Mystery of Holy Grail
The Holy Grail is one of the most enduring symbols in medieval Christian legend. In Christian mythology, the Holy Grail was the dish, plate, cup or vessel that caught Jesus' blood during his crucifixion. It was said to have the power to heal all wounds. A theme joined to the Christianised Arthurian mythos relates to the quest for the Holy Grail.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, it was only after the cycle of Grail romances was well established, identifying the cup of the Last Supper with the Grail that late medieval writers came up with a false etymology from the fact that in Old French, san grial means "Holy Grail" and sang rial means "royal blood". Since then, Sangreal is sometimes employed to lend a medievalizing air in referring to the Holy Grail. This connection with royal blood bore fruit in a modern bestseller linking many historical conspiracies.
The Holy Grail first appears in a written text in Chrétien de Troyes Old French verse romance, the Conte del Graal ('Story of the Grail'), or Perceval, of c.1180. During the next 50 years several works, both in verse and prose, were written although the story, and the principal character, vary from one work to another. In France, this process culminated in a cycle of five prose romances telling the history of the Grail from the Crucifixion to the death of Arthur. The Old French romances were translated into other European languages. Among these other versions, two stand out: Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (early 13th century) and Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur (late 15th century).
The legends of the Holy Grail were the most popular in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, which were the darkest of the Dark Ages. At this time Europe was a spiritual wasteland, and people looked to legends such as these for hope as the tales represented a lost golden age and the efforts to regain it.
There are many legends surrounding the Holy Grail; however, most scholars believe the original source of the legends is a Celtic myth of a horn of plenty (or cauldron or other vessels). This vessel was supposed to be the source of all things good, such as unquenchable food, health, success in battle, etc. According to the legend, this vessel was the source of divine favor because it was thought to be the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper or a cup that had caught Jesus' blood as He hung on the cross. However, not all early Grail stories are consistent on even this. In some stories, the Grail is a cup, while in others it is a cauldron or a stone.
The most popular of these stories says that the Holy Grail was the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper and that Joseph of Arimathea later used to collect drops of Jesus’ blood at the crucifixion. This legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea or his descendants brought the cup to Britain where it was lost. This is where the legend of the Holy Grail becomes intertwined with the legend of King Arthur and his knights. Because this mythical vessel was supposed to be the source of all things good and the source of divine favor, those who were noble and pure in heart - such as King Arthur and his knights - desired to possess it and use its power for good.
The legend of the Holy Grail seems to arise out of the Celtic church’s claim to apostolic succession, which they traced back through Joseph of Arimathea to the apostle John. In the midst of oppression by the Catholic Church, which claimed that its apostolic succession and priesthood authority was through the apostle Peter, the legend of the Holy Grail represented hope to the Celtic church through an alternate line of apostolic succession. While the Catholic Church claimed that they were the only church with apostolic authority, the Holy Grail became a tangible symbol of the Celtic church’s claim to equal authority, also by a direct line of apostolic succession.
The Grail served as a useful tool that could be deployed in all manner of contexts to help communicate the required message, whatever that message may have been. We still see this today, of course, such as when we use the phrase “The Holy Grail of…” to describe the practically unattainable, but highly desirable prize in just about any area you can think of. There is even a guitar effect-pedal named “holy grail”.
The fate of the Holy Grail is unknown. Ownership has been attributed to various groups (including the Knights Templar). There are cups claimed to be the Grail in several churches like the Valencia cathedral. The emerald chalice at Genoa, which was obtained during the crusades at Aleppo 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. Other stories claim that the Grail is buried beneath Rosslyn Chapel or is to be found deep in the spring at Glastonbury Tor. Still, other stories claim that the Grail was moved variously to either Nova Scotia, or to Accokeek, Maryland by a closeted priest aboard Captain John Smith's ship, or that there is a secret lineage of hereditary keepers of the Grail.