The San Galgano Abbey in Tuscany may be a picturesque depiction of the Middle Ages. However, there is much more to be learned about this abbey then its pure aesthetic value. It is currently the focus of a large archaeological project based in San Galgano that makes use of investigative tools in hopes of determining what happened throughout the abbey’s different phases of construction and, more importantly, what led to the deterioration of this great monument. The San Galgano Abbey was built around 1220. It took approximately 50 years to complete and was consecrated in 1268 by Alberto Solari, the bishop of Volterra at the time. Later, a period of great splendour commenced, lasting for a little more than 100 years before the abbey ultimately started to deteriorate. Centuries of slow deterioration, which never managed to destroy the abbey completely, have resulted in the current picturesque appearance of this large church nestled in the Tuscan countryside, fascinating visitors from all over the world, especially those from the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, despite the deterioration, history never ceased to run its course within the towering walls of the abbey, which was later used as a shelter by farmers and shepherds during transhumance, as well as for agricultural activities. “Many of our grandparents were born in the farmhouses surrounding the San Galgano abbey”, proudly states the owner of a local restaurant.
Typical Cistercian abbeys
The San Galgano Abbey may be seen as a prototype of Cistercian abbeys, which were built following specific rules. We could almost dare to say that they were an example of Medieval mass production. The abbey is located in the town of Chiusdino, in the province of Siena, which has the merit of supporting an ambitious project for the historical and archaeological enhancement of the monument. Along with the Hermitage of Montesiepi, which is known for being home to the ‘sword in the stone’, the area of the Cistercian complex has an extraordinary cultural and touristic appeal.
Archaeological research endeavours in San Galgano are looking for the ‘alfa and the omega’, in other words, the beginning and end of the monument, as well as the Cistercian monks that built it not only with their faith, but also with their expertise in reclaiming and controlling the land. Then came the disputes and the political and economic interests that would mark the life of the abbey forever.
Today, the town of Chiusdino is supporting a research project that is currently being conducted by the Department of History and Cultural Heritage of the University of Siena. The aim of the project is to study the San Galgano Abbey and to shed light on its history, starting with research about its structure and life until its ultimate deterioration, while taking into account the restoration work carried out over the past two centuries. Professors Marco Valenti and Alessandra Nardini have been appointed as scientific director and project coordinator respectively.
Link to the Facebook page ‘Archeologia a San Galgano’ (in Italian).