day was listed as 3 December. In line with instructions issued by the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, the new edition decreed by Pope John Paul II in 2001, as well as the edition promulgated by the Italian Episcopal Conference in 2006, moved the feast day to 30 November, the day of Galgano’s death, for the universal church. The parish provostship of San Michele Arcangelo in Chiusdino and the confraternity of the saint continue to respect the older tradition, however, celebrating St Galgano’s feast day on 3 December. 

Brochure edited by Toscanalibri.it 

Texts edited by Cristiano Pellegrini 

Editorial coordination: Elisa Boniello and Laura Modafferi 

Photos: Primamedia, Sabrina Lauriston e Leonardo Castelli 

Graphic design: Michela Bracciali

I Comuni di Terre di Siena