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Holy Grail - An Endless Quest

Holy Grail

This has always been one of the most fascinating topics. Despite the centuries, the Grail seems to have lost nothing of its evocative power. Even today, it inspires novels, films and stories of all kinds. But what is the Grail? Its historical traces are lost in the mists of time, as are the assumptions about it. "Grail" is a word of ancient French that probably comes from the late Latin late gradalis, which means cup, pot or bowl. Tradition has it that the Grail is the cup used by Jesus during his last meal, the same one that was used to collect his blood after his crucifixion. The contact with the blood of Jesus would have transmitted to the cup its immense powers, as well as to the lance of Longin and the cerement preserved as the holy shroud.

The first quote

It is not known how the legend of the Grail was born. Therefore, the only fact we are sure is the moment when the word is mentioned for the first time. Chrétien de Troyes (died around 1190) is the first to mention this myth in his unfinished novel Perceval or the tale of the Grail. The young Perceval, knight at the court of Arthur, goes to the castle of King Fisher where, in front of an erect table, he sees young men parading with mysterious objects: a bloody spear, two candelabra and the Grail. It is described as a cup of pure gold, adorned with beautiful precious stones, which spreads bright light as soon as it appears. The rest of the story tells that a host contained in the Grail will keep alive the seriously wounded King Fisher.

Cup or rock?

If this marks the beginning of this eternal myth, it is not Chrétien de Troyes who invented it. Anyway, after him, many other writers have been inspired by the Grail by giving different versions. At the beginning of the 12th century, the German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote Parzival, a courtly novel close to that of Chrétien de Troyes, except that the Grail is not a cup, but a magic stone "source of all good on Earth ". This transformation suggests that an Eastern influence would have replaced the Celtic origin of the preceding text.

Moreover, the fact that the Grail is a stone is reminiscent of the philosopher's stone of the alchemists, which, according to legend, adorned the crown of Lucifer and therefore fell from the sky at the same time as him.

From Joseph of Arimathea to King Arthur

We owe to Robert de Boron The Romance of the Grall Estuary, written between 1190 and 1210, and composed of three parts, of which the first is Joseph of Arimathea. In this version, the Grail is the cup used by Jesus during his last meal. Joseph of Arimathea, a shopkeeper and disciple of Jesus, eager to keep a memory of his master, asks the owner of the house where the Last Supper is held to keep the cup of the Messiah for him.

The Gospels according to St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke say that Christ breaks the bread and gives it to his disciples at the same time as the wine of his cup, thus initiating the sacrament of the Eucharist. The next day, Jesus is crucified. Once the body of Christ descended from the Cross, Joseph of Arimathea wraps it in a shroud (the holy Shroud) and leads it into the tomb he himself had built. According to the legend of the Grail, during the preparation and washing of the body, Joseph sees a few drops running from his ribs, wound inflicted by the lance of the centurion Longin; he immediately collects them in the cup where Christ has drunk a few days before. Joseph of Arimathea left Palestine soon after, in the direction of Great Britain, to found the first Christian church, bringing in his baggage what today we call the Holy Grail.

Different versions

But the versions of the stories are sometimes discordant. According to some, the cup remained in England until the sixth century of our era, before being conveyed to Rome. However, the priest who transported it stopped on the island of Comacina, on Lake Como. At this location, a church was dedicated to the Grail in appreciation of the island's resistance to the invaders. From there, the precious relic would have been transported to Val Codera, one of the most mysterious places among those mentioned as possible hiding places.

Another version of history mixes Celtic and Christian traditions: in the past, Jesus went to Cornwall with Joseph of Arimathea. He would have received from the hands of Merlin (a druid converted to Christianity) the famous ritual cup which he would have used during his last supper. After the death of Jesus, Joseph would have returned to England to bring back the cup to the powers increased by the contact with the blood of Christ. Afterwards, the Grail was handed over to King Fisher, relative of Joseph and Parsifal. Later, when Great Britain fell upon the material and spiritual curse caused by the wound made to King Fisher with Longin's spear, the trace of the Grail was lost. Merlin then invited Arthur to find him for Grace to free the country from the nightmare. Parsifal, the only Knight of the Round Table worthy of finding the Grail, began his long quest to finally find what is called "the plate where Jesus ate the Lamb with his disciples on Easter Day".

Birth of myth in northern Europe

Before becoming a Christian myth, the Grail brings together different versions of a Celtic myth. In Europe, vases, cauldrons and cups with great powers are evoked, like the cauldron of Dagda, the "cup of life" of Celtic culture. The Gundestrup cauldron is another excellent example.

The story of King Fisher, the legend of King Arthur and the quest for the Holy Grail of the twelve Knights of the Round Table are therefore the result of the fusion of the two traditions, Christian and Celtic; Knights like Lancelot who do not fulfill their mission pay for their impurity. From England, over the centuries and up to the present day, the myth has spread throughout Europe.

