Arthur Hughes – Sir Galahad – The Quest for the Holy Grail
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File … _Grail.jpg
The Holy Grail is a very popular legend.
From the knights of medieval legends to Indiana Jones, the holy grail has been the most sought-after Christian relic in popular culture for centuries.
The Holy Grail (French: Saint Graal, Breton: Graal Santel, Welsh: Greal Sanctaidd, Cornish: Gral) is a treasure that serves as an important motif in Arthurian literature. Various traditions describe the Holy Grail as a cup, dish, or stone with miraculous healing powers, sometimes providing eternal youth or sustenance in infinite abundance, often guarded in the custody of the Fisher King and located in the hidden Grail castle. By analogy, any elusive object or goal of great significance may be perceived as a “holy grail” by those seeking such.
Holy Grail, also called Grail, object sought by the knights of Arthurian legend as part of a quest that, particularly from the 13th century, had Christian meaning. The term grail evidently denoted a wide-mouthed or shallow vessel, though its precise etymology remains uncertain.
A holy grail has entered into our vocabulary as being:
“an object or goal that is sought after for its great significance”
“any ultimate, but elusive, goal pursued as in a quest”
https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/di … holy-grail
The word “grail” means:
A cup or plate that, according to medieval legend, was used by Jesus at the Last Supper and later became the object of many chivalric quests. [Middle English greal, from Old French graal, from Medieval Latin gradālis, flat dish, of unknown origin.]
The word “grail” comes from the Latin gradale meaning “gradually, in
stages,” and can mean cup, chalice, dish, tureen, bowl, or platter, but was also conceptualized as a
stone, or something ethereal or spiritual that defies explanation, culminating in the Holy Grail – the
Cup of Christ containing wine representing his blood. Thus the origin of the word encapsulates the
evolution and the transitions in its meaning, as well as the complexity of the underlying ideas.
The first account of the Grail originated around 1190.
A “grail” (Old French: graal or greal), wondrous but not unequivocally holy, first appears in Perceval, the Story of the Grail, an unfinished chivalric romance written by Chrétien de Troyes around 1190.
This aligns with the shroud being more publicly visible after it was in Constantinople in 944. As pilgrims from Europe travelled to Jerusalem and went through the Byzantine area, they picked up many stories and legends along the way.
The basics of the Grail legend involves:
– An object that contains the body and blood of Jesus
– It is hidden
– Joseph of Arimathea
– Last Supper, Eucharist
– Providing eternal youth or sustenance
– Knights Templar
The early Grail was not identified to be specific object, but later did it become associated with the Holy Chalice.
Scholarly opinions have seen the origins of the Grail in magical life-giving and food-providing stones, cauldrons, and dishes.
In the late 12th century, Robert de Boron in Joseph d’Arimathie portrayed the Grail as Jesus’s vessel from the Last Supper, which Joseph of Arimathea used to catch Christ’s blood at the crucifixion. Thereafter, the Holy Grail became interwoven with the legend of the Holy Chalice, the Last Supper cup, an idea continued in works such as the Lancelot-Grail cycle and consequently the 15th-century Le Morte d’Arthur.
Joseph of Arimathea is associated with the Holy Grail.
Joseph of Arimathea’s role in the Gospels is small. He appears suddenly on
Good Friday, and after giving Jesus a shroud and a tomb, he is “written out” of the
story. But Joseph is prominent in second- to eighth-century apocryphal texts from the
Byzantine East. And from the late twelfth century, in Western Grail legends, he
achieves a new prominence as the carrier of the Grail, the vessel of Jesus’ blood, to the
West. Geoffrey As he has properly asked, “Why Joseph?” (1958, 240).
Joseph’s intimate association with the NT burial sheet that enclosed the body of
Jesus and was stained with his blood and his later connection to the Grail establishes
him as an important link, virtually compelling a consideration of the lost Edessa burial-
cloth icon as that object inspiring the legends of the Holy Grail. Indeed, it may be
possible to demonstrate finally from Edessan texts and history that Joseph of Arimathea
never saw Britain, and certainly not with the chalice of the Last Supper.
It is claimed Joseph was a relative of Jesus.
