A Mineralogist’s “Sword in the Stone”

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 19/52

Choirbook, Italy (Siena?), c. 1300, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1883.53, fol. 247r and Neroccio de’ Landi, Panel with Saints Christina of Bolsena(?), Catherine of Alexandria, Jerome, and Galganus, c. 1470, Phipadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, 1917, cat. 1169 (detail of Saint Galganus)

Though the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection of Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts is best known for the lavish codices received from the Philadelphia collectors Philip S. Collins and Mary Shell Collins in 1945, it possesses two items that came to the museum much closer to the year of its foundation, 1876. At the time, the institution was known as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art, before being renamed the Pennsylvania Museum of Art in 1929 (it would only acquire its current name a decade later). The first item is a Dutch Prayer Book received in 1882 (accession number 1882‑983), with no known prior provenance. The other book, received the following year, is a hefty but largely unadorned choirbook given to the museum by Clarence S. Bement, a Philadelphia philanthropist best known for his unparalleled collection of rare minerals (now mostly preserved at the Museum of Natural History in New York)!1 At least four other books in the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project, including the famous Lewis Psalter, were once in Bement’s collection. 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art choirbook is notably less lavish than other manuscripts owned by Bement, which is perhaps why he gifted it to the fledgling museum rather than selling it on through A.S.W. Rosenbach or another local book dealer. There are, however, some quite beautiful initials that are worth reproducing here. Each of these decorated letters makes use of the three primary colors.

While the style of the script and these penwork initials suggest Italian work of circa 1300 or a little later, the choirbook is liturgically fairly nondescript. Nevertheless, a short chant on the final folio, added early on in the book’s history on three extra blank staffs at the end of the volume (and a fourth added in drypoint), is dedicated to Saint Galganus. As with the rest of the volume, it accords roughly with a date of around 1300, and can be compared to examples such as a late-thirteenth-century Gradual from San Pantaleone, Pieve a Elici, near Lucca (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, NAL 2605), listed in the Nota quadrata project.2 The text itself reads:

Ora pro nobis beate Galgane, ut digni efficiamur p[er]mi[s]/

sionibus Christi. evovae. Sancte Galgane confes/

sor Christi et conptemptor seculi deprecare Christum

famulos tuos et semp[er] esse devotos. evovae.

As far as I can tell, this is a unique prayer. It can be (roughly) translated into English as follows:

Pray for us, blessed Galganus, that we may be made worthy of Christ’s forgiveness. Holy Galganus, confessor of Christ, eternally entreat your servants to be devout to Christ.

The abbreviation “evovae” or “euouae,” used twice, is a notational device that occurs in Gregorian chant. It represents the musical setting of the vowels found in the words “saeculorum amen” at the end of the Gloria Patri doxology.

This is an image of fol. 247r from Philadelphia Museum of Art Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs 1883‑53, Illuminated Choral Manuscript (Tuscany?, Italy, 1300).
PMA, 1883.53, fol. 247r (detail of chant to San Galgano)

Galgano Guidotto (1148–1181), better known as Saint Galganus, was a young Tuscan knight who became venerated after his death on account of his spiritual visions. The most famous of these is associated with the tale of The Sword in the Stone. As his hagiography recounts, Galganus experienced a vision of Christ and the Twelve Apostles on the hill of Montesiepi. Following this event, he was compelled to erect a cross but had no suitable materials except for his sword. He thrusted his weapon into the ground, whereupon it became fused with the rock and impossible for anyone to remove. A round chapel was built around Galgano’s immovable sword, which still survives today. A large Cistercian monastery, today in ruins, was also erected nearby at the beginning of the thirteenth century. Galgano was widely venerated in the area around Siena in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and many images record him holding his famous attribute.3 The specificity of Galgano’s cult helps narrow our localization of the PMA’s choirbook to the region around Siena.

Perhaps the book’s more recent owner, the mineralophile Bement, acquired the manuscript because he appreciated the potential link to that most lithic of myths, the Sword in the Stone.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/Beccafumi%2C_testate_di_cataletto%2C_1511-12_%28siena%2C_pinacoteca%29%2C_san_galgano.jpg   https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/1/12/Spada_dell%27Abbazia_di_San_Galgano%2C_1986.jpg
Domenico Beccafumi, Saint Galgano, 1511–1512, Siena, Pinacoteca Nazionale, and Saint Galganus’ Sword, Montesiepi province of Siena (detail)

The nave of the ruined Cistercian abbey of San Galgano, Montesiepi, province of Siena


  1. David M. Seaman, “The Clarence S. Bement Collection,” Rocks & Minerals 43:11 (1968), 803–808.
  2. I thank Prof. Mary Channen Caldwell of the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Music for these references.
  3. See Lucie Gernez, “Reliques et images de Saint Galgano à Sienne (XIIIe-XVe siècle),” Médiévales 28 (1995): 93–112.