The Case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the cup, which has become a symbol of the eternal search

Humanity needs an unattainable goal, and an unsolved mystery like the Grail

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the cup, which has become a symbol of the eternal search

On Sunday morning, a crowd of police officers with a dog burst into the village pub “The Crown”, located in Lee, Herefordshire. Employees of the institution were forbidden to go outside, while law enforcement officers ransacked all the corners of the 15th century building, looked under the floorboards. They even searched the baby carriage. Law enforcement officers showed everyone a photograph of a battered wooden bowl, or rather its fragment:

— Have you come across this? An ancient relic has been stolen, and we have information that it may be here.

– What is this thing? like garbage…

This is probably the Holy Grail.

It was in 2014.

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English Glory

Glastonbury, Somerset, UK

After the death of King Henry II in 1189, the affairs of Glastonbury Abbey, one of the oldest in England, began to deteriorate. Five years earlier, the monastery was devastated by a terrible fire. The restoration required huge funds. Henry II generously sponsored the construction, but his son and heir Richard the Lionheart went on a crusade and was not disposed to continue the good work of his father.

Donations from pilgrims did not cover the costs. Unless a miracle could increase their number and inflow of funds…

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that became a symbol of the eternal search

In 1191, the abbot suddenly ordered to start excavations on the territory of the monastery. In the churchyard, a hollowed-out oak trunk with the remains of two people and a lead cross were pulled out of the ground, the inscription on which said that King Arthur himself and his wife Guinevere were buried here, on Avallon. In those days, there was a legend in Britain that the once mortally wounded Arthur was taken to the mysterious island of Avallon. This place was identified with the Glastonbury Tor hill near the abbey, because in cloudy weather it looked like an island in a sea of ​​fog.

From the day the sensational find was discovered, life in the abbey began to improve: pilgrims of all classes hurried to visit the grave of a celebrity, the English kings willingly financed the monastery in which their famous predecessor was buried.

However, the theme of Arthurian and Avallon could be promoted further. In the novel of the 13th century poet Robert de Boron, it was said that the righteous Joseph of Arimathea, having collected the blood of the crucified Christ in a bowl, gave the Grail to one associate, and sent another to a certain wild Avaron valley to tell people about it.

The “brainstorming” of the “PR people” of Glastonbury Abbey could look like this: Avaron is Avallon, and Avalon is here, and let not an associate go, but Saint Joseph himself. And he will take a bowl with him, and preferably two. By the next century, legends retold by chroniclers appeared that Joseph of Arimathea himself founded Glastonbury Abbey, died and was buried there. According to one version, he brought with him two bowls with the blood of Christ and his sweat, and they are also buried or hidden in these places.

English kings at least twice, in the 14th and 15th centuries, organized a massive search for the tomb of St. Joseph, which was unsuccessful. And Glastonbury prospered and was the most powerful abbey after Westminster. However, in the 16th century, the monastery was destroyed by the people of King Henry VIII during the campaign to close the monasteries, and the place of worship for Arthurian worshipers fell into disrepair.

New times have brought new ideas where a vessel with the blood of Christ, also known as the Grail from chivalric novels, can be buried in these places. In 1906, in a reservoir at the foot of Glastonbury Tor, known as the well of the Chalice, the medium Wellesley Tudor Pole with his sister and friends found a glass vessel. Young people declared it the Grail. Then it turned out that many years ago, another visionary, John Goodchild, hid this bowl, bought in Italy, there as a sign of reverence for the Celtic goddess, whom he considered the patroness of the reservoir.

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the cup, which has become a symbol of the eternal search

Tudor Pole was acquainted with Goodchild, but claimed that he did not receive any information from him about the hidden relic. At first, the American journalist Mark Twain almost believed in the newfound Grail, but gradually skepticism prevailed, and the artifact was forgotten.

Tudor Pole founded the Chalice Well Foundation, which protects the legendary site to this day. For four and a half pounds you can visit the idyllic garden by the pond. Iron oxide leaves a reddish mark on the rocks over which water flows from springs. According to legend, both this color and the taste of iron near the water are associated with the fact that a vessel with the blood of Christ is hidden here.

Something more

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that has become a symbol of the eternal search

1. Hostia dish

This is how, in the form of a precious utensil with bread for communion, radiating heavenly light, the Grail first appears in literature: in the “Tale of the Grail” by Chrétien de Troy, written before 1190.

It is not known whether the author was going to connect the relic with Christ directly, since the story is not over. According to the story, the knight Perceval accidentally finds himself in a magic castle and sees the Grail removal ceremony. He feels that some kind of sacred action is taking place, but he does not dare to ask questions, but simply silently watches. The next morning the castle is empty, and the hero, having left from there, finds out that he behaved incorrectly. The search for an opportunity to return to the castle of the Grail becomes the meaning of life for Perceval, seeking to correct the oversight and touch the mystery.

The Tale of the Grail is a chivalric novel from a cycle of works about the legendary King Arthur and his court, which Chrétien de Troyes brought into fashion. Several medieval writers wrote sequels or their own versions of this story. It is interesting that the Grail, a symbol of spiritual search, appeared precisely in secular literature.

