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The search for the Holy Grail, the chalice of Christ

 graal

 

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.  Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” [Matthew 26, 26-29]

What is the Holy Grail? Is it a physical object, whose search engages scholars, a philosophical concept, a knowledge or only a myth? 

In his work “The Gospel according to Science” Piergiorgio Odifreddi provided the most fitting definition “It is known what the Holy Grail is: it is something of which we do not know what it is, nor if it exists“. 

 

Hints of literature 

The search for the Holy Grail has been always fascinating, although the object of the investigations changes over centuries with a certain unpredictability. The term Grail derives from the Latin word (Gradalis: chalice or basin) and was coined by the French writer Chretien de Troyes, who introduced the term into the Medieval novel “Perceval“. During the Middle Age the myth had a particular spread, especially thanks to the work of the Dominican friar Jacopo da Varazze [1]. 

 

The Holy Grail and the Crusades

According to these literary sources, in 1099, during the First Crusade, the Genoese would have found the Holy Grail. It was a very precious chalice: that used by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper. It was the same chalice that, according to the tales of the 13th century by the French poet Robert de Boron [2], Giuseppe d’Arimatea  used to collect the blood of the dying Son of God on the Cross. Hence, it would be a relic of inestimable value which embodied the essence of the Christianity, of Christ’s sacrifice and of the transubstantiation. Moreover, the relic that contained the blood of God could have incredible powers of thaumaturgy and bestow the eternal life to his owners. This explains the birth of thousands of legends, stories, historical artifacts, archaeological searches, philosophical interpretations regarding the Holy Grail. 

Later, Robert de Boron told that the Holy Grail was moved from Jerusalem to Great Britain, where it contributed to the generation of a cycle of legends focused on the figure of the King Arthur. Of particular interest is the work of Wolfram von Eschenbach. In his work “Parzifal” the author resumed the writings of Chretien de Troyes, although he wanted to represent the Grail not as a chalice, but as a stone with miraculous powers (Lapis exillis), which would guarantee immortality.

 

The knights of the Round Table and the Holy Grail 

 

Historical hints, is the Holy Grail in England? 

Beyond the imaginative interpretations, and the literary strand about the legends of the Holy Grail, few are the historical evidences. 

The first mentions of a chalice venerated as a relic in Jerusalem, at the Holy Sepulcher, date to the 7th century by the French bishop Arnolfo, according to the historian [3]:

Between the Golgotha church and the place of the martyrdom there is a chapel where the Lord chalice is preserved. It is the chalice that Jesus blessed with his hands and that he gave to the Apostles when he settled at the supper the day before his torture. The chalice is silver, has the dimension of a Gallic pint and has two worked handles for each side… After the Resurrection, the Lord drank the same chalice, according to what indicated at the supper with the apostles. The saint Arnolfo saw it and through the opening of the reliquary where it was located, he touched it. 

According to the Roman historian Olympiodorus of Thebes a particular chalice, similar to the Holy Grail, was in Roma until 410 AC. In the same year it was moved to England for preserving it from the Sack of Rome, by the visogot Alaric. 

 

Holy Grail and Great Britain 

The Grail could have reached England by Joseph of Arimatea. The Holy Scriptures indicates Joseph as the one who collected the body of Christ after his crucifixion: 

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. [4]. 

If Joseph of Arimathea actually came into possession of the Holy Grail he would take it to Glastonbury, in England. The supporters of this thesis indicates the “Annales Ecclesiasticae” of 1601 as a reliable historical source. It is a note from a Vatican librarian, the cardinal Baronio, that refers of the arrival of Joseph of Arimathea in Marseille in 35 AC, directed to England. 

 

Pietro Perugino: Compianto sul Cristo morto. Joseph of Arimathea is the figure in the bottom right. 

 

Another source, “De Sancto Joseph ab Arimathea”, statues the presence of Joseph of Arimathea in France in 63 AC. Later it could have moved to England, according to the tale of the bishop of Lisieux, Freculfo. 

The literary and historical sources, although these last ones are few, describe the Grail as a chalice or a container. Nonetheless, the modern interpretations have attributed to it several meanings, most of which are linked to occultism or philosophical concepts. 

 

The Grail and the descendants of Jesus Christ, a well documented hoax 

One of the most famous interpretations of the symbology linked to the Grail is the one by M. Baigent, R. Leigh and H. Lincoln [5]. These scholars have supported the existence of a close connection between the Holy Grail and the doctrine of the Cathars. The Cathars (from the Latin “catharus”, “pure”) were a sect born in the Middle Age with different names, depending on the place of settlement: Albigensians in France, Patarini in Italy. They followed some philosophical and docrtrinal concepts of the Manichaeism, with some derivations of a Gnostic cult. For this reason, they believed in a dualism in which God is the creator of the spiritual things and Satan the creator of the material things. They didn’t believe in Resurrection (but in reincarnation) nor in the Trinity theology. They didn’t conceive the human nature of Christ; in fact, they considered him as an angel sent by God. 

For these reasons in 1165 the Cathars were accused of heresy and excommunicated by the Church. The popes initially tried to convert them by evangelization missions, like that by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in Languedoc. However, the murder of the papal legate Pierre of Castelnau in 1208 determined the precipitate of the events. The pope Innocent III launched a crusade against the Cathars. The battle lasted for decades until 1244, when the last Albigensian stronghold, Montségur, capitulated.  

 

Stefano di Giovanni, “Stake of a heretic”.

