In the Montesiepi Chapel in Siena, Italy, there is a strange artifact that is familiar to many Arthurian fans and anyone who has watched Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, as it is literally a sword built into stone.
According to the chemical analysis of the artifact, it most likely still belongs to the right period of time, and is not a fake, as some believed.
The legend surrounding the sword is that it was the weapon of Galgano Guidotti, a ruthless knight born in 1148 who later became a Catholic saint. According to a story that has much to do with the canonization process that took place shortly after his death, Galgano’s father died in Galgano’s early childhood.
A rebellious child, Galgano fell into bad company. In today’s terms, this could mean that people use drugs, but at the time it meant participating “very zealously in internal wars, led by local lords Gherardeschi, Pannokkiski and others, shedding the blood of their neighbors.”
Galgano continued in this vein for years, enjoying the violence before one day he fell off his horse and received a religious revelation, converting to Christianity shortly thereafter.
According to legend, he abandoned his fiancée and began the life of a hermit, all the while receiving visions nagging at him in order to build his own hermitage.
It is said that Galgano plunged his old sword into a stone, which symbolized his rejection of a cruel life.
According to versions of the legend, instead of acting like a stone, it “flowed like butter”, leaving the hilt protruding from the top and the tip protruding from the other end of the stone. Since then, the sword has remained in stone, now it is inside the Rotunda in Siena, Tuscany.
As absurd as it may sound, some trick is brewing in the form of scientific analysis. In 2001, chemist Luigi Garlashelli examined the artifact and found a number of surprising details, dispelling the myth that the sword was a recent forgery in the process.
“The style of the sword corresponds to the style of other similar weapons of the same time, ” Garlashelli wrote at the time, “ we can even designate it as a sword of the Ha type, typical of the late twelfth century.”
Garlashelli extracted samples of the sword from the rock through a hole drilled in it and sent them for analysis.
“Although the iron artifacts cannot be unambiguously dated, ” he wrote, “ the composition of the metal does not indicate the use of modern alloys, so it is fully compatible with a medieval origin.”
Further analysis added weight to the sword as it is a genuine artifact from Galgano’s lifetime.
“We compared the “fingerprints” of trace elements in the metal of the sword with those of pieces of iron slag that can still be found in the great abbey of St. Galgano.
This slag is a waste from small foundries that the monks used to produce their small iron objects using local iron ore,” Garlashelli explained.
Stranger still, a pair of mummified hands held near the sword – said to be the hands of thieves who tried to take the stone before being struck down by the god – have also been carbon-dated to the 12th century.
Meanwhile, it has also been established that the hilt protruding from the rock and the blade of the sword under it form one whole.
How exactly the sword got there remains a mystery, aside from the vague legend that the stone was somehow turned into oil.