Holy Grail

   Judy Shoaf gives a good analogy to the concept of the origin of the Holy Grail: "I believe the usual "take" on the development of Arthurian legend is that the Holy Grail story was invented by pious Christian authors precisely to give a Christian shape to the material. The Arthurian story before that was a tale of military companionship, refined but passionate adultery, marvels, and worldly glory; add the Grail history (as devised by Robert de Boron and other authors) and all this is contrasted with lonely battles against the devil's works, extreme sexual purity and punishment for sexual sins, miracles, and God's plan for history. Thus, if a monk wanted to read the Arthur stories, and a skeptical fellow monk said, "What has Arthur to do with Christ?", the Grail permitted the reader to expound just what Arthur did have to do with Christ, salvation history, etc.
   "The current fascination with the idea of a "real" grail as an extant and possibly available object of worldly power, preferably involving Jesus having a refined but passionate affair with Mary Magdalene, might well irritate modern Catholic priests trying to get their congregations to focus on moral problems in the modern world."

   There is an introduction to current theories about the Holy Grail written by Chris Thornborrow. This is the abstract:
   "This article is a collection of theories concerning the Holy Grail and what it could be. The confusion arises because the word Grail is derived from the word graal which first appeared in turn of the first millenium (A.D.) prose and poetry. There is no confusion over the meaning of the word Graal, which was a dish or platter brought to the table at various stages during a meal. However, the things that the graal or grail has come to represent has changed from story to story throughout the word's history. The first story in which the word appears was written by Chrétien de Troyes - "Le Conte del Graal". Chrétien's story was almost certainly based on an earlier one, but it is unknown what his actual source was or his meaning of the word Graal. Chrétien did not finish his story and continuations and rewrites of the story are then free to embellish and invent as much as the authors saw fit. Now the Grail represents many different things to many different people. No one meaning seems to explain all the strange events in the Grail stories. The reader will not find a definitive answer. Nor will he read all theories as some are obscure and not yet encountered in detail by the author."

Evolution of the Holy Grail as a Christian Relic
by Dan Scavone modified and amended as time permits. 

   1. The Last Supper described in the New Testament is the basis of the Christian liturgical service of the Eucharist. For over 1100 years, the Eucharist was received as bread from a paten/diskos (or equivalent), sometimes accompanied by wine from a drinking vessel or chalice. Neither of these was ever called a grail.
   2. Over this same great span of time, Christian artists depicted the Communion cup or the plate of the Communion bread. These objects represented one of the primary aspects of Christian worship, the reenactment of the Last Supper, which, in 1215CE, was to become an article of faith. Therefore, their depiction was commonplace and universally understood in the Christian world. With no hidden agenda, artists often placed the cup at the scene of the Crucifixion. (It is not germane here whether they believed in literal transubstantiation or not. The Real Presence was already the theme of the 9th c. De Corpore et Sanguine Domini of Paschasius Radbertus, considered to be the first study of the Eucharist alone.) In no illumination or mural of this scene in over a millennium before Chrétien was the vessel ever called a/the grail.
   3. The 2nd century apocryphal Gospel of Peter is the first known text to make Joseph of Arimathea a "friend" of Pilate. This opened the door to Joseph as soldier of Pilate "for a long time" (Robert de Boron) or for seven years (Perlesvaus et al.). The "seven years" seems to be the sort of easy personal emendation of Robert's seminal introduction of Joseph as a Grail character that may, but need not, require the existence of a lost alternate source for which there is no evidence. As between Robert's Joseph and the Perlesvaus, the similarities in the Joseph/Grail sections are essential to the story while the differences are incidental.
   4. A fairly well known 8th c. MS from Georgia considered by its editors to derive from a 5th c. original discusses St. Philip and Joseph of Arimathea founding a church to the Virgin at Lydda. Another theme of this same MS describes Joseph catching Jesus' blood dripping from the feet in the burial cloth. It is the earliest recorded form of the blood-collection theme and was imitated and embellished by other apocrypha from both the Greek East and the Latin West. Robert de Boron used the Georgian text almost verbum ad verbum, only altering the shroud in the original to the Last Supper cup (the Holy Grail). This blood collection theme may also lie behind the Bruges and Fecamp Sang Real Legends.
   5. In the 1160s or 1170s, the Roman of Alexandre mentioned "grail" as a word for plate, a common table item. Chrétien's grail resonates with that of the Alexandre Roman. It is a platter-grail, large in size and lavishly fancy, and his singular grail delivers an oiste to a single, very special king. It is easily compared to Helinand's common "wide and somewhat deep dish," usually quite ornate. An indicator pointed out by Antonio Furtado shows that when Chrétien names Philip of Alsace/Flanders, his patron and dedicatee, he says he is greater in merit than Alexander. Later in Chrétien's Perceval, the hermit calls it a "holy thing".
   6. Robert de Boron recreated the Holy Grail as the cup of the Last Supper basing his entire account on a few New Testament apocrypha and the Georgian text and Gospel of Peter mentioned above.
   7. It has been argued that a legend, long since lost, on the Holy Grail as cup of the Last Supper may have predated Robert's and may be the 'grant livre'; mentioned by Robert himself. No writer is entirely original and neither was Robert, whose sources have been analyzed in Arthuriana article vol. 9, no. 4, winter 1999, 3-31. But scholars have not found his 'grant livre'. Robert's editor, Richard O'Gorman, thinks it may be one of those medieval topoi used habitually by Arthurian writers. It has been pointed out that with all the theological debate going on in France around 1200, any such legend would have been on every pilgrim's lips. Consider in addition the sanc sang legends of Fecamp, Bruges, and Glastonbury.
   8. Since even the editors and scholars of Wolfram's Grail story consider him at once a sensationalist and an occultist he seems therefore to fall out of the mainstream Grail history that includes Robert, the Perlesvaus, the interpolator of the First Continuation, and the Vulgate Estoire and Queste.

Albigensian Grail

   One still sees speculation that the origins of the Holy Grail are somehow associated with Albigensian beliefs. The quote below strenuously denies that. A. E. Waite (The Holy Grail, 1933?) wrote (408), "There is only one conclusion to be drawn from the evidence: that the attempt to connect the Catharists, Perfecti, and other Sects of Southern France . . . with the literature of the Holy Grail is a marriage of things which can never be brought together. . . .It is intolerable . . . to propose that the literature of the Holy Grail, though it treats on the surface of Secret Eucharistic Words, of an Arch-Natural Mass and of the most Sacred Relics in all the world of Relics, was committed in reality, but deeply beneath that surface, to the denial and rejection of the Mass and the disdain of Relics."

The Grail is Celtic

   There were two blessed articles in the ancient 13 Treasures of Britain, the cors bendegeid - a cornucopia or sacred drinking horn, and the cauldron or platter of plenty. It can be assumed that Chrétien, through whatever source, knew of the articles and his procession has a graal, a deep dish large enough to carry a lamprey or a boar's head or even a human head. I personally do not believe that Chrétien's story is a holy grail story but a story of awakening and familial revenge - a return of the king style story. You can also grasp that during this period of story development and the flowering of the grail stories that there would be confusion, either on purpose or by mistake, where the blessed cup, the cors, becomes the sacred body, the cors or corpus Christi. And suddenly, a cauldron/platter and drinking horn becomes a grail and sacred wafer and even more convoluted becomes a grail cup containing a mass wafer. As the original stories were not Christian mystery stories, the conversion and use of the story elements in the Christianized grail mysteries would create different levels of new stories with the original themes buried within, e.g., such themes as the female grail bearer. Writers use story themes, blending them into their message.

Grail Maiden

   One of the problems that has plagued the connection of the early Grail procession with linkage to the religious grail with its sustaining 'host' or 'communion wafer' and with the cup of the last supper is the fact that the graal was carried by a maiden, a practice that is forbidden by the Church. A solution to this problem has been suggested by way of the Viaticum. In the early Grail stories, the maiden enters and proceeds to the dying king where she provided the host that sustained his life. Among the ancient Greeks, the custom existed of giving a supper to those setting out on a journey, equivalent in Latin of this is viaticus, i.e. "of or pertaining to a road or journey". Subsequently, "viaticum" figuratively meant the provision for the journey of life; and finally, by metaphor the provision for the passage out of this world into the next. It generally meant anything that gave spiritual strength and comfort to the dying and enabled them to make the journey into eternity with greater confidence and security. In the course of time, "viaticum" was applied to the Eucharist; and finally, it acquired its present fixed, exclusive, and technical sense of Holy Communion given to those in danger of death. The Catechism of the Council of Trent (De Euch. sacr., n. 3) says: "Sacred writers call it the Viaticum as well because it is the spiritual food by which we are supported in our mortal pilgrimage, as also because it prepares for us a passage to eternal glory and happiness". As early as 325CE, the Holy Eucharist given to the dying was called the "last and most necessary Viaticum" (Council of Nice, can. 13). Formerly Viaticum was administered not only by bishops and priests, but also by deacons and clerics of inferior orders and even by lay people. From a Decree of the Council of Reims (Regino, "De eccl. disc.", I, cxx), it appears that sometimes even females carried the Viaticum to the dying, which practice the Council strictly forbade. Apparently for a while it was difficult to eliminate this abuse. After the tenth century, no mention is made of lay persons carrying Viaticum to the dying. Even though the practice was eliminated by the time of the compilation of the Grail legends, it does not eliminate the possibility that the earlier versions of the legend could be interpreted in this light, a holy maiden, pure and innocent, carrying the viaticum to the dying king.

Nanteos Cup

The Cup of the Last Supper

Tassilo Cup