The Real Sword in the Stone

We all associate “the sword in the stone” with the legend of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur. Yet there’s another sword in the stone in Tuscany, Italy. This sword, apparently of medieval prominence, was not hauled out of a rock by a king, but plunged into one by a saint.

From knight to hermit

The story begins in 1148, with the birth of Galgano Guidotti. The son of an illiterate feudal lord, Guidotti became a ruthless knight and lived a life of debauchery. But in 1180, he had a vision of the Archangel Michael, who told him to renounce his ways and change his life.

In a second dream, the Archangel led him to the hill of Montesiepi. The 12 Apostles appeared to Guidotti and told him to build a house to the glory of God, give up his worldly possessions, and live as a hermit.

Saint Galgano Guidotti.

Saint Galgano Guidotti. Photo:


In the vision, Guidotti told the Apostles that it would be as difficult as splitting a rock with his sword and subsequently thrust his blade into a nearby rock to prove his point. His sword cut through the stone as if it were butter.

Suitably chastened, when Guidotti awoke, he set out to live life as a hermit. Friends and family thought he had gone mad. His mother eventually persuaded him to leave his hermitage and meet the woman she wanted him to marry.

En route to meet his fiancé, Guidotti’s horse suddenly changed direction and wandered onto the hilltop that he had seen in his vision. He was so moved by this that he vowed to place a cross at the site. He did not have a cross with him and instead plunged his sword into a nearby stone. With the majority of the blade hidden, the handle resembled a cross.

Guidotti lived out the remainder of his short life as a hermit, dedicated to God and the visions he had witnessed.

Italy's sword in the stone in the Montesiepi Chapel.

Italy’s sword in the stone in the Montesiepi Chapel. Photo: Shutterstock


Saint Guidotti

In 1185, a year after Guidotti’s death, Pope Lucius III declared him a saint. To preserve the sword, the church built Montesiepi Chapel around it. Locals believe that Guidotti’s body is buried near the stone, but no one knows exactly where.

Montesiepi Chapel.

Montesiepi Chapel. Photo: Shutterstock


In 2001, priests from Montesiepi Chapel requested that scientists from the University of Pavia study the sword. The priests wanted to quell rumors that the sword wasn’t real. Luigi Garlaschelli led the study and found that the style of the sword was consistent with those designed in the late 12th century.

Many people have attempted to pull the sword from the stone. In the 1960s, a man succeeded in pulling part of the sword out. Another man attempted the same thing in 1991. Both times, the priests secured the sword with concrete. This led some people to believe it was no longer the original sword and someone had replaced it with a fake, or that the bottom half of the sword did not exist.

Italy's sword in the stone.

The sword is now covered to stop people trying to pull it from the stone. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Yet when Garlaschelli removed the top half of the sword, the break line was a perfect fit and the bottom half of the blade remained in the rock. He collected iron fragments and analyzed them for trace metals, concluding that the composition “is fully compatible with a medieval origin.”

Call it a miracle if you choose. For others, a mystery remains: How did the sword originally get into the stone?

Rebecca McPhee

Rebecca McPhee is a freelance writer for ExplorersWeb.

Rebecca has been writing about open water sports, adventure travel, and marine science for three years. Prior to that, Rebecca worked as an Editorial Assistant at Taylor and Francis, and a Wildlife Officer for ORCA.

Based in the UK Rebecca is a science teacher and volunteers for a number of marine charities. She enjoys open water swimming, hiking, diving, and traveling.