Chiusdino, Italy - Sword of Saint Galgano (Cappella di San Galgano a Montesiepi); Westford, MA - The Westford Knight
There are three legends of three knights in three different countries around the world. The first is the well-known legend of King Arthur and how he pulled the sword from stone. The second legend is the story of Sir Galgano, a knight who became a saint. The last legend is of Sir James Gunn, the knight of prince Henry Sinclair. All three of these stories involve a knight, a sword, and the legend they left behind.
Although many have heard different stories of King Arthur, this story comes from Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory. As the story goes, Arthur, before he became the king, was raised by Sir Ector. Sir Kay and Sir Ector, his foster-brother, were planning to take part in a New Year’s joust. Sir Kay forgot his sword. Arthur goes back to their lodging to get Sir Kay’s sword and return it to him. When he arrives at the lodging he finds the placed locked with no one inside, so instead Arthur goes to a churchyard where he finds a sword in a stone. He “lightly and fiercely pulled it out of the stone” (Malory). This sword however was special; it can only be pulled from the sword by the true and rightful king of England. Many tried to pull the sword, but to no avail. This is the story of how Arthur becomes King. People see that he is able to pull the sword from the stone and realize he must be the king. This legend is an iconic one. While this story originates from England, a similar legend exists in Italy.
The story of Sir Galgano is one of a knight who becomes a saint. The story goes that Sir Galgano was a famous knight, who was contacted by Archangel Michael in a dream. Michael leads this knight reluctantly to a hill in Monte Siepi, where a small circular church stood. Michael asked him to renounce all worldly pleasure. Being the short-tempered knight that he is, he says, “Indeed, I would gladly follow your order, but doing so for me would be as easy as splitting rocks with a sword.” Galgano draws his sword and strikes the rock to prove a point. Sir Galgano was expecting the sword to break, but the sword “penetrated the rock like a hot knife through butter” (O’Reilly). His story spread far and wide. The devil sent an evil man disguised as a monk to kill Galgano. The wolves he befriended killed this evil man protecting Galgano. A year after sinking the sword into the stone Galgano died. His story was so well-known that bishops and abbots attended the funeral. The sword can be seen even today, protruding from the jagged rock, surrounded by the Monte Siepi Chapel. His canonization, the process for someone to officially become a saint, began a few years after his death, in 1185. It was “suggested by some as the inspiration for the British legend,” the story of King Arthur in Britain (Horty). While these stories come from countries on the other side of the world, there is a legend of a knight in New England.
Prince Henry Sinclair led an expedition to explore Nova Scotia and Massachusetts in 1398, 90 years before Columbus! The Westford knight is a carving of a knight with a cracked sword and a shield. This knight was one of Prince Sinclair’s knights. While he was exploring Massachusetts, the loyal attendant, by the name of Sir James Gunn, died. In memory of Sir James Gunn they carved an effigy into a rock. This rock had scratches on it previously and “were incorporated into the man-made design” ("The Westford Knight"). This carving was not always believed to be from a Scottish explorer. It was believed to be a Native American carving or a colonial one.
These stories all have their differences and similarities. All originated in different countries, telling tales of three separate times. These stories, and the physical remnants they left behind, are important. They connect the history from every country.
Malory, Thomas. Le Morte D'Arthur. Random House Publishing Group, 1999.
O'Reilly, Hugh. "The Sword of St. Galgano." Tradition in Action, 5 Nov. 2016, traditioninaction.org/religious/h141_Galagano.htm.
“The Westford Knight.” Clan Gunn Society of North America, clangunn.us/knight.htm.
Olivia Grant, Student, Fitchburg State University
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Description by: Nicholas Bryant, Student, Fitchburg State University