The Search For The Holy Grail

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The beginnings of the Grail in literature

Chr�tien de Troyes

The Grail is first featured in Perceval, le Conte du Graal (The Story of the Grail) by Chr�tien de Troyes, who claims he was working from a source book given to him by his patron, Count Philip of Flanders. 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'.

Chr�tien refers to his object not as 'The Grail' but as un graal, showing the word was used, in its earliest literary context, as a common noun. For Chr�tien the 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 Mass 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, Saint Catherine of Genoa is one example. This may imply that Chr�tien intended the mass wafer to be the significant part of the ritual, and the Grail to be a mere prop.

Robert de Boron

Though Chr�tien'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 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, and founds a dynasty of Grail keepers that eventually includes Perceval.

The later legend

Belief in the Grail and interest in its potential whereabouts has never ceased. Ownership has been attributed to various groups (including the Knights Templar, probably because they were at the peak of their influence around the time that Grail stories started circulating in the 12th and 13th centuries). There are cups claimed to be the Grail in several churches, for instance the Valencia cathedral, which contains an artefact, the Holy Chalice, supposedly taken by Saint Peter to Rome in the first century, and then to Huesca in Spain by Saint Lawrence in the 3rd century. Archaeologists say the artefact is a 1st century Middle-Eastern stone vessel, possibly from Antioch, Syria (now Turkey); its history can be traced to the 11th century, and it presently rests atop an ornate stem and base, made in the Medieval era of alabaster, gold, and gemstones. It was the official papal chalice for many popes, and has been used by many others, most recently by Pope Benedict XVI, on July 9, 2006. [5] The emerald chalice at Genoa, which was obtained during the Crusades at Caesarea Palaestina at great cost, has been less championed as the Holy Grail since an accident on the road while it was being returned from Paris after the fall of Napoleon revealed that the emerald was green glass.

In Wolfram von Eschenbach'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 monks of Montserrat, have identified the castle with the real sanctuary of Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain. Other stories claim that the Grail is buried beneath Rosslyn Chapel or lies deep in the spring at Glastonbury Tor. Still other stories claim that a secret line of hereditary protectors keep the Grail, or that it was hidden by the Templars in Oak Island, Nova Scotia's famous 'Money Pit', while local folklore in Accokeek, Maryland says that it was brought to the town by a closeted priest aboard Captain John Smith's ship.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holy_grail

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