It is said that Joseph of Arimathea was the great-uncle of Jesus (the Talmud indicates that Joseph
was the younger brother of the father of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and thus Joseph was her uncle
and Jesus’ great-uncle).23 Jesus’ father, also named Joseph, apparently died when the boy was
still young, and under both Hebrew and Roman law the next male of kin would become the legal guardian of
the family. Joseph of Arimathea would then have assumed that role, which would also
explain the fact that Joseph “went boldly unto Pilate… and Pilate gave the body [of Jesus] to
Joseph.” (Mark 15:43-45). According to law, unless the body of an executed criminal was
claimed by the next of kin it was thrown into a common grave and all records would be wiped
The Holy Grail is associated with eternal life and healing.
The Holy Grail is considered in most texts and publications an artifact of incredible power capable of granting its bearer eternal life, abundance, healing, desires and unlimited youth.
The Holy Grail is associated with the Templars.
The Templars, officially, were a military and religious order founded in the 12th century during the Crusades, with the aim of protecting Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. They became one of the most powerful and influential orders of the Middle Ages, amassing wealth and property across Europe.
Coincidentally, at the same time the Grail stories mentioned above (von Eschenbach, de Boron and de Troyes) appeared. The Templars’ relationship with the Holy Grail is a recurring theme in many legends and has been trying to gain space with new evidence being raised through research. In this case, almost all point out that the Templars were the guardians of the Grail (artifact or bloodline).
In early accounts, the Grail resided in Britium.
Like the legendary Holy Grail, this cloth was linked to Joseph of Arimathea,
resided in a place known as Britium, was thought to have contained Jesus’ body,
captured Jesus’ dripping blood on Golgotha, and was displayed only rarely and in a
gradual series of manifestations from Christ-child to crucified Jesus. The sources
clearly originate in the Byzantine East, and their presence in the Grail romances is
precisely concomitant with the presence of numerous Westerners in the East.
The link between Britain and Joseph and the Christianization of Britain is based possibly on an early translation error of “Britium”.
But, despite the elaborate nature of these stories, the early Christianization of Britain is
hagiographic and largely based on a scholarly mistake. The error was made by the Venerable
Bede, a well-known English author who wrote the Ecclesiastical History of Britain. He relied on
an associate who reported that while studying the papal files in Rome, he discovered the record of
a letter received by Pope Eleutherus of the 2nd century from a King Lucio Britannio. This was
interpreted as a British King Lucius asking for assistance in converting his lands to the Faith. No
one had previously heard of a King Lucius of Britain (the country was still a Roman province at
that time), but Bede took this as evidence that Britain had been evangelized and become Christian
in that era. This reference was actually to King Abgar VIII from Edessa in Turkey (considered in
more detail below in the history of the Shroud), but as Bede was widely read and quoted, this
story was repeated. It grew in the telling and in 1342 John of Glastonbury updated William of
Malmesbury’s well-known book, the Church in Glastonbury and inserted an unknown king
Arviragus who had been fictitiously invented by Geoffrey of Monmouth into this history, as the
ruler who provided the Glastonbury land for Joseph of Arimathea’s church.
This reference in the Liber Pontificalis was the source of the error made by the Venerable Bede, the
English author mentioned above, which led to a fictional British King Lucius and to Bede’s account
of the early Christianization of Britain. A similar confusion came from the misinterpretation of
another early document: Clement of Alexandria, one of the Fathers of the early Church who lived
during the same time as Lucius Abgar VIII, wrote that “Thaddaeus and Thomas were buried in
Britium Edessenorum” by which he meant “in the Birtha of the Edessenes.” The Daisan River flows
around the city of Edessa, and at times it became a raging torrent. In 201 it spilled over the walls and
devastated the king’s palace. Many people died in the flood and the king rebuilt his palace on high
ground, hence the Syriac word “Birtha” being used to describe it. That word was transliterated into
Latin as “Britium” and misinterpreted as meaning “Britain.”
A theme of the King Arthur and the Grail story is sin, betrayal, consequences, and search for peace.
The quest for the Holy Grail is thus a metaphor for Arthur’s search for redemption and peace. He
had established the Round Table and performed many good works as king, but these were not
enough. Arthur is grieved by his own failures and seeks for something beyond this world,
something both higher and deeper. The search for the Holy Grail was thus an attempt to go
beyond nature and the natural world, to climb higher than the trees, to fly above the eagles, and go
beyond the atmosphere. It was an attempt to pierce the magic and the limited power of the Druids
as represented by Merlin and the natural world, and to seek for God and heaven.
