The Mystery of Holy Grail

The symbol of the Grail is without a doubt one of the holiest treasures in religion and it occupies a special place in human history ever since the stories began to spread through Europe in the Middle Ages. It is something that continues to exert a fascination on all who come within its sphere of influence. However, there is no concrete and definite image of the Grail, and better yet, the Grail has not been proven to exist; thus leading towards a series of speculations and theories with all kinds of opinions about the origin of the stories that come circulating in written form from the early twelfth century, about his true form: a cup, a plate, a stone, jewel and finally as believed by some, as a device.

SPAIN-RELIGION-GRAIL
Image Credit: Getty Images

 

However, researchers and historians have agreed that it is something profoundly mysterious, something magically sacred and the quest of finding it is perhaps worth devoting a lifetime, even knowing that the search might be fruitless. Some believe it to be just a myth while others state it is something truly otherworldly.

Several mythologies speak of a similar set of sacred items around the world, and in general religion, not just Christian religion, because although the Grail was strongly connected with the Western world as a symbol of Christ’s doctrine, it is proven that much of its origins are also present in Eastern cultures and religions, perhaps not in the same way, but in similar fashion.

The story that we all have heard of begins with Joseph of Arimathea, who took over the body of Christ for burial preparations and it is believed, that he was also in possession of the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper. While washing the body of Christ, preparing it for burial, Joseph collected the blood that poured from the wounds of Christ into a cup. After the disappearance of the body,  Joseph is accused of stealing it and was locked in prison without any food. Christ appeared, bathed in a bright light, and entrusted him with the cup and also provided him with the instructions for the Mass or holy communion and also sharing knowledge and vanishing afterwards.

Miraculously, José was able to stay alive by a dove which entered his cell each day and deposited a host into the chalice. Jose was released at the age of 70 and went into exile along with a small group of supporters, which included his sister and her husband, Bron.

Jose and his supporters built a table which is known as the first grail table which represented the table of the Last Supper and twelve places that were occupied at the table. The place of Christ was occupied by a fish. There was also a thirteenth seat, which represents the position of Judas;  this seat was called the Siege Perilous.

By some accounts, José embarks to Britain, where he founded the first Christian church in Glastonbury, dedicating it to the mother of the Savior. The Grail was supposedly located in this church, where he employed it as a chalice at Mass (in which the whole community participates) which was then known as the Mass of the Grail.

In other versions, Joseph does not arrive beyond the European continent, and the custody of the cup passes onto Bron who ends up being known as the Rich Fisherman after having fed the entire community with a single fish. The group settled afterwards in a place referred to as Avaron which could also be Avalon.

Illustration of 'The Round Table and the Holy Grail', from a manuscript of 'Lancelot-Grail' written by Michel Gantelet, completed in 1470
Illustration of ‘The Round Table and the Holy Grail’, from a manuscript of ‘Lancelot-Grail’ written by Michel Gantelet, completed in 1470

Merlin the magician has founded the Round Table or Third table- lacking the grail, around which the brotherhood of knights led by Arthur meets; they are governed by the rules of chivalry. On the day Pentecost (the Christian festival celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus after his Ascension, held on the seventh Sunday after Easter.) the Grail appears floating in a beam of light and covered by a veil, and the knights pledge to seek it out and recover it. With this moment, the adventures of initiation official commence in which almost all the knights are involved in, especially Lanzarote, Gawain and Bors, although the greatest role belongs to other two knights, Perceval (Percival or Parsifal), nicknamed the Perfect Fool because of his innocence; and Galahad, son of Lanzarote, who is distinguished from the others from the beginning because he was the one who sat at the Siege Perilous and was unharmed. In the quest for the Holy Grail, only three manage to find the Grail and participate, in various forms, in its mysteries: Galahad, Perceval and Bors, which is the only one of the three to return to Camelot with news of the quest.

After suffering a first failure and wandering alone for five years, Sir Perceval manages to find the way to the castle of the wounded King- who in some versions is his uncle, and manages to cure him by asking ask you a a ritual question: “Whom does the Grail serve?” or “Who serves the Grail?” The answer, which is never explicitly revealed, is “the King himself,” who remains alive beyond normal life, although tormented by the wound.) Once cured, the King was allowed to die, and the waters ran again through the desolate lands, making them flourish.

Galahad, Perceval and Bors continue their journey and reach Sarras, the Heavenly City of the East, where the Grail mysteries are celebrated and where the three men are involved in a mass where the Grail again serves as a holy chalice.

Christ is manifested, first as celebrant, then, as a shining child and, finally, in the Host as crucified. Sir Galahad dies in the odor of sanctity and the Grail ascends to the heavens; Perceval returns to the castle of the King to take his place, and Bors is the only one who returns to Camelot.

The origin, history, evolution of the Holy Grail and its ultimate e demise are described in detail, and although there are contradictions regarding the shape of the chalice, there is no evidence whatsoever that the holy grail stayed on this world. This is an important clue to the nature of the Grail as a symbol, and the way its understood today.

The Church however, has never made reference to such an important religious treasure neither to confirm nor to deny its existence. This has only given fuel to adventurers to search for the holy grail, just as the search for the Ark of the covenant continues in an effort to find the holiest of the treasures.