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that became a symbol of the eternal search

2. Bowl

At the beginning of the 13th century, the poet Robert de Boron was the first to tell readers where, in fact, the Grail came from. In the interpretation of de Boron, the Grail is the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper before his arrest.

After Jesus was crucified, his associate Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood of Christ into this cup when he washed his body after removal from the cross. After some time, Joseph sent relatives with a relic to
the West to preach Christianity.

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that has become a symbol of the eternal search

3. Stone

The word “Grail”  itself is a variant of the Latin word gradalis, which denoted a bowl or dish. But the German knight Wolfram von Eschenbach, who wrote the novel Parzival at the beginning of the 13th century, offered his own version. His grail is not a cup at all, but a precious stone that fell from the sky.

The Case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that has become a symbol of the eternal search

4. Miscellaneous

In other texts, the Grail can even change shape. So, in the 13th-century French novel Perlesvaus, King Arthur observes the following picture: “The Grail appeared at the consecration in five images, but it is not appropriate to talk about them, because the sacraments of Holy Communion should not be revealed to anyone except those to whom God has granted special mercy. But King Arthur saw all the changes, and the last to appear was the chalice. Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chashe-stavshej-simvolom-vechnogo-poiska -b924a67.jpg” alt=”The Case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that has become a symbol of the eternal search” />

5. Mystery

In most novels, the essence of the Grail is not at all limited to its physical embodiment in one or another object: an inexplicable secret is attached to the relic, and the authors even apologize to the reader that they cannot reveal it.

“Some ambiguity of what the Grail is is a constructively necessary feature of this image,” wrote culturologist Sergey Averintsev. with varying degrees of “intimacy”.

Many medieval authors of Grail novels reported that after the death of their protagonists, the miraculous object was taken to heaven forever.

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Indiana Jones from the Third Reich

Montsegur, Occitania , France

The German amateur archaeologist Otto Rahn grew up on the medieval novels and operas of Richard Wagner Lohengrin and Parsifal – also about the knights of the Grail. And he was haunted by the glory of Heinrich Schliemann, who believed the ancient myths and found Troy.

Rana was very interested in the history of the South French heretics, the Cathars, who were almost completely exterminated in the 13th century during the Albigensian Wars. A theory gradually developed: Rahn identified Munçalves, the castle of the Grail from the medieval novel by Wolfram von Eschenbach (Monsalvat in the Wagnerian version of this plot), with the fortress of Montsegur, which was the last refuge of the Cathars before it was captured after a long siege by the northern French knights in 1244.< /p>

A keen amateur decided that real people, southern French aristocrats who patronized the Cathars, became the prototypes of the main characters of von Eschenbach's book. So, the Grail could be the treasure of the defenders of Montsegur and is still hidden somewhere in those places.

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that became a symbol of the eternal search

The young man went to the south of France, collected legends and rumors, studied rock signs, examined castles and dungeons. Ran outlined his theory in the book “Crusade Against the Grail”. According to his friend Paul-Alexis Ladam, Otto was considering where to get money for further searches for the relic when he received a telegram from an unnamed sender offering to finance the work on the continuation of the book, and then it turned out that the Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler ordered to sponsor the researcher.

The second person in Nazi Germany was fond of occult and pseudo-historical theories and imagined the SS elite as something like a new spiritual and knightly order. In the 17th-century castle of Wewelsburg, where Himmler created an ideological center, he gathered with his associates at a round table, like King Arthur; they said that a special pedestal was prepared there for the Grail.

1/5Memorial stele erected by the Society for the Remembrance and Research of the Cathars at the foot of the hill on which the Montsegur fortress is located, in the middle of the 20th century

Otto Rahn accepted the offer of patronage and entered into the ranks of the SS. “A man needs something to eat,” he explained to a friend. Rahn wrote the next work, The Court of Lucifer, but further expeditions to search for the treasure of the Cathars were not successful.

The wound began to weigh on the work for the fascist regime, and especially what he saw in the concentration camps where he had to serve. At the end of 1938, Otto Rahn made a truly desperate act: he filed a report on his dismissal from the SS. Soon he died a mysterious death in the mountains of Tyrol – the body was found frozen in the snow. The official cause of death was a blizzard.

Meet for a Cup

There are more than 200 vessels that in different eras claimed the title of the Grail, and places where a wonderful artifact could be found, in Europe alone. Here are the most famous of them

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the cup, which became a symbol of the eternal search

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that has become a symbol of the eternal search

1. “Holy Chalice” from Valencia. Stored in the city Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin. According to legend, the agate bowl was brought to Rome by the Apostle Peter, and in the 3rd century it ended up in Spain. The earliest reliable mention of this bowl as belonging to Jesus is in an inventory of 1399, made when the monastery of San Juan de la Peña gave the relic to King Martin I of Aragon.

