Tuscan Treasures in Winter Hibernation
The hilltowns of central Italy – Tuscany, Umbria – slumber in winter hibernation: no tourists at all and not many “locals” affront icy winds blowing through the twisting medieval backstreets. In the tinier towns – like Chiusdino (population 2000) in the province of Siena – the Tourist Office is tightly sealed up, the trattoria is closed for the season – and in the main piazza, you might – or might not – meet “solo quattro gatti“, as the Italians say. In Chiusdino yesterday, we didn’t even see “four cats” in the piazza, just a couple hardy souls, heads down, affronting the chill and one brave woman washing her mop at the local fountain. The local elderly men were of course in the one open cafÃ©, playing cards. Hanging wash fluttered in the wind and gave touches of color to the gray stone and weathered brick buildings. Outside some doors, small piles of logs lay ready for woodstoves.
Labyrinthine backstreets – typical of medieval fortress towns – wound up to the church of San Michele. I pushed open the heavy door: dark inside and only one small chapel was lit up, housing a peculiar oval object with a sword sticking out of it. A plaque on the wall identified it: the reliquary (in the shape of a “sword-in-the-stone”) held the skull of San Galgano, born here in 1148. The knight Galgano led a life of debauchery until St. Michael the Archangel appeared to him as he was out riding in the late 12th century. The errant knight’s horse reverently knelt down before the Archangel. Logicamente, the knee print of the horse is miracously embedded in a rock preserved in a small chapel next to San Galgano’s house. Whether his house or not, the Romanesque building is charming and over the door is a plaque depicting San Galgano on horseback before S. Michele Arcangelo.
San Galgano left behind his bellicose life for a mystical heremitic path, founding the abbey church (which bears his name) in the valley below Chiusdino. He literally thrust down his arms: driving his sword into a rock. The “sword in the stone” fascinated our children when we visited the Abbazia di San Galgano with them many springs ago. For us, most fascinating was the monumental Gothic abbey church itself, roofless and open to the sky, grass now growing in the wide nave lined with massive columns and elegant Gothic pointed arches, rose window now a gaping hole with only tufts of grass where there had once been brilliant stained glass.
We had to stop there to see it again yesterday.
No tourists around this time. Just us in silence as the sun set low on the abbey, the red winter sunset higlighting the Gothic majesty. A Tuscan treasure in winter hibernation.
Chiusdino (Click to enlarge photos)…
Abbey of San Galgano…