You’ve probably heard of the Holy Grail before.
And know that it’s something super important associated with Jesus.
And that many people have gone looking for it.
But knowledge of what the Holy Grail actually is proves hard to come by.
Lots of people create fiction about the Grail, and their stories are often mixed with the truth.
And on the internet, it’s hard to tell the two apart.
So I’ve written this post to explain what it is from an Orthodox understanding.
So, what’s the Holy Grail?
The Holy Grail is a vessel which Jesus supposedly drank from during the Last Supper. Nobody knows what type of vessel it was. The Grail first appeared in medieval French literature, and it was later associated with Christ’s drinking cup. Its current location is unknown.
So, we don’t know where the Grail is, we don’t know what it looked like, and we don’t know who has it.
What do we know about it?
Early Grail Literature
Chrétien de Troyes
The Grail first appeared during the late 12th century in the poetry of a man named Chrétien de Troyes.
In his poem, The Story of the Grail, he tells the story of how a man called the Fisher King was the last in a line of people who were charged with keeping the Grail.
The poem features Sir Perceval, one of King Arthur’s knights, and unites the legend of the Grail with that of Camelot.
During the events of the poem, the Grail is presented as an attractive bowl form which water is given to the sick, but the bowl is not given special significance.
The same story features a bleeding lance which is meant to be the spear which pierced Jesus’ side. The lance is a relic of Christ, so the grail was later assumed to be as well.
And the author who made this connection was named Robert de Boron.
Robert de Boron
Shortly after the first Grail poem was produced, Robert de Boron identified the poem’s chalice as Christ’s drinking cup.
He wrote about it in his own poem, Joseph d’Arimathie, in which he tells the story of a man who used the Grail to collect Christ’s blood from the cross after the Lord had been removed from it.
In the story, Joseph is thrown in prison where he is met by Jesus and tasked with foudning a line of Grail-keepers.
This line eventually includes Sir Percival in order to maintain the continuity of the story told by Chrétien de Troyes.
After Robert de Boron has raised the importance of the Grail within French literature, it became an improtant piece of the Arthurian legend.
Other writers began to include it in their stories.
Of these, the most famous were those stories in the Vulgate Cycle. These stories are the ones which feature the Arthurian Knights’ adventures in search of the Holy Grail. Most of what modern people think of when they consider the Arthurian legends comes from this cycle.
These stories created an Arthurian universe which was later picked up by Thomas Mallory, who proceeded to use the continuity within them to write The Death of Arthur, which ended the legends.
The Arthurian legends broguht the ide of the Grail into public knowledge and, lo and behold, many Holy Grails began to appear.
Some Grails were treated with more gravity than others.
The Byzantine Grail
One of the more trustworthy people to claim knwoledge of the Holy Grail’s location was a bishop named Arculf.
Arculf was a Frankish (early French) pilgrim who had travelled to Jerusalem and claimed that the cup Jesus has used was located there. He made this claim centuries before the Arthurian stories had popularized the grail, so his word was trusted over that of others.
At the time, Jerusalem was within the Byzantine Empire, and the Byzantines asserted the vessel displayed there was only a copy.
But whatever the truth may be, the item in question is gone now.
It was taken by Crusaders during the Fourth Crusade, and they brought it to France. They kept it for several centuries, and then the Grail was lost during the French Revolution.
The Genoese Grail
The Genoa Cathedral houses a green dish which the owners claim was used at The Last Supper. It was brought there by crusaders, and the people who retrieved it did not claim that it was the Holy Grail.
Instead, they saw it, they assumed it was made of emerald, and they brought it back to Italy as war booty. A story was later created to inflate the importance of the dish, and the Grail Legends were appropriated to do so.
The Valencian Grail
Another possible Grail resides in Spain in the Valencian Cathedral. It came to be there during the 15th century after the Spanish monarchy donated it to the Catholic Church. Its history before the 15th century is unknown, but the legend surrounding the item is that Saint Peter brought it to Rome where it was later kept under the protection of Saint Lawrence and others.
Some places are commonly associated with the Holy Grail. These include: Glastonbury in Somerset England, where King Arthur is said to have been buried; the Château de Montségur, a Cathar stronghold near the border of France and Spain; and Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, where the Grail was said to have been moved after King Arthur’s tomb had been ransacked.
What’s the Holy Grail? – The Conspiracies
The Holy Grail is the subject of many conspiracy theories. It is best if a person learns about the Grail from Arthurian legends. This prevents them from entering the conspiracy rabbit-hole. However, most people first learn about the Grail from a theory roted in the Knights Templar.
The Knights Templar
The foremost of Grail conspiracy theories is that of the Knights Templar. The theory goes that the Freemasons and the Templar Knights have worked i tandem to collect and preserve relics. It also states that their activities ahave been ongoing for centuries. If the theory is true, then the Knights have stashed the Holy Grail in a vault somewhere for safekeeping.
This theory came forth during the early 19th century. It was created by an Austrian historian named Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall and who had enough evidence of this theory to convicne himself and anyone else who wanted to be convinced.
And many people certainly did.
After the Austiran first presented his theory, many creative stories were constructed upon it. Most of these involve the Knights Templar working in tandem with heretical Christian sects to either conceal or obtain something.
The result of the progressive development of the theory first put forth by Hammer-Purgstall was this: Jesus married Mary Magdalene, they had children, their family still exists, and its members are the blood descendants of Jesus. In this story, Magdalene was the Holy Grail.
All Catholic and Orthodox Christians must reject this theory. It is heretical because it denies Christ’s ascension into Heaven and, therefore, a portion of the Nicene Creed.
What’s the Holy Grail? Does It Matter?
Let us assume that the Holy Grail exists.
Let us also assume that we know where it is.
And let’s go ahead and assume that we can prove its authenticity.
What would it mean for us?
In all honesty, not much. The Holy Grail would be a relic just like any other.
Pilgrims would visit the Grail, and it probably wouldn’t confer any special blessings on the people who accessed it. Even if it did, the effects would likely be comparable to a Placebo.
Moreover, the Grail would no longer contain the blood of Christ.
Without Divine Intervention, the blood would have evaporated long ago.
And even if the blood were still there, what would one do with it? Drink it? Do you really think you’d be allowed to do that?
And as for the cup itself… What would you do if you saw it?
Maybe you would covet it.
Yet envy is a sin in Christianity. If you found the Grail and began to desire it for yourself at the expense of its current owner, then it would have been better for you not to have found it at all!
Or maybe you would look at it.
What good would that do? If your faith were enhanced because you saw a fancy cup, then what would that say about you? And if your faith decreased because you saw The Holy Grail, then you would be falling into error because you wer enot thinking clearly.
Or maybe you would pray toward it.
Yet this would be a form of idolatry.
Now, I could make this list far longer if I wanted to, but I think I’ve made my point.
What’s the Holy Grail? – Don’t Worry About It
The Holy Grail might still exist, but its existence is nowhere near as important as some people pretend. It is far better to treat the stories surrounding it as the fictions their authors believed them to be.
If it doesn’t exist, then it doesn’t matter. And if it does exist, then it doesn’t matter for us because we can’t interact with it.