Holy Grail

Medieval Romance

During the Middle Ages, at the height of knighthood, the Search for the Holy Grail became the literary symbol of the knightly quest. This literature, known collectively as the Grail Romances, were stories about individual knights who devoted their lives to finding the Holy Grail. Foremost among these knights were Parzifal and his son Lohengrin.The first of these romances was Le Roman de Percival or Le Conte del Graal, composed in the late 12th century by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes. Another was Robert de Boron’s Roman de l’Estoire dou Saint Graal. The third was an anonymous romance, Perlesvaus. Finally, there was Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival.

Boron’s was the first romance to say explicitly that the Grail was the cup used at the Last Supper, while Perlesvaus implies that the Grail was actually several different things. Wolfram von Eschenbach goes further, asserting that Parzifal and Lohengrin belonged to a Grail Family, hereditary guardians of the Holy Grail, descended from Joseph of Arimathea.

According to Wolfram, the Grail family was descended from a man named Laziliez and his parents Mazadan and Terdelaschoye. Exotic names of this type were common in medieval literature. Some scholars have suggested that Laziliez was a corruption of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha of Bethany, while Mazadan might have been a corruption of Masada, the last stronghold of the Jews who rebelled against Rome in 68 CE. Terdelaschoye came from the French Terre de la Choix (”Chosen Land”). It is possible, then, that these particular names are allegorical.

Modern Nonsense

There is currently an active market in Europe and America for taking the medieval myths further. In Holy Blood, Holy Grail(1982), Hugh Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln developed their theory that the Holy Grail was not the cup used at the Last Supper, but the Holy Bloodline of a family descended from Jesus himself. Dan Brown has developed the same idea in fictional form in The DaVinci Code (2003).

These writers speculate that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus, and that the two of them had a son. In some medieval stories Mary Magdalene was identified with Mary of Bethany, and in others she was said to have accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to Marseilles after Jesus’ crucifixion. In Baigent’s extension of the medieval story, Mary Magdalene brought her son to Marseilles as well. Supposedly, that son became the ancestor of certain European royal families, notably the Merovingians, who were the earliest royal family of the Franks, forerunners of the French. In support of this theory, Baigent et al. offer an alternative etymology for San Graal (the Holy Grail); they call it the Sang Real (the Blood Royal). They also ornament their theory with many authentic medieval legends. For example, Godfroi de Bouillon, the 11th century Crusader ruler of Jerusalem, was said by his contemporaries to have been the son or grandson of Lohengrin, even though he lived some 600 years later, even assuming that there was an historical Lohengrin.

Nevertheless, the meat of Holy Blood, Holy Grail rests on the forged Lobineau genealogies, and the monomania of Pierre Plantard, a Frenchman who in the early 1960s sought to prove that he is a descendant of the Merovingians though Dagobert II, an obscure 7th century dynast who is not known to have left descendants. Moreover, there is no evidence of a secret Priory of Sion that has worked through the centuries to promote the rule of these soi disant descendants of Jesus, nor is there evidence that the Roman Catholic church has sought though the centuries to exterminate them.

Despite the dubious material used by Baigent et al., the royal families of modern Europe, and a great many noble families, are in fact descended from the Merovingians, as are many ordinary people in northern and western Europe and the Americas.

Damsel of the Sanct Grael

“The Damsel of the Sanct Grael”
Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Competing Claims

There are many vessels claimed to be the the actual cup used at the Last Supper:

  • The Cup of Antioch is a glass crater of middle-eastern glass, brought back from the Crusades. Sometime in the Middle Ages it was fitted with a leather case.
  • The city of Genoa in Italy had an emerald vessel, claimed in a 16th chronicle to be the “Saint Grail.” Napoléon took the cup to France, where it was discovered to be green glass.
  • There is a blue-glass bowl discovered Glastonbury in the 19th century and claimed by its finder to be the Holy Grail. Glastonbury is said to have been the home of King Arthur. The bowl is now at the Chalice Gardens in Glastonbury.
  • The Vernon family Hawkstone Manor has a Roman alabaster cup, claimed to be the Grail.
  • Valencia Cathedral in Spain has a stone chalice.
  • There is also a “grail” in Russia.

Some possible Grails have been discredited:

  • The Antioch Cup (not to be confused with the Cup of Antioch), now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, was suggested as a possible candidate in the 1930s, but has now been dated several centuries too late.
  • The Powell family of Nanteos, Wales has a cup that was reputed in the 19th century to have healing powers. It has been identified as a 14th-century mazer.
The Antioch Cup

The Antioch Cup

More Information