In the next century, King Alfonso V sold the artifact cathedral in Valencia. Archaeologist Antonio Beltran examined the relic and concluded that the agate bowl was most likely made in the 2nd-1st century BC. e. The base with Arabic inscriptions and the gold setting are medieval.

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that has become a symbol of the eternal search

2. Doña Urraca's chalice of two onyx bowls is located in León in the Museum of the Basilica of San Isidoro. The relic was donated to the church in the 11th century by Urraca, daughter of King Ferdinand I.

In 2014, researchers Margarita Torres and José Ortegadel-Rio published the book “Kings of the Grail” with the version that these bowls came to the kings of Leon from the Muslims, and they got them after the capture of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where it was believed that the vessel of the Last Supper was kept . The Grail has since been suspected of being the relic.

The case of the holy grail: 3 stories about the chalice that became the symbol of the eternal search

3. “Holy Chalice” from Genoa. A relic from the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in the Middle Ages was considered carved from a single emerald. According to one version, at the beginning of the 12th century, a crusader brought her from Palestine. In 1798, by order of Napoleon, the relic was sent to Paris, and there they found out that it was made of glass. In 1816, the vessel was returned to Genoa, already broken.

In 2017, Italian scientists analyzed the chemical composition of the glass and concluded that the bowl was made in eastern Mesopotamia in the pre-Islamic period.

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that has become a symbol of the eternal search

4. “Agate bowl”. Huge, 76 cm wide with handles, a dish of Byzantine work made of solid stone is stored in the Imperial Treasury in the Hofburg Palace in the capital of Austria. It dates from the 4th century. First mentioned in a document in 1564.

The object is associated with the Grail because of the natural pattern on the stone, which appears under certain lighting and resembles the word “Christ”, written in Latin and Greek letters.

5. Blood of Christ. In the Norman abbey of the Holy Trinity in Fécamp, in a special way, the blood of Christ itself is venerated rather than the vessel in which it is located.

According to the legend of the XII century, the nephew of Nicodemus, who collected the blood of the crucified Christ, received an order from God to seal it with lead in a vessel, and throw it into the sea in the trunk of a fig tree. The relic was found off the coast of Normandy, and the abbey was founded here. According to legend, this is why the area became known as Fecamp from the Latin Fici campus (“fig tree field”).

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the cup, which became a symbol of the eternal search

6. Antioch chalice. This artifact – one silver bowl inside another, gilded – was found around 1908 in Syria. In the 1930s, a version appeared that the inner vessel was nothing but the Cup of the Last Supper.

Scientists, however, agree that this is a Byzantine oil lamp made in the first half of the 6th century and used at worship services. In 1950, it was purchased by billionaire John Rockefeller for the Cloisters Museum, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

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The Welsh Wonder

Aberystwyth, Wales, UK

The eccentric dandy George Powell, poet and collector, displayed the remains of a time-decayed wooden bowl at a meeting of the Welsh Archaeological Society in 1878.

According to an antiquities lover, the object once belonged to Strata Florida Abbey, destroyed by King Henry VIII, eventually ended up with the Powell family and is now kept in his family estate of Nanteos. The owner of the bowl said that it was probably made from the wood of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, and is capable of healing the sick – at least the locals believe in this and take the relic as a pledge to drink water from it.

The case of the Holy Grail: 3 stories about the chalice that became a symbol of the eternal search

The rumors around the bowl were not limited to this. A guide to the region written in 1879 mentioned that it “looked like the mysterious Holy Grail”, and in a pamphlet published a quarter of a century later, a participant in an excursion to Nanteos claimed that this cup was the Grail. The legend has acquired new details: it turns out that the vessel came to Strata Florida Abbey from Glastonbury. However, there is no documentary evidence of this.

In the 1970s, when the owners of the bowl gave it to a temporary exhibition, specialists from the Royal Commission on the ancient and historical monuments of Wales carefully studied the artifact. They came to the conclusion that this is a typical medieval piece of household utensils (or rather, what is left of it), made in the 14th century from elm. Celtic folklore expert Juliette Wood suggests that the bowl may have been found at Strata Florida Abbey in the mid-19th century: similar items are found in the sketches of the finds.

1/2Professor David Austin, scientific director of the Strata Florida Abbey Foundation (left) and the prince Charles holding a cup from Nanteos

Nevertheless, even in the 21st century, people continued to believe in the healing power of the cup from Nanteos. Because of this, in 2014, the owners of the relic almost lost it. They bailed the bowl to a seriously ill resident of Herefordshire, but when the woman went to the clinic, thieves broke into her house and stole the Grail.

For nearly a year, the county police searched the entire area in vain. After photographs of the missing woman were shown nationwide on BBC One and a reward for her return was announced, police received a phone call from an unknown person. The investigators held negotiations and, having met at the agreed time in the agreed place with an intermediary, received the cup back. The kidnappers were never caught.

In 2016, the owners of the Grail donated the artifact to the permanent exhibition at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. But those who are thirsty for healing at the exhibition will hardly be allowed to drink water from it.


Material published in the magazine “Vokrug sveta” No. 1, January 2020, partially updated in January 2023

Nikolay Fedorov

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