 

The legend of Montségur

A legend of the Languedoc tells that Monthségur hosted the Holy Grail. Moreover, in his work “Parzifal” Wolfram von Eschenbach has located the Grail in a castle in the Pyrenees, named Munsalvaesche. It is curious that the term Munsalvaesche (“Safe mount”) corresponds to the Dutch translation of Montségur, the last stronghold of the Cathars. Further, Eschenbach tells that the Munsalvaesche castel was erected by Perilla, which seems real since the lord of Montségur was called Raimon de Pereille. 

M. Baigent, R. Leigh and H. Lincoln argue that, during the siege days of Montségur, some cathars would succeed secretly to move the Grail to a most safe place. Particularly, it would be preserved in the nearby village of Rennes-le-Château, which at that time was an important Albigensian stronghold. 

 

Holy Grail and Rennes-le-Château

The events concerning Rennes-le-Château are known. The priest Bérenger Saunière become the parish priest of the French village in 1885. He has entered into the collective immagination as one of the most mysterious man of the last centuries. After some renovations works inside the church of Rennes-le-Château, dedicated to Mary Magdalene, he became unexpectedly rich, so he spent so much money, comparable to millions euros. 

On the basis of the writings by Gérard de Sède [6], M. Baigent, R. Leigh and H. Lincoln pointed out that the priest could have found some parchments indicating the location of the mysterious treasure. Gérard de Sède has reported the message (encrypted) of the parchments, which claimed the ownership of the treasure of an elusive and secret order: the Priory of Sion. It had the role of protecting an extraordinary arcane, a mystery that Saunière had discovered and thanks to which he had become rich: Jesus Christ was not celibate as the Gospels tell. Instead, he had married with Mary Magdalene and hah had a lineage, this was the treasure of the parchments. The Holy Grail would be the womb of Mary Magdalene. 

 

A well-orchestrated fake

The news has originated many best-sellers, like the “Codice da Vinci” by the writer Dan Brown. However, it was discovered that the parchments of Saunière were totally created by the French designer Pierre Plantard (Paris, 18 march 1920 – Colombes, 3 february 2000) who, in league with Gérard de Sède, generated a historical false. Plantard has argued that he was the last descendant of the Merovingian dinasty. Moreover, it was discovered that the Priory of Sion really existed; it was not a secret order with the role of preserving the Grail, but a society headed to Plantard. 

“It is not a hidden monetary treasure, profane who do not understand anything; the treasure that Saunière had discovered are documents concerning the continuity of the Merovingian dinasty that the heir Sigisberto, excaping from that place and marrying a local princess, originated a progeny which lastly arrived at me. They were secret documents, the priest was supported by the secret Order of the Priory of Sion, of which I am the Master and the secret initiatic order has the scope of keeping the documents and defending the Merovingian dinasty until its restoration [7]” [Pierre Plantard].

 

Is the Grail the Holy Shroud? 

According to the historian Daniel Scavone, the Grail would be the Holy Shroud [8]. The myth of the Holy Grail could have originated from incomplete news coming from Western to Eastern, relating to a relic which contained the blood of Jesus Christ. 

 

The Holy Shorud in Turin 

 

Is the Grail in the attic of a private house in Rugby, in England?

The theory is supported by the English Graham Phillips. Based on the reconstruction of several family trees, the scholar has argued he has found the Holy Grail inside the attic in Rugby, which was owned by a woman, Victoria Palmer. According to Phillips, Mrs Palmer is descended from a family of Welsh kings, the Powys, which  received the Grail as a gift in 1100. This could have been found inside the tombs of Jesus by Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine. However, the Grail could have been hidden in an attic of a house, since nobody has remembered the real value of the object. After the studies by Phillips, the sacred chalice (in this case it would correspond to a onyx cup) was moved to a safe deposit in a bank. 

 

The Holy Grail and the Knights Templar

The Holy Grail could have been found by the Knights Templar in Jerusalem and after moved to France; this is the suggestive hypothesis by several authors. The chalice could have been guarded there until 1307, the year when the persecution against the Templars started, by the king of France Philip the Fair. According to this thesis, the aim of the king was to take over the legendary treasure of the Knights, including the Holy Grail, although it wasn’t found. Is it possible that it was preserved, may be in England? 

 

The 72 Templars 

A clue is provided by 72 Templars and, in 1308, they were subjected to trial behind the pope Clement  [9]. Among the terrible tortures, someone (the historical chronicles report the name of Jean de Châlons) affirmed that the guardian of the Temple, Gerard de Villers, could set sail in command of eightneen ships, probably from the Templar outpost of La Rochelle, towards Great Britain. 

According to the scholar Trevor Ravenscroft, the Holy Grail could have been carried to Scotland, inside the Rosslyn chapel. This building, by William Sinclair, would recall a Templar symbology. Inside the chapel there are two columns, known as “of the master” and “of the apprentice”. At the center of the latter the presence of a metallic object is reported by a metal detector. Is it the Holy Grail? It is difficult to verify it, because the research works have never been authorized. 

 

The Sigillum of the Knights Templar

 

The Oak Island water well

Another version statues that the Holy Grail would be at the Oak island, in the New Scotland. The prince Henry Sinclair, in fact, could have commissioned a navy of Templars, survived from the persecution by Philip the Fair, under the command of Antonio Zeno. The ships of the Order of Jerusalem could have arrived in America, one century before Christopher Columbus. This would explain why a Cross Pattée is represented on the sails of the caravