Is the Quest for the Holy Grail Over?

Is the Quest for the Holy Grail Over?

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In their newly published book “Los Reyes del Grial” (“The Kings of the Grail”), medieval history lecturer Margarita Torres and art historian José Miguel Ortega del Rio claim the Holy Grail rests inside the Basilica of San Isidoro in the northern Spanish city of León. The historians say that a three-year investigation led to their conclusion that the hallowed cup that Jesus Christ supposedly drank from at the Last Supper and that was used to collect his precious blood is a jewel-encrusted goblet that has long been known as the chalice of the Infanta Doña Urraca in honor of the daughter of King Ferdinand I, ruler of León and Castile from 1037 to 1065.

The researchers had been investigating Islamic remains in the Basilica of San Isidoro when they came across medieval Egyptian parchments that mentioned that the holy chalice had been taken from Jerusalem to Cairo and then given to an emir who ruled an Islamic kingdom on Spain’s Mediterranean coast in return for the help he gave to famine-stricken Egypt. The emir then gifted the chalice as a peace offering to the Christian King Ferdinand. The goblet has been in the basilica’s possession since the 11th century and in plain sight in the church’s basement museum since the 1950s.

The chalice, made of gold and onyx and sprinkled with precious stones, is actually two goblets fused together, one turned up, the other down. Torres and del Rio say the upper half is made of agate and missing a fragment, exactly as described in the Egyptian parchments. The co-authors report that scientific dating has placed the origin of the cup between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. As the Irish Times reports, the co-authors concede they cannot definitively prove that the chalice actually touched Jesus’s lips, only that it is the vessel that early Christians revered as the one used at the Last Supper. “The only chalice that could be considered the chalice of Christ is that which made the journey to Cairo and then from Cairo to León—and that is this chalice,” Torres told the newspaper. Since the book’s publication last week, the basilica has been inundated with visitors, forcing curators to remove the relic from display until they can find a larger exhibition space to accommodate the crowds.

This, of course, is not the first time that the Holy Grail has been “found.” For while the Holy Grail has proven elusive, it is also strangely ubiquitous. From Latvia to Scotland, more than 200 goblets in Europe alone have been posited as being the holy relic. Some claim the cup rests in the sewers of Jerusalem while others believe that the medieval Knights Templar took the goblet from Jerusalem during the Crusades and eventually secreted it away in New World locations ranging from Minnesota to Maryland to Nova Scotia. Some theorize it is even hidden inside Fort Knox.

Numerous times in the past century, newspaper headlines similar to the ones today declared the quest for the Holy Grail over. In the early 1900s, it was supposedly discovered near England’s Glastonbury Abbey. A few years later, a battered silver goblet with elaborate ornamentation unearthed in the ancient city of Antioch was put forward as the Holy Grail. The Antioch Chalice, now in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, toured museums such as the Louvre in Paris and even went on display in the 1933-1934 World’s Fair in Chicago before it was dated to the early sixth century. In 1927, a chalice with Greek inscriptions in possession of the Toledo Museum of Art even led one newspaper to declare, “Toledo Has Claims to Holy Grail.”

Many historians are skeptical of the latest claim of the Holy Grail’s discovery, and there’s no evidence that the Holy Grail even exists. The cup received only a passing mention in the Bible, and its religious significance didn’t arise until medieval legends entwined ancient Celtic myths with the Christian tradition of the Holy Chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. “The Grail legend is a literary invention of the 12th century with no historical basis,” Carlos de Ayala, a medieval historian at a Madrid university, told the AFP news agency. “You cannot search for something that does not exist.”

Even if there is a Holy Grail, proving that it indeed was the goblet used by Jesus would be nearly impossible. One thing that’s all but certain, however, is that in spite of the latest announcement, history’s greatest treasure hunt will continue.

The Quest for the Holy Grail

Christ appears to a hermit in a vision, holding a book containing the true history of the Holy Grail. From History of the Holy Grail, French manuscript, early 14th century
Copyright © The British Library Board

The legend of the Holy Grail is one of the most enduring in Western European literature and art. The Grail was said to be the cup of the Last Supper and at the Crucifixion to have received blood flowing from Christ's side. It was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea, where it lay hidden for centuries.

The search for the vessel became the principal quest of the knights of King Arthur. It was believed to be kept in a mysterious castle surrounded by a wasteland and guarded by a custodian called the Fisher King, who suffered from a wound that would not heal. His recovery and the renewal of the blighted lands depended upon the successful completion of the quest. Equally, the self-realisation of the questing knight was assured by finding the Grail. The magical properties attributed to the Holy Grail have been plausibly traced to the magic vessels of Celtic myth that satisfied the tastes and needs of all who ate and drank from them.

The Holy Grail first appears in a written text in Chrétien de Troyes's Old French verse romance, the Conte del Graal ('Story of the Grail'), or Perceval, of c.1180. During the next 50 years several works, both in verse and prose, were written although the story, and the principal character, vary from one work to another. In France this process culminated in a cycle of five prose romances telling the history of the Grail from the Crucifixion to the death of Arthur. The Old French romances were translated into other European languages. Among these other versions two stand out: Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzifal (early 13th century) and Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur (late 15th century).


The word graal, as it is earliest spelled, comes from Old French graal or greal, cognate with Old Provençal grazal and Old Catalan gresal, meaning "a cup or bowl of earth, wood, or metal" (or other various types of vessels in different Occitan dialects). [3] The most commonly accepted etymology derives it from Latin gradalis or gradale via an earlier form, cratalis, a derivative of crater or cratus, which was, in turn, borrowed from Greek krater ( κρᾱτήρ , a large wine-mixing vessel). [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] Alternative suggestions include a derivative of cratis, a name for a type of woven basket that came to refer to a dish, [8] or a derivative of Latin gradus meaning "'by degree', 'by stages', applied to a dish brought to the table in different stages or services during a meal". [9]

In the 15th century, English writer John Hardyng invented a fanciful new etymology for Old French san-graal (or san-gréal), meaning "Holy Grail", by parsing it as sang réal, meaning "royal blood". [10] [11] This etymology was used by some later medieval British writers such as Thomas Malory, and became prominent in the conspiracy theory developed in the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, in which sang real refers to the Jesus bloodline. [12]

The literature surrounding the Grail can be divided into two groups. The first concerns King Arthur's knights visiting the Grail castle or questing after the object. The second concerns the Grail's history in the time of Joseph of Arimathea.

The nine works from the first group are:

  • Perceval, the Story of the Grail by Chrétien de Troyes. of Chrétien's unfinished poem, by authors of differing vision and talent, designed to bring the story to a close.
  • Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach, which adapted at least the holiness of Robert's Grail into the framework of Chrétien's story. In Wolfram's telling, the Grail was kept safe at the castle of Munsalvaesche (mons salvationis), entrusted to Titurel, the first Grail King. Some, not least the Benedictine monks, have identified the castle with their real sanctuary of Montserrat in Catalonia.
  • The Didot Perceval, named after the manuscript's former owner, and purportedly a prosification of Robert de Boron's sequel to Joseph d'Arimathie. Peredur son of Efrawg, a loose translation of Chrétien's poem and the Continuations, with some influence from native Welsh literature.
  • Perlesvaus, called the "least canonical" Grail romance because of its very different character.
  • German poem Diu Crône (The Crown), in which Gawain, rather than Percival, achieves the Grail.
  • The Lancelot section of the vast Vulgate Cycle introduced the new Grail hero, Galahad. The Queste del Saint Graal, a follow-up part of the cycle, concerns Galahad's eventual achievement of the Grail.

Of the second group there are:

  • Robert de Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie.
  • The Estoire del Saint Graal, the first part of the Vulgate Cycle (but written after Lancelot and the Queste), based on Robert's tale but expanding it greatly with many new details.
  • Verses by Rigaut de Barbezieux, a late 12th or early 13th-century [13] Provençal troubador, where mention is made of Perceval, the lance, and the Grail ("Like Perceval when he lived, who stood amazed in contemplation, so that he was quite unable to ask what purpose the lance and grail served" - "Attressi con Persavaus el temps que vivia, que s'esbait d'esgarder tant qu'anc non saup demandar de que servia la lansa ni-l grazaus" [14] ).

The Grail was considered a bowl or dish when first described by Chrétien de Troyes. There, it is a processional salver, a tray, used to serve at a feast. [15] Hélinand of Froidmont described a grail as a "wide and deep saucer" (scutella lata et aliquantulum profunda) other authors had their own ideas. Robert de Boron portrayed it as the vessel of the Last Supper. Peredur son of Efrawg had no Grail as such, presenting the hero instead with a platter containing his kinsman's bloody, severed head. [16]

Chrétien de Troyes Edit

The Grail is first featured in Perceval, le Conte du Graal (The Story of the Grail) by Chrétien de Troyes, [17] who claims he was working from a source book given to him by his patron, Count Philip of Flanders. [18] In this incomplete poem, dated sometime between 1180 and 1191, the object has not yet acquired the implications of holiness it would have in later works. While dining in the magical abode of the Fisher King, Perceval witnesses a wondrous procession in which youths carry magnificent objects from one chamber to another, passing before him at each course of the meal. First comes a young man carrying a bleeding lance, then two boys carrying candelabras. Finally, a beautiful young girl emerges bearing an elaborately decorated graal, or "grail". [19]

Chrétien refers to this object not as "The Grail" but as "a grail" (un graal), showing the word was used, in its earliest literary context, as a common noun. For Chrétien a grail was a wide, somewhat deep dish or bowl, interesting because it contained not a pike, salmon, or lamprey, as the audience may have expected for such a container, but a single Communion wafer which provided sustenance for the Fisher King's crippled father. Perceval, who had been warned against talking too much, remains silent through all of this and wakes up the next morning alone. He later learns that if he had asked the appropriate questions about what he saw, he would have healed his maimed host, much to his honour. The story of the Wounded King's mystical fasting is not unique several saints were said to have lived without food besides communion, for instance Saint Catherine of Genoa. This may imply that Chrétien intended the Communion wafer to be the significant part of the ritual, and the Grail to be a mere prop. [20]

Robert de Boron Edit

Though Chrétien's account is the earliest and most influential of all Grail texts, it was in the work of Robert de Boron that the Grail truly became the "Holy Grail" and assumed the form most familiar to modern readers in its Christian context. [21] In his verse romance Joseph d'Arimathie, composed between 1191 and 1202, Robert tells the story of Joseph of Arimathea acquiring the chalice of the Last Supper to collect Christ's blood upon his removal from the cross. Joseph is thrown in prison, where Christ visits him and explains the mysteries of the blessed cup. Upon his release, Joseph gathers his in-laws and other followers and travels to the west. He founds a dynasty of Grail keepers that eventually includes Perceval.

Wolfram von Eschenbach Edit

In Parzival, Wolfram von Eschenbach, citing the authority of a certain (probably fictional) Kyot the Provençal, claimed the Grail was a Stone, the sanctuary of the neutral angels who took neither side during Lucifer's rebellion. It is called Lapis exillis, which in alchemy is the name of the Philosopher's stone. [22]

Lancelot-Grail Edit

The authors of the Vulgate Cycle used the Grail as a symbol of divine grace the virgin Galahad, illegitimate son of Lancelot and Elaine, the world's greatest knight and the Grail Bearer at the castle of Corbenic, is destined to achieve the Grail, his spiritual purity making him a greater warrior than even his illustrious father. [23] The Queste del Saint Graal (The Quest of The Holy Grail) tells also of the adventures of various Knights of the Round Table in their eponymous quest. Some of them, including Percival and Bors the Younger, eventually join Galahad as his companions near the successful end of the Grail Quest and are witnesses of his ascension to Heaven.

Galahad and the interpretation of the Grail involving him were picked up in the 15th century by Thomas Malory in Le Morte d'Arthur and remain popular today. [24] While it is not explicit that the Holy Grail is never to be seen again on Earth, it is stated by Malory that there has since then been no knight capable of obtaining it.

Scholarly hypotheses Edit

Scholars have long speculated on the origins of the Holy Grail before Chrétien, suggesting that it may contain elements of the trope of magical cauldrons from Celtic mythology and later Welsh mythology combined with Christian legend surrounding the Eucharist, [25] the latter found in Eastern Christian sources, conceivably in that of the Byzantine Mass, or even Persian sources. [26] The view that the "origin" of the Grail legend should be seen as deriving from Celtic mythology was championed by Roger Sherman Loomis, Alfred Nutt and Jessie Weston. Loomis traced a number of parallels between Medieval Welsh literature and Irish material and the Grail romances, including similarities between the Mabinogion ' s Bran the Blessed and the Arthurian Fisher King, and between Bran's life-restoring cauldron and the Grail.

The opposing view dismissed the "Celtic" connections as spurious and interpreted the legend as essentially Christian in origin. Joseph Goering has identified sources for Grail imagery in 12th-century wall paintings from churches in the Catalan Pyrenees (now mostly removed to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya), which present unique iconic images of the Virgin Mary holding a bowl that radiates tongues of fire, images that predate the first literary account by Chrétien de Troyes. Goering argues that they were the original inspiration for the Grail legend. [27] [28]

Psychologists Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz used analytical psychology to interpret the Grail as a series of symbols in their book The Grail Legend. [29] This expanded on interpretations by Carl Jung, which were later invoked by Joseph Campbell. [29]

Richard Barber (2004) argued that the Grail legend is connected to the introduction of "more ceremony and mysticism" surrounding the sacrament of the Eucharist in the high medieval period, proposing that the first Grail stories may have been connected to the "renewal in this traditional sacrament". [30] Daniel Scavone (1999, 2003) has argued that the "Grail" in origin referred to the Shroud of Turin. [31] Goulven Peron (2016) suggested that the Holy Grail may reflect the horn of the river-god Achelous as described by Ovid in the Metamorphoses. [32]

Relics Edit

In the wake of the Arthurian romances, several artifacts came to be identified as the Holy Grail in medieval relic veneration. These artifacts are said to have been the vessel used at the Last Supper, but other details vary. Despite the prominence of the Grail literature, traditions about a Last Supper relic remained rare in contrast to other items associated with Jesus' last days, such as the True Cross and Holy Lance. [33]

One tradition predates the Grail romances: in the 7th century, the pilgrim Arculf reported that the Last Supper chalice was displayed near Jerusalem. [33] [34] In the wake of Robert de Boron's Grail works, several other items came to be claimed as the true Last Supper vessel. In the late 12th century, one was said to be in Byzantium Albrecht von Scharfenberg's Grail romance Der Jüngere Titurel associated it explicitly with the Arthurian Grail, but claimed it was only a copy. [8] This item was said to have been looted in the Fourth Crusade and brought to Troyes in France, but it was lost during the French Revolution. [35] [36]

Two relics associated with the Grail survive today. The Sacro Catino (Sacred Basin, also known as the Genoa Chalice) is a green glass dish held at the Genoa Cathedral said to have been used at the Last Supper. Its provenance is unknown, and there are two divergent accounts of how it was brought to Genoa by Crusaders in the 12th century. It was not associated with the Last Supper until later, in the wake of the Grail romances the first known association is in Jacobus da Varagine's chronicle of Genoa in the late 13th century, which draws on the Grail literary tradition. The Catino was moved and broken during Napoleon's conquest in the early 19th century, revealing that it is glass rather than emerald. [8] [37]

The Holy Chalice of Valencia is an agate dish with a mounting for use as a chalice. The bowl may date to Greco-Roman times, but its dating is unclear, and its provenance is unknown before 1399, when it was gifted to Martin I of Aragon. By the 14th century an elaborate tradition had developed that this object was the Last Supper chalice. This tradition mirrors aspects of the Grail material, with several major differences, suggesting a separate tradition entirely. It is not associated with Joseph of Arimathea or Jesus' blood it is said to have been taken to Rome by Saint Peter and later entrusted to Saint Lawrence. [38] [39] Early references do not call the object the "Grail" the first evidence connecting it to the Grail tradition is from the 15th century. [40] The monarchy sold the cup in the 15th century to Valencia Cathedral, where it remains a significant local icon. [41]

Several objects were identified with the Holy Grail in the 17th century. [35] In the 20th century, a series of new items became associated with it. These include the Nanteos Cup, a medieval wooden bowl found near Rhydyfelin, Wales a glass dish found near Glastonbury, England and the Antioch chalice, a 6th-century silver-gilt object that became attached to the Grail legend in the 1930s. [42]

Locations associated with the Holy Grail Edit

In the modern era, a number of places have become associated with the Holy Grail. One of the most prominent is Glastonbury in Somerset, England. Glastonbury was associated with King Arthur and his resting place of Avalon by the 12th century. [43] In the 13th century, a legend arose that Joseph of Arimathea was the founder of Glastonbury Abbey. Early accounts of Joseph at Glastonbury focus on his role as the evangelist of Britain rather than as the custodian of the Holy Grail, but from the 15th century, the Grail became a more prominent part of the legends surrounding Glastonbury. [44] Interest in Glastonbury resurged in the late 19th century, inspired by renewed interest in the Arthurian legend and contemporary spiritual movements centered on ancient sacred sites. [45] In the late 19th century, John Goodchild hid a glass bowl near Glastonbury a group of his friends, including Wellesley Tudor Pole, retrieved the cup in 1906 and promoted it as the original Holy Grail. [46] Glastonbury and its Holy Grail legend have since become a point of focus for various New Age and Neopagan groups. [47]

In the early 20th century, esoteric writers identified Montségur, a stronghold of the heretical Cathar sect in the 13th century, as the Grail castle. Similarly, the 14th-century Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, Scotland, became attached to the Grail legend in the mid-20th century when a succession of conspiracy books identified it as a secret hiding place of the Grail. [48]

Pseudohistory and conspiracy theories Edit

Since the 19th century, the Holy Grail has been linked to various conspiracy theories. In 1818, Austrian pseudohistorical writer Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall connected the Grail to contemporary myths surrounding the Knights Templar that cast the order as a secret society dedicated to mystical knowledge and relics. In Hammer-Purgstall's work, the Grail is not a physical relic but a symbol of the secret knowledge that the Templars sought. There is no historical evidence linking the Templars to a search for the Grail, but subsequent writers have elaborated on the Templar theories. [49]

Starting in the early 20th century, writers, particularly in France, further connected the Templars and Grail to the Cathars. In 1906, French esoteric writer Joséphin Péladan identified the Cathar castle of Montségur with Munsalväsche or Montsalvat, the Grail castle in Wolfram's Parzival. This identification has inspired a wider legend asserting that the Cathars possessed the Holy Grail. [50] According to these stories, the Cathars guarded the Grail at Montségur, and smuggled it out when the castle fell in 1244. [51]

Beginning in 1933, German writer Otto Rahn published a series of books tying the Grail, Templars, and Cathars to modern German nationalist mythology. According to Rahn, the Grail was a symbol of a pure Germanic religion repressed by Christianity. Rahn's books inspired interest in the Grail in Nazi occultism and led to Heinrich Himmler's abortive sponsorship of Rahn's search for the Grail, as well as many subsequent conspiracy theories and fictional works about the Nazis searching for the Grail. [52]

In the late 20th century, writers Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln created one of the most widely known conspiracy theories about the Holy Grail. The theory first appeared in the BBC documentary series Chronicle in the 1970s, and was elaborated upon in the bestselling 1982 book Holy Blood, Holy Grail. [12] The theory combines myths about the Templars and Cathars with various other legends and a prominent hoax about a secret order called the Priory of Sion. According to this theory, the Holy Grail is not a physical object, but a symbol of the bloodline of Jesus. The blood connection is based on the etymology reading san greal (holy grail) as sang real (royal blood), which dates to the 15th century. [12] The narrative developed here is that Jesus was not divine, and had children with Mary Magdalene, who took the family to France where their descendants became the Merovingians dynasty. While the Catholic Church worked to destroy the dynasty, they were protected by the Priory of Sion and their associates, including the Templars, Cathars, and other secret societies. [53] The book, its arguments, and its evidence have been widely dismissed by scholars as pseudohistorical, but it has had a vast influence on conspiracy and alternate history books. It has also inspired fiction, most notably Dan Brown's 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code and its 2006 film adaptation. [54]

Music and painting Edit

The combination of hushed reverence, chromatic harmonies and sexualized imagery in Richard Wagner's final music drama Parsifal, premiered in 1882, developed this theme, associating the grail – now periodically producing blood – directly with female fertility. [55] The high seriousness of the subject was also epitomized in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting in which a woman modeled by Alexa Wilding holds the Grail with one hand, while adopting a gesture of blessing with the other. [56]

A major mural series depicting the Quest for the Holy Grail was done by the artist Edwin Austin Abbey during the first decade of the 20th century for the Boston Public Library. Other artists, including George Frederic Watts [57] and William Dyce, also portrayed grail subjects. [58]

Literature Edit

The story of the Grail and of the quest to find it became increasingly popular in the 19th century, referred to in literature such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson's Arthurian cycle Idylls of the King. A sexualised interpretation of the grail, now identified with female genitalia, appeared in 1870 in Hargrave Jennings' book The Rosicrucians, Their Rites and Mysteries. [59]

    's poem The Waste Land (1922) loosely follows the legend of the Holy Grail and the Fisher King combined with vignettes of contemporary British society. In his first note to the poem Eliot attributes the title to Jessie Weston's book on the Grail legend, From Ritual to Romance. The allusion is to the wounding of the Fisher King and the subsequent sterility of his lands. A poem of the same title, though otherwise dissimilar, written by Madison Cawein, was published in 1913 in Poetry. [60]
  • In John Cowper Powys's A Glastonbury Romance (1932) the "heroine is the Grail," [61] and its central concern is with the various myths and legends along with history associated with Glastonbury. It is also possible to see most of the main characters as undertaking a Grail quest. [62]
  • The Grail is central in Charles Williams' novel War in Heaven (1930) and his two collections of poems about Taliessin, Taliessin Through Logres and Region of the Summer Stars (1938).
  • The Silver Chalice (1952) is a non-Arthurian historical Grail novel by Thomas B. Costain.
  • A quest for the Grail appears in Nelson DeMille's adventure novel The Quest (1975), set during the 1970s. 's Arthurian revisionist fantasy novel The Mists of Avalon (1983) presented the Grail as a symbol of water, part of a set of objects representing the four classical elements.
  • The main theme of Rosalind Miles' Child of the Holy Grail (2000) in her Guenevere series is the story of the Grail quest by the 14-year-old Galahad.
  • The Grail motif features heavily in Umberto Eco's 2000 novel Baudolino, set in the 12th century.
  • It is the subject of Bernard Cornwell's historical fiction series of books The Grail Quest (2000–2012), set during the Hundred Years War.
  • Influenced by the 1982 publication of the ostensibly non-fiction The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code (2003) has the "grail" taken to refer to Mary Magdalene as the "receptacle" of Jesus' bloodline (playing on the sang real etymology). In Brown's novel, it is hinted that this Grail was long buried beneath Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, but that in recent decades its guardians had it moved to a secret chamber embedded in the floor beneath the Inverted Pyramid in the entrance of the Louvre museum. 's fantasy novel The War Hound and the World's Pain (1981) depicts a supernatural Grail quest set in the era of the Thirty Years' War.
  • German history and fantasy novel author Rainer M. Schröder wrote the trilogy Die Bruderschaft vom Heiligen Gral (The Brotherhood of the Holy Grail) about a group of four Knights Templar who save the Grail from the Fall of Acco 1291 and go through an Odyssey to bring it to the Temple in Paris in the first two books, Der Fall von Akkon (2006) and Das Amulett der Wüstenkrieger (2006), while defending the holy relic from the attempts of a satanic sect called Iscarians to steal it. In the third book, Das Labyrinth der schwarzen Abtei (2007), the four heroes must reunite to smuggle the Holy Grail out of the Temple in Paris after the fall of the Knights Templar 1307, again pursued by the Iscarians (who in the novel used the King's animosity against the Templars to their advantage). Interestingly, Schröder also indirectly addresses the Cathar Theory by letting the four heroes encounter Cathars - among them old friends from their flight from Acco - on their way to Portugal to seek refuge with the King of Portugal and travel further west.
  • The 15th novel in The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher, Skin Game (2014), features Harry Dresden being recruited by Denarian and longtime enemy Nicodemus into a heist team seeking to retrieve the Holy Grail from the vault of Hades, the lord of the Underworld. The properties of the item are not explicit, but the relic itself makes an appearance and is in the hands of Nicodemus by the end of the novel's events.
  • The Holy Grail features prominently in Jack Vance's Lyonesse Trilogy, where it is the subject of an earlier quest, several generations before the birth of King Arthur. However, in contrast to the Arthurian canon. Vance's Grail is a common object lacking any magical or spiritual qualities, and the characters finding it derive little benefit.
  • Grails: Quests of the Dawn (1994), edited by Richard Gilliam, Martin H. Greenberg, and Edward E. Kramer is a collection of 25 short stories about the grail by various science fiction and fantasy writers.

Film and other media Edit

In the cinema, the Holy Grail debuted in the 1904 silent film Parsifal, an adaptation of Wagner's opera by Edwin S. Porter. More recent cinematic adaptations include Costain's The Silver Chalice made into a 1954 film by Victor Saville and Brown's The Da Vinci Code turned into a 2006 film by Ron Howard.

Just history.

The Holy Grail has been popularized in novels, such as The Da Vinci Code, and in film, such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and the Indiana Jones trilogy. Before the modern interpretations of the grail, there were plenty of stories and tales from every part of the globe that created and recreated their versions of what and where the grail came from. Modern and early depictions view the grail as some vessel of varying forms that holds special value, especially the gift of eternal life.

In the west, the general Christian belief is that the grail is the cup from which Jesus drank from during the Last Supper, and Joseph of Arimathea took to catch Jesus’ blood as he hung dying on the cross. Chretien de Troyes wrote the poem “Perceval, le Conte du Graal” (The Story of the Grail) sometime between 1180 and 1191 where he described the grail, not as a cup or chalise, but as a saucer. Later, around 1200, Robert de Boron wrote the poem “Joseph d’Arimathie” which was the first time the grail was associated with the Last Supper and the death of Jesus this poem is also the first time we see the grail in the form of a cup.

According to Wolfram von Eschenbach, a German knight and poet who wrote “Parzival” in the first half of the 13th century, the grail was a stone vessel that prevented anyone who held it from dying within a week. With all of the literature written about the grail, it is important to note that it did not become The Holy Grail until late medieval writers romanticized the grail with their stories of chivalric knights who quested for The Holy Grail. Outside of the scope of literature, the grail is seen in folklore and mythology as well, such as with Celtic mythology that states the grail is a cauldron that gives life everlasting. No matter if the grail is a cup, a cauldron, saucer, or a stone, The Holy Grail is a vessel that bestows upon its owner the gift of eternal life. You can drink from the cup, eat from the cauldron or saucer, or hold the stone, they all grant the same thing.

The belief within Eastern religions is much different and more complicated than the stories that we have all come to know about the grail, here it is called The Serpent Grail. Those who believe in Eastern philosophical religions believe that it is not eternal life that we seek but enlightenment, as enlightenment will release us from the evils of the world by allowing one to cease reincarnation. Reincarnation is seen as a punishment for having to live life over and over and the only way to stop the cycle is to attain enlightenment, and attaining enlightenment for an Eastern believer is the same as gaining eternal life for a Western believer. A coiled serpent represents the process of attaining enlightenment and this is how it has been given the name The Serpent Grail.

The Holy Grail, in Eastern and Western religions, has connections through the belief in eternal life, as some scientists and scholars have done. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, there was a serpent pinned to a tree behind him, thus giving The Serpent Grail credibility in Christianity. A long time ago, it was thought that a snake’s venom had the ability to heal, a very powerful ability. The saliva of a snake was therefore highly sought after by healers from all over the world. Given this connection from scientists and scholars, we are able to see how this brings us back to The Holy Grail being something that is highly sought after, which also has the ability to heal and give eternal life, or the illusion of eternal life.

Even though a lot of what we know about the Holy Grail comes from fiction, a large number of people take it very seriously and find it very real, whether they are religious or not. Much of the theories, which are all just theories as no official grail has been located, come from people who study old texts about the grail, who study etymology, and of course, they study religion. Many people have claimed throughout history that they have found The Holy Grail but all have been , whatever form you believe to be the one, there will be no proof of its existence or that of eternal life.

Is the Quest for the Holy Grail Over?

For centuries, the quest for the elusive Holy Grail has consumed Crusaders and archaeologists, inspired Arthurian legends and Hollywood blockbusters and sparked both the pen of Alfred Lord Tennyson and the comedy of Monty Python. Now, a pair of historians claim they have discovered the sacred relic inside a Spanish basilica. Does it mean that history’s greatest treasure hunt is over?

In their newly published book “Los Reyes del Grial” (“The Kings of the Grail”), medieval history lecturer Margarita Torres and art historian José Miguel Ortega del Rio claim the Holy Grail rests inside the Basilica of San Isidoro in the northern Spanish city of León. The historians say that a three-year investigation led to their conclusion that the hallowed cup that Jesus Christ supposedly drank from at the Last Supper and that was used to collect his precious blood is a jewel-encrusted goblet that has long been known as the chalice of the Infanta Doña Urraca in honor of the daughter of King Ferdinand I, ruler of León and Castile from 1037 to 1065.

The researchers had been investigating Islamic remains in the Basilica of San Isidoro when they came across medieval Egyptian parchments that mentioned that the holy chalice had been taken from Jerusalem to Cairo and then given to an emir who ruled an Islamic kingdom on Spain’s Mediterranean coast in return for the help he gave to famine-stricken Egypt. The emir then gifted the chalice as a peace offering to the Christian King Ferdinand. The goblet has been in the basilica’s possession since the 11th century and in plain sight in the church’s basement museum since the 1950s.

The chalice, made of gold and onyx and sprinkled with precious stones, is actually two goblets fused together, one turned up, the other down. Torres and del Rio say the upper half is made of agate and missing a fragment, exactly as described in the Egyptian parchments. The co-authors report that scientific dating has placed the origin of the cup between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. As the Irish Times reports, the co-authors concede they cannot definitively prove that the chalice actually touched Jesus’s lips, only that it is the vessel that early Christians revered as the one used at the Last Supper. “The only chalice that could be considered the chalice of Christ is that which made the journey to Cairo and then from Cairo to León—and that is this chalice,” Torres told the newspaper. Since the book’s publication last week, the basilica has been inundated with visitors, forcing curators to remove the relic from display until they can find a larger exhibition space to accommodate the crowds.

This, of course, is not the first time that the Holy Grail has been “found.” For while the Holy Grail has proven elusive, it is also strangely ubiquitous. From Latvia to Scotland, more than 200 goblets in Europe alone have been posited as being the holy relic. Some claim the cup rests in the sewers of Jerusalem while others believe that the medieval Knights Templar took the goblet from Jerusalem during the Crusades and eventually secreted it away in New World locations ranging from Minnesota to Maryland to Nova Scotia. Some theorize it is even hidden inside Fort Knox.

Graham Hancock presents the updated lecture on the enigmatic "Search for the Lost Ark of the Covenant, Holy Grail & Solomon’s Temple" at the Earth Keeper Wesak 2013:

The History of the Holy Grail

As far as history-spanning, full-on conquests and religious iconography go, few objects have a more fantastical, bloody, and legendary tale than the Holy Grail. From medieval crusades to Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code, the cup of Christ is one chalice with a spectacularly wicked narrative that spans well over 900 years.

Said to give the drinker immortal life, the cup is as much pop culture reference as it is a holy relic one that has been on the minds of the world for almost a millennium. The all-encompassing infatuation has expanded throughout Western art and literature, and all began, according to legend, with Joseph of Arimathea’s trek to bring it to the British Isles, where it became the main quest for King Arthur’s round table knights.

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From being shared among the disciples at the Last Supper to capturing the blood from Christ as he was crucified, the tale is fantastical, long, and full of adventure.

The Holy Grail, as we’ve come to know it today, is a vessel of sorts (depending on story tradition, can be a dish, stone, chalice, etc.) promising eternal youth, riches,and happiness in abundance to whoever holds it. The main motif of Arthurian legend and literature, the storyline becomes varied throughout its different adaptations and translations, from being a precious stone that fell from the sky to being the cup that caught the blood of Christ during his crucifixion.

Distinctly, the word grail, as it was known in its earliest spelling, indicates an Old French word of “graal” or “greal” along with Old Provencal “grazal,” and Old Catalan “gresel,” which all roughly translate into the following definition: “a cup or bowl of earth, wood, or metal.”

Additional words, such as the Latin “gradus” and the Greek “kratar” suggests that the vessel was one that was used during a meal at different stages or services, or was a winemaking bowl, lending the object to be associated with the Last Supper as well as the Crucifixion during medieval times and throughout legendary literature surrounding the Grail.

The first written text of the Holy Grail legend appeared in the Conte de Graal (the Story of the Grail), a French text written by Chretien de Troyes. Conte de Graal, an Old French romantic verse, varied from other translations in it’s main characters, but the story arc, which illustrated the story from the Crucifixion all the way to King Arthur’s death, was similar and created the base for future tellings of the legend and also cemented the object as a cup in (then) popular culture.

Conte de Graal was written on the claims of Chretien that his patron, Count Philip of Flanders, provided an original source text. Unlike modern understanding of the story, the legend at this time had no holy implications as it would in later tellings.

In the Graal, an incomplete poem, the Grail was considered to be a bowl or dish rather than chalice and was presented as an object at the table of the mystical Fisher King. As part of the dinner service, the Grail was the final magnificent object presented in a procession that Perceval attended, which including a bleeding lance, two candelabras, and then the elaborately decorated Grail, which at the time was written as “graal”, not as a holy object but as a common noun.

In the legend, the graal did not contain wine, or fish, but instead a Mass wafer, which cured the Fisher King’s crippled father. The healing, or sustenance of only the Mass wafer, was a popular occurrence during the time, with many Saints being recorded as only living on the food of communion, such as Catherine of Genoa.

This specific detail has been historically significant and understood to be de Troyes indication that the wafer was, in fact, the important detail of the story, the carrier of eternal life, instead of the actual chalice. However, the text of Robert de Boron, during his verse Joseph D’Arimathie, had other plans.

Considered to be the beginning of the more recognized definition of the Holy Grail, despite the influence and trajectory of de Troyes text, de Boron’s work is what solidified our modern understanding of the Grail. De Boron’s story, which follows the journey of Joseph of Arimathea, begins with the acquiring of the chalice at the Last Supper to Joseph’s use of the chalice to collect the blood from Christ’s body while he was on the cross.

Because of this deed, Joseph is jailed, and placed in a stone tomb similar to that which held Jesus body, where Christ appears to tell him of the mysteries of the cup. According to the legend, Joseph was kept alive for several years of imprisonment due to the power of the Grail bringing him fresh food and drink daily.

Once Joseph is released from his captors, he gathers friends, family, and other believers and travels to the west, particularly Britain, where he begins a following of Grail keepers that ultimately includes Perceval, the hero of de Troyes adaptation. Stories have Joseph and his followers settling at Ynys Witrin, also known as Glastonbury, where the Grail was housed in a Corbenic castle and guarded by the followers of Joseph, who were also called the Grail Kings.

Many centuries later, after the Grail and the Corbenic castle had been lost from memory, the court of King Arthur received a prophecy that the Grail would one day be rediscovered by a descendent of the original keeper, St. Joseph of Arimathea. Thus began the quests for the Grail, and the many adaptations of its finder throughout history.

Other notable medieval texts included Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzifal (early 13th century) and Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur (late 15th century) when the original French romances were translated into other European languages. Scholars, however have long mused that the origins of the Holy Grail text can be traced even further back than Chretien, by following the mystical legends of Celtic Mythology and Greek and Roman Paganism.

Long before medieval writers began writing on the Holy Grail as part of British mythology, the Arthurian legend was a well-known story. The Grail appears in the Mabinogion tale of Culhwch and Olwen, as wall as the story of Preiddeu Annwfn known as “Spoils of the Otherworld,” which was a tale told to Taliesin, a poet and bard during the 6th century Sub-Roman Britain. This tale tells a slightly different story, with Arthur and his knights making a voyage to the Celtic Otherworld to steal the pearl-rimmed cauldron of Annwyn, which similar to the Grail, gave the holder everlasting plenty in life.

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While the knights discovered the cauldron at Caer-Siddi (also known as Wydr in other translations), a castle made of glass, it was of such power that Arthur’s men abandoned their quest and returned home. This adaptation, although lacking in the Christian reference, is similar to the story of a chalice due to the fact that Celtic cauldrons were regularly used in ceremonies and feasts as early as the Bronze Age on the British isles and beyond.

Great examples of these works include the Gundestrup cauldron, which was found in the peat bog of Denmark, and very decorated with Celtic deities. These vessels would have held many gallons of liquid, and are important in many other Arthurian legends or Celtic mythologies. The Cauldron of Ceridwen, the Celtic goddess of inspiration, is another legendary figure that was previously associated with the Grail.

Ceridwen, viewed by the Christians of the period to be a condemned, ugly and evil sorceress, was an important figure in pre-Christian mythology and was the holder of great knowledge, which, according to legend, used her cauldron to mix a potion of knowledge that allowed the drinker to possess the knowledge of all things past and present. When one of Arthur’s knights drink from this potion, he defeats Ceridwen and takes the cauldron for his own.

However, after de Boron’s account of the Grail, the legend solidified outside of the Celtic and pagan interpretation and acquired two schools of contemporary study that was closely tied to Christian tradition, between the King Arthur’s knights questing after the grail to the Grail’s history as the timeline of Joseph of Arimathea.

Important texts from the first interpretation include de Troyes, as well as the Didot Perceval, the Welsh romance Peredur, Perlesvaus, the German Diu Crone, as well as the Lancelot passage of the Vulgate Cycle, also known at The Lancelot-Grail. The second interpretation includes the texts Estoire del Saint Graal from the Vulgate Cycle, and verses by Rigaut de Barbieux.

After the Middle Ages, the story of the Grail disappeared from popular culture, literature, and texts, until the 1800’s when a combination of colonialism, exploration and the work of writers and artists such as Scott, Tennyson, and Wagner revived the medieval legend.

Adaptations, explanations, and complete rewrites of the legend became fantastically popular in art and literature. Hargrave Jennings’ text, The Rosicrucians, Their Rites and Mysteries, gave the Grail a sexual interpretation by identifying the Grail as female genitalia, as did the late opera of Richard Wagner, Parsifal, which premiered in 1882 and developing the theme of associating the Grail directly with blood and female fertility.

Art and the Grail had an equally vibrant rebirth, with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting, The Damsel of the Sanct Grael, as well as the mural series by artist Edwin Austin Abbey, which illustrated the Quest for the Holy Grail, during the 20th century as a commission for the Boston Public Library. Also during the 1900s, creatives like C.S. Lewis, Charles William, and John Cowper Powys continued the infatuation of the Grail.

Once motion picture became the popular storytelling medium, films began to arise carrying the Arthurian legend further into the public eye. The first was Parsifal, an American silent film debuting in 1904, which was produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company and directed by Edwin S. Porter, and was based on the 1882 opera of the same name by Wagner.

The films The Silver Chalice, a 1954 adaptation of a Grail novel by Thomas B. Costain, Lancelot du Lac, made in 1974, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, made in 1975 and later adapted into a play called Spamalot! in 2004, Excalibur, directed and produced by John Boorman in 1981, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, made in 1989 as the third installment of Steven Spielberg’s series, and The Fisher King, which debuted in 1991 starring Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams, followed the Arthurian tradition into the 21st century.

Alternative versions of the story, which assume the Grail is more than a chalice, include the popular Holy Blood, Holy Grail (1982), which combined the “Priory of Sion” story along with that of the Grail, and indicated that Mary Magdalene was the actual chalice, and that Jesus had survived crucifixion to have children with Mary, founding the Merovingian dynasty, a group of Salian Franks that ruled the region known as Francia for over 300 hundred years during the mid-5th century.

This storyline is equally popular today with Dan Brown’s New York Times Bestseller and film adaptation The Da Vinci Code (2003), which further popularized the legend that Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ descendents were the actual grail rather than a chalice.

The Holy Chalice of Valencia, housed in the mother church of Valencia, Italy, is one such relic that includes archaeological facts, testimonies, and documents that places the particular object in the hands of Christ on the eve of his Passion and also provides an actual object for fans of the legend to see. In two parts, the Holy Chalice includes an upper part, the agate cup, made of dark brown agate that archaeologists believe has an Asian origin between 100 and 50 BC.

The lower construction of the chalice includes handles and a stem made of engraved gold and an alabaster base with Islamic origins that allows a handler to drink, or take communion, from the cup without touching the sacred upper section. Together, along with the jewels and pearls along the bottom and stem, these ornamental bottom and outer pieces are said to have originated during the medieval period.

Tradition places this particular chalice as the Holy Grail, and has been said to have been used by Saint Peter, and kept by the following popes until Saint Sixtus II, when it was sent to Huesca in the 3rd century to deliver him from the interrogation and persecution of Emperor Valerian. From 713 AD, the chalice was held in the Pyrenees region before being delivered to San Juan de la Pena. In 1399, the relic was given to Martin “the Human,” who was the King of Aragon, to be kept in the Aljaferia Royal Palace of Saragossa. Nearing 1424, the successor to Martin, King Alfonso the Magnanimous, sent the chalice to the Valencia Palace, where in 1473, it was given to the Valencia Cathedral.

Housed in the old Chapter House in 1916, later called the Holy Chalice Chapel, after being taken to Alicante, Ibiza, and Palma de Mallorca to escape Napoleon’s invaders, the holy relic has been part of the reliquary of the Cathedral since, where it has been viewed by millions of the devout.

The Legends About the Quest For the Holy Grail

Holy Grail appeared in many branches of Celtic mythology, especially the Arthurian legend widely circulated in Wales and England. With the rise of Christianity in real world, the Holy Grail became the key element in Celtic mythology. The best example is the quest for the Holy Grail.

The Holy Grail was a chalice used by Jesus and his apostles except Judas when they had the Passover meal on 14 th day of Kislev in 33 AD, the eve of Passion Sunday. Jesus lifted this chalice asked his apostles to drink up the red wine which symbolized his blood, and thus he created the crucifixion ceremony. In later times, it was believed that this chalice had some kind of magic because of this special occasion. According to legend, the magical furnace in Annwn (the other world) was the predecessor of the Holy Grail.

In many legends, anyone who found the Holy Grail and drank water with it would be reborn, become forever young and immortal. Such legends are widely adapted for works of literature, film, television and video games.

In 2014, after three-year research and quest, two historians from University of Lyon found the Holy Grail used by Jesus as depicted in Da Vinci’s Last Supper.

In older Celtic legends, the holy vessel was a magic cauldron while in the Arthurian legend, it was replaced by the chalice that had been used in the Last Supper and used to hold the blood of Jesus who was tied to the crucifix. According to legend, the Holy Grail was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea. Later it was missing and became the treasure that the Knights of the Round Table were scrambling to find. Their quest for the Holy Grail evolved into the story of “the Maimed King or Fisher King Bron/Bran and knights”.

As time passed, King Arthur’s territory kept expanding. According to legend, he ruled France, defeated the declining Roman Empire, and was crowned by the Bishop of Rome in the Roman cathedral. That was the most glorious days in King Arthur’s life. Later, King Arthur began to shift his interest to the quest for legendary treasure. His fellow knights left capital Camelot for the legendary Holy Grail either under his order or voluntarily, but most of them never returned. As thus, the knights at the Round Table became fewer and fewer. King Arthur’s strong empire began to go downhill.

At the end of the Holy Grail legend, three Knights of the Round Table found the Holy Grail: the most secular knight Sir Bors de Ganis, the simplest knight Sir Percivale, and the purest knight Sir Galahad (son of Sir Lancelot). But only Galahad could lift the Holy Grail, “as if he was holding the body of Jesus with both hands”. The moment he lifted the Holy Grail, numberless angels came and carried his soul to the paradise.

The origin of the Holy Grail

One of the common Christian ceremonies is the Holy Communion, where people drink red wine that symbolizes the blood of Jesus. The Arthurian legend is based on a famous story: a Roman soldier named Longinus pierced the side of Jesus with a lance, so as to confirm his death. At that time, Joseph of Arimathea used the chalice Jesus had used in the Last Supper to hold the blood. This chalice is generally believed to be the Holy Grail. The body of Jesus was said to be buried in the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. As the English army commanded by Edward I was smashed in the crusade expedition, he needed to reorganize the army and restore the morale after returning from Palestine in 1274 AD. King Arthur’s knights were described as fighters sacrificed for the just cause. And the quest for Holy Grail could idealize this objective better.

As Joseph of Arimathea was the follower of Jesus, he was imprisoned by the Roman soon after the crucifixion of Jesus. He must had preserved the Holy Grail, carried it with him, traveled via Rome to southern France, and lived in Languedoc for some time with Mary Magdalene and other followers. It is said that he went to England and spent the rest of his life in Glastonbury in southern England. The first Christian church in Britain was built here. Today the relics of monastery can still be seen, and the Holy Grail might have been hidden in there. But since then, the Holy Grail had disappeared. This was also the beginning of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail.

It is believed that the Holy Grail had stayed in Italy for three hundred years, and it was first kept by Saint Lawrence, a deacon of the Roman Curia. It is also said that, in the late 3 rd century, he sent two soldiers from the Spanish Legion to escort it back to Huesca, a Spanish city where it originally was. But he had a sad and miserable end: Pope Sixtus II, his good friend and one of the earliest martyrs in Roman Christian church, was murdered by the Roman emperor Valerius. The date quoted here is based on rumors. Pope Sixtus II was actually murdered in 258 AD. A few days after Pope Sixtus was executed, Saint Lawrence was also burnt to death on an iron grill. The Holy Grail was preserved in the St. Peter’s Basilica till 711 AD. On the Romanesque corridors in the basilica, there are some patterns which might imply the existence of the Holy Grail. One of them shows that an angel hands over a chalice to Jesus.

Wolfram von Eschenbach, who died in 1230 AD, was widely believed to be the finest Germanic trouvere in the Middle Ages. One of his works, Parzival, later became the theme of Richard Wagner’s operas. An important source of the materials he used was the works of Chrétien de Troyes, integrating with other materials provided Kyot the Provençal. Kyot’s narration was probably based on his experience in Spain, where there were many Muslin and Jewish philosopher and Toledo, the center of science and culture in Spain at that time. Wolfram insisted that, the Holy Grail was a magic stone like the “cornucopia”, which provided inexhaustible food and eternal youth.

The final resting place of the Holy Grail was a chapel of Valencia Cathedral in Spain. The Roman Catholic Church never revered it as a holy article, but they acknowledged that it was the chalice used by Jesus in the Last Supper, and had been used by Popes before Saint Lawrence escorted it to Spain. Today the Holy Grail was protected by bullet-proof glass. Navarre was a kingdom founded in southwestern Pyrenees Mountains in 9 th century AD. Its heyday was between 11 th and 12 th century. The royal family of Navarre possessed the thrones of Spanish independent kingdoms such as Castile, Aragon and León through joint-marriage, and even acquired the sovereignty over France in the 13 th century. In the early 16 th century, the southern part of Navarre was occupied by the Kingdom of Spain, while the western part was annexed by France after Henry III of Navarre became the Henry IV of France. The king of Navarre sent his men to escort the Holy Grail to the Valencia Cathedral. The Holy Grail had stayed in there since then and was only temporarily relocated elsewhere due to safety concerns during the Spanish War of Independence and Spanish Civil War.

The pure-gold pedestal of Holy Grail was inlaid with 28 pearls, 2 rubies and 2 emeralds. The body of Holy Grail was 5.5 cm in height, 9.5 cm in diameter, and 3mm in the thickness of the wall of Holy Grail. With the pedestal included, the Holy Grail was 17 cm in height and 14.5 cm in width. Antonio Beltran, an eminent archaeologist, said that the Holy Grail we see today was made in the Royal Monastery of San Juan de la Peña, presumably by a goldsmith from Byzantium. The upper part of Holy Grail was originally made in the Near East, either Alexandria in Egypt or Antioch in Syria. Beltran said that, undoubtedly, the Holy Grail was made between the latter half of the 1 st century BC and the first half of the 1 st century AD. This period happened to be the time of Jesus.

Antonio Beltran explained that, the real pedestal of Holy Grail was made of stone. On the pedestal of this chalice, there curved a snippet of Arabic inscription that no one could translated completely and exactly. There were various translations: “for the One that Brings Glory”, “Ave Maria”, “the Merciful” (what Arabs call Allah) and “the Compassionate”. According to some legends, the inscription “LAPIS EXCILLIS” also often appeared.

We might never get to know what the Holy Grail is really like, but the delicate and beautiful chalice we can see today (in Spain) might also be the real Holy Grail used by Jesus two millennia ago. And to a large extent, it laid the foundation of the mythology and romanticism in the West. The ”Holy Grail” still attracts people today, and it is a part of our cultural structure. In this sense, the meaning of the quest of Holy Grail is not only about finding this chalice, but also about learning what the Holy Grail is and what it means.

The Quest for the Holy Grail

The quest for the Holy Grail has captivated the human mind for millennia. From the Knights of the Round Table , to the Crusaders , to the Nazi’s and Indiana Jones , to even far eastern sages , this artifact has been highly prized. It is rumored to be a vessel that grants immortality or heavenly favor and blessing. In short, it is seen as an omnipotent wish granting device.

However, there are two grails spoken of in Scripture. The first grail is the grail that all sinful humans will be forced to partake of. It is the grail of God’s judgment and wrath. As Scripture says regarding this grail:

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and He pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)

17 Wake yourself, wake yourself,
stand up, O Jerusalem,
you who have drunk from the hand of the Lord
the cup of His wrath,
who have drunk to the dregs
the bowl, the cup of staggering.
18 There is none to guide her
among all the sons she has borne
there is none to take her by the hand
among all the sons she has brought up.
19 These two things have happened to you—
who will console you?—
devastation and destruction, famine and sword
who will comfort you?
20 Your sons have fainted
they lie at the head of every street
like an antelope in a net
they are full of the wrath of the Lord,
the rebuke of your God.
21 Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
who are drunk, but not with wine:
22 Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
your God who pleads the cause of His people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering
the bowl of My wrath you shall drink no more
23 and I will put it into the hand of your tormentors,
who have said to you,
‘Bow down, that we may pass over’
and you have made your back like the ground
and like the street for them to pass over.” (Isaiah 51:17-23)

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of His anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)

We do not need to quest for this grail, for it is ready and prepared for us. It is the right condemnation for all our sin. We will have this grail and all its wrath on the Last Day whether we seek it or not.

Christ, though, takes this cup of punishment when He subsumes all the evil of the world into Himself. It is the drinking of this cup of eternal torment which Christ speaks of in the Garden of Gethsemane:

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Matthew 26:36-46)

Even though Christ sees the terror and anguish of all the Hell that we ever deserved He yet still drinks this cup of wrath to the dregs. The sinless Son of God in the flesh takes on all our sin, our wretchedness, our evil, our hatred, our malice, our envy, our spite, our lust, all our most heinous thoughts, desires, and afflictions. The eternal Son of Man also takes on all of the eternities we were ever to spend in Hell. All the punishments for all the humans who would ever exist in this fallen world were placed on Him as He drained the grail of wrath was prepared for us.

In its place, Christ now provides a new and truly Holy Grail:

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29)

Instead of wrath, this Grail gives grace, instead of death and condemnation this Grail gives life. In fact, it’s not the grail at all that does this but rather the contents of that Grail. For the true Holy Grail is that vessel that holds the very blood of Christ for you. In His Holy Supper, you now have what many sought so long and hard for. It was not a simple cup hidden away in the desert, or a jeweled goblet protected by powerful servants. No, the cup you take in the Holy Sacrament every week is the true Grail, far more real and powerful than any mythical item. It contains the very medicine of immortality, the Blood of Christ. Thus claim the true Holy Grail for yourself and quest no longer, for you have it here in the Lord’s Supper. For He makes even the most meager table a veritable feast with only the finest bread and wine that no amount of questing can buy.

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Magical Celtic Cauldrons

These magical Celtic cauldrons not only occurred in myth: there is proof of their physical existence. Discovered in Denmark, the Gundestrup cauldron is a large, gilded, silver basin that dates to the second or first century BC. It may be one of the prototypes of the Arthurian Grail and is, at the very least, material evidence of the importance of ritual cauldrons. Its exquisite embossed designs represent a variety of Celtic deities, including an antlered god (perhaps Cernunnos) sitting in a surprisingly yogic-like pose, surrounded by wild animals.

In medieval Irish mythology, the god-like Tuatha dé Danann had four magical treasures or ‘jewels’: the Stone of Fáil, the Spear of Lugh, Núada’s Sword of Light, and the Cauldron of the great god-king druid Dagda. This cauldron could provide food and nourishment for the multitude, no matter how large. It never ran empty.

Cernunnos, Pilier des Nautes (Thermes de Cluny) ( Brodigny/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

Another important legendary cauldron is described in The Tale of Taliesin, often included in the 12th-century collection of medieval Welsh legends called The Mabinogion. In this story, a magical cauldron was utilized by the powerful sorceress or goddess Ceridwen. Ceridwen (also called Kerdwin, whose name can mean white, fair, blessed, bent, crooked, poetry or song), had a magical cauldron in which she brewed many things, including poetic inspiration. The following story links her and her cauldron to transformation and rebirth—attributes that are echoed in the Christian associations linked to the Holy Grail.

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Dr Elyn Aviva (neé Ellen Feinberg), Ph.D., M.Div., is an independent researcher specializing in sacred sites, powerful places, comparative religion, and pilgrimage. Along with her husband, Gary White, Elyn is co-author of the transformational-travel guidebook series, Powerful Places. She is also the author of Melita’s Quest for the Grail

Top Image : The Attainment or The Achievement of the Grail, version woven 1895-96, now in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery ( Public Domain )

Elyn Aviva

Rosslyn Chapel


This tiny 15th-century chapel is a hotbed for conspiracy theorists and occultists. It had been linked with the Templars, Freemasons, and Illuminati, in part because its interior is full of mysterious sculptural carvings that range from Nordic pagan figures to Christian images to the apparent seal of the Knights Templar, making up an iconography that’s one of the more puzzling of the European Heritage.

The myth goes that a small group of Templars flocked into Scotland with the coveted treasure, then hid their gold and holy relics, the Holy Grail among them, in several locations including the vault of Rosslyn Chapel. Though this has been debunked by skeptics, it’s one of the most popular grail theories today.

It’s worth wondering, though: What if the Knights Templar never did find the grail in Jerusalem? While less enticing, this reasonably logical course of events could mean the holy cup is still buried somewhere in the extensive network of tunnels and sewers stretching underneath the holy city.

The World that Perished

As we read Genesis, there is a curious chronological problem presented. At the time Melchizadek is called the True King, and Abraham is blessed by him, the text leads us to believe that man who holds dominion over this land is Noah's heir, Shem. He is still living, and presumably still ruling.

Could Shem be Melchizadek? It is obvious Melchizadek is a title, not a name. We are not told his real name. But we do know who is the real king at this time, and it should be Shem. In fact, a great many Bible scholars who have studied this question have concluded that the author of Genesis intended us to understand Shem is Melchizadek. The question remains open, of course, but if Shem is the one who gives the Cup to Abraham, from where might Shem himself have received it?

We are told that Noah had gotten drunk and Ham's son saw him naked in his tent. Noah then blessed Shem for covering him up. No doubt Noah's Cup was involved, not only in his drinking wine, but perhaps in his blessing of Shem. This may even have been the origin of a ritual in which a Cup of wine or toast is offered the new king.

Now we ask where Noah got his Cup: Was it a sacred Cup from before the Deluge? What Cup had Noah used when he decided to celebrate his new vineyard? Would he not have chosen a special Cup? One that was old and honored? One he had taken on board the Ark? A Cup from the world that had perished? Was it a Cup from Adam's world?

We are told that Adam had been placed in a Garden of fruit trees with a spring of water at its summit. What Adam might have done to make fruit juice first required he make a Cup to hold it. He had wood, of course, but the book of Genesis goes out of its way to tell us that there was gold in Eden also. Why does it mention gold as having been there unless Adam and Eve had carried out of the Garden a memory of having seen gold there?

Gold is easily pounded and formed to make a waterproof and fruit-juice acid-proof container, or at least a good coating for a wooden Cup. Perhaps a crack in the Cup had caused Adam to look for something waterproof to patch it. The result could have been a gold-covered wooden Cup.

But all this is speculation, of course. That is, it would be speculation except for the indisputable fact of there being no instructions in the Torah to make a Cup to hold the frankincense on the Incense Altar, that wooden stand covered with hand-beaten gold in the Tabernacle.

The Israelites already had a Cup--very likely a wooden Cup covered with hand-beaten gold--which had been sacred from the time of Abraham, if not earlier. And Hebrews directly connects the Cup of Abraham and Melchizadek with the Cup of Christ, that is, the Holy Grail. To get a Cup from Melchizadek to Christ, we must fill it in between with frankincense and place it on the Incense Altar until the time of Jeremiah, who is instructed by God to take it and pass it around for everyone to drink from, ultimatley coming to the King of Babylon.

No sooner does he drink from it than an invisible hand begins to write on the wall and Daniel is summoned. When Daniel comes, the kingdom is handed over to the Persians, who put Babylon in Daniel's care. Daniel now has control over all the Temple artifacts that had been looted by the Babylonians. They are seemingly all returned, but there is clearly something missing: The anointing Box.

This Box was the companion piece with the Cup upon the Incense Altar. It was even more sacred. Yet there is no question in Jewish tradition that no one was ever again anointed by it after Jeremiah's day. Not a king or high priest from that day forward was ever anointed by the Box that Babylonians had taken from the Temple. Daniel had it, but he did not send it back to Jerusalem. Why not?

The Angel Gabriel, we are told, arrived at this very moment, just as Daniel gained control over the Temple's sacred artifacts. Gabriel tells Daniel that "Seventy weeks of years" (as it is usually interpreted) had next to pass before "the anointing of the Most Holy." Daniel had to delay the return of the Box of myrrh to Jerusalem for 490 years. And the ritual Cup of frankincense that accompanied it was now defiled by gentiles. It was not clean. Of course, seven days could cleanse a man in the Torah so seven times seventy years could also cleanse a ritual Cup.

There was yet one more ritual item Daniel may have had in his possession: The Rod of Aaron from the Ark of the Covenant. Jeremiah had disposed of the Ark, but in Ezekiel, God speaks about replanting the most precious twig of the Temple--and Aaron's Rod certainly qualified. The place is not named, but it is on the highest summit, and in Jerusalem, that was the top of Mount Olivet, the very site we have identified as the place where Jesus was crucified and where the Tree of Knowledge grew.

So Daniel could have had not one, but three ritual objects to safeguard for 490 years until the coming of the Messiah: The Cup of frankincense, the Box of myrrh and other anointing oils, and the Rod of Aaron, which was also known as "The GOLDEN Bough": Hence, the Gold, the Frankincense and the Myrrh.

Daniel was in charge of the Magi when the Persians placed him over Babylon. And these very same Magi, or their descendants, owed their lives to Daniel, we are told. Clearly, it was not too much for Daniel to ask them to protect the three relics for 490 years, until Messiah should come.

So we can connect the Cup of Melchizadek's priestly ritual with the Cup upon the Incense Altar and finally with Jesus Himself.

It is therefore not surprising at all that the Jews and early Christians wrote up legends about Adam and Eve that had them offering up frankincense and myrrh on an altar at the east gate of the Garden of Eden on the day they left. Granules of frankincense would be held and burned in a metal Cup of some sort, such a legend implied, and the myrrh would have caked up if it had not been kept sealed in a Box. The image they had was of Adam and Eve carrying a Cup of frankincense and an alabaster (soft white stone) Box of myrrh out of the Garden of Eden.

Later, the Tabernacle would symbolically contain a model of this scene: The Holy of Holies would be the Garden of Eden. At the east side would be the curtain and just outside that "gate" the Incense Altar, on top of which were the Golden Cup of frankincense and the alabaster Box of myrrh and other anointing oils (which Box is missing from the detailed list of items needed to be made in the wilderness for the Tabernacle, for it too already existed and had been sacred for ages).

The design of the Temple itself, then, is evidence that this "legend" about Adam and Eve's last act upon leaving the Garden was at least as ancient as Moses' time, if not that of Abraham and Melchizadek.

Indeed, as late as 540 AD, Christians still held a firm belief in the legend that traced the Holy Grail from the time of Adam down to the Last Supper. This belief even identified who then possessed the Grail and to whom it was being formally transferred.

We can locate the Grail from Abraham's time down to the Crusades, where its tale becomes entangled in the history of the Shroud of Turin.

But all that is another story and remains for one of the upcoming volumes in our book series.

For further discussion of the Grail Hallows, see our page on The Spear of Destiny.

Watch the video: Dwight Schrute and The Holy Grail - The Office US (July 2022).


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