It is very interesting that Merlin perishes from his own magic used against him by a woman. In
some tales he is trapped under a stone, and in others, in an oak tree, and dies. Both of these
natural elements, especially the oak tree, were symbols of Druidical power. Merlin, the ultimate
Druid, is therefore slain by his own gods and destroyed by the symbols of his own religion.
Druidism itself is thus seen as mortal and transient – a false hope – whereas the Holy Grail is
immortal and eternal.
The idea of a cup used to catch Jesus’s blood on the cross is not supported by any Biblical text. But the shroud containing his blood would make sense.
There is also no historical indication that the Last Supper cup was used to catch Christ’s blood during
or after the crucifixion. That was purely a literary concept first stated by Robert de Boron as
described above. But there was an object which did contain the blood of Christ, namely the linen
cloths or shroud that was used to wrap his body in the tomb.
The TS neatly explains the Grail legend based on the following:
1. The many faceted concepts associated with the Grail: human sinfulness and suffering, divine
forgiveness, the sacrifice necessary to pay for that forgiveness, the quest for personal meaning and
redemption, the longing for something beyond this world, and the desire for God, heaven, and
eternal life. As mentioned above, the word “grail” comes from the Latin gradale meaning
“gradually, in stages,” so the origin of the word encapsulates the transitions in meaning and the
complexity of the underlying ideas, culminating in the Holy Grail – the Cup of Christ containing
wine representing his blood. All of these ideas are personified in the Shroud.
2. The grail stories were written after the Shroud was brought to Constantinople and kept there for a
period of 260 years. Constantinople had been the capital of Roman Empire, was the seat of the
Greek Orthodox Church, and for centuries was the largest and most influential city in the world.
Religion in Constantinople was extremely important, and one writer characterized religious
discussion there as “the sport of the people – the football and baseball of that era.” Thus the
Shroud had a huge impact on Byzantine thought and society, made all the more significant
because of the significance of Constantinople as a major metropolis.
3. Robert de Boron wrote that Joseph of Arimathea used the Last Supper cup to catch the blood of
Christ on the cross, thus creating the literary heritage of the Holy Grail. But in his story Joseph
d’Arimathe, the Emperor Vespasian is healed, not by a chalice, but by a cloth containing the
image and blood of Christ. This was a clear literary allusion to the Shroud and was based on the
miraculous healing of Abgar V who may have been the historical Fisher-king that the story was
originally based on, who was healed by the power of the blood of Christ from the Shroud. De
Boron thus made the leap from the “graal” of Chrétien and transliterated it into the Holy Grail by
infusing his stories with Christian communion concepts, overlaid with Shroud imagery. His
stories in turn influenced the development of the King Arthur tales and the quest for the Holy
Grail which are still popular almost a millennium later.
4. During the time following the Shroud’s appearance there was a new flowering of Eucharistic
symbolism that the image on the Shroud could then be combined with a realism of Christ’s
passion, thus creating a “new language of Christian art.” The Shroud was in large part
responsible for the development of Byzantine art and iconography, which was widely viewed, and
had a significant artistic impact on society that carried over into literary works.
5. The esoteric order of the Knights Templar who in the medieval mind epitomized Grail knights and
were reputed to be keepers of both the Shroud and the Holy Grail.
6. The fact that that Shroud, like the Holy Grail contained the blood of Christ, and therefore carried
the same ethereal and immortal significance. Early church leaders had often used the Last Supper
cup as an analogy for Jesus’ death – the actual chalice representing the body of Christ and the
wine representing his blood, giving an ethereal significance to the cup. Byzantine iconography
would often picture the wounded Christ along with a chalice representing the “cup of sorrows”
that Jesus “drank” on the cross. The Catholic church teaches the doctrine of transubstantiation, the
belief that the wafer and wine administered to the communicant are a literal means of God’s grace
and “become the body and blood of Christ” to that person. The “container” of Christ’s blood
would therefore be the chalice used in the Eucharistic rites. Given these powerful religious
metaphors of a literal chalice becoming a source of divine grace, it is easy to understand how a
communion chalice was transformed into the Holy Grail of legend, and how the grail came to be
viewed as a cup, despite the fact that the origin of the grail stories was probably the Shroud.