Where is the Grail? According to some sources, it migrated to the Middle East in 540 where it remained for centuries until the arrival of the Crusaders. When they arrived in the Holy Land early in the year 1000, they inevitably heard about this mysterious object and its great powers that had become a myth. These knights were probably the main vectors of its diffusion in Europe. However, we still do not know whether, ultimately, they brought back from these far-off lands the Grail or just a legend.

Its great symbolic value

Whatever the truth, we can not limit ourselves to assimilating the mysterious cup to the precious relic of the Lord's Supper. Indeed, the Grail is also of great symbolic and esoteric importance. For alchemists, it is a tool of knowledge and spiritual evolution. According to Julius Evola, an Italian thinker, it would be at the heart of a pagan initiation rite condemned by the Church in the Middle Ages. The French author René Guénon thinks that the Grail has integrated the Christian tradition through the initiatory tradition of the Druids, who placed it in the heart of their esoteric universe, as a symbol of a primitive religion coming from the underground world of 'Agarthi. Closer to our time, Hitler relied on his powers to conquer the world, while the great psychoanalyst Carl Jung saw it as an archetype of the unconscious.

The quest for the Holy Grail

Where is the Grail? Is it really part of the famous Templar treasure? According to the account of an English pilgrim of the seventh century, it would be in the Holy Land in a chapel near Jerusalem. Other sources speak of the Grail as the plate of the present day supper conserved in the cathedral Saint-Laurent of Genoa. In Italy, it is called the Santo Catino, a hexagonal glass plate of green color that would be carved in emerald. The Genoese brought back this trophy of the conquest of the city of Caesarea of ​​Palestine, in 1102. Napoleon took it with him to Paris, but the cup ends up returning to Genoa after having suffered some damages.

According to other sources, the Grail is to be found in Bari, in southern Italy, where there is a representation on a bas-relief of the cathedral, or in Turin, under the protection of a statues of the Church of the Great Mother.

The Grail has also been likened to the holy chalice, a cup of the Middle Ages agate mounted on gold, encrusted with pearls and precious stones, now preserved in the cathedral of Valencia. According to legend, St. Peter brought it to Rome and the deacon Laurent transported it to the Spanish city. Another version of the story evokes the Teutonic knights who would have entrusted the Grail - which they themselves had received from the hands of Sufi mystics - to the Emperor Frederick II to protect it during the Crusades. This version could explain the construction of the building of Castel del Monte, whose exact function remains mysterious still today.

In Europe and beyond the ocean

Another possible hiding place of the Grail could be the castle of Gisors, where it would have been hidden by the Templars, guardians of the precious relic from the twelfth century, after having received from the "sect of assassins", the worshipers of the Baphomet ( which for some is the same Grail). Two other possible hiding places are in France: the castle of Monségur, last castle of the Cathars, and the small church of Rennes-le-Château, which became famous for the events related to abbot Saunière.

In Britain, there is the Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, where there are many references to the Knights Templar even though the building was built long after the order's disappearance. Further south, at Glastonbury, in Somerset - in the one identified with the legendary Avalon, where in 1191, at the time of the Third Crusade, were discovered the tombs of King Arthur and his wife Juniper - lies the Chalice Well, the well where, according to legend, Joseph of Arimathea would have cast the Grail. The ferruginous taste of the local water would confirm this legend.

Finally, the myth of the Grail has even crossed the ocean to reach Oak Island, on the American continent, where it would be hidden in a bottomless pit. Another mystery that has fascinated researchers and the curious of the whole world, without revealing its secrets. Like the Grail, precisely.

"Royal blood" ... Holy Grail

For most enthusiasts, the Grail could be in the most diverse places on the planet. The controversies also concern the type of object that it would be: it goes from the cup to the plate through a stone fallen from the sky, the ark of the covenant, a mysterious book written by Jesus, the holy Shroud kept in Turin and the precious stone that adorned Lucifer's crown. Three English writers, Henry Lincoln, Richard Leigh, and Michael Baigent, put forward an even different assumption in their 1982 book, Holy Blood and the Holy Grail. According to them, the Grail would not be an object, but the blood line of the descendants of Jesus. Indeed, they claim that Jesus left Palestine with Mary Magdalene, that he would have had children and thus gave birth to the Merovingian dynasty. The Grail would therefore be incarnated by the very person of Madeleine, a true "cup" of the blood of Christ. A "royal blood" that would still flow in the veins of the mysterious descendants of Jesus, placed under the protection of the mysterious Priory of Zion. Although it has been the subject of much criticism, this hypothesis has also inspired Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code, which has enjoyed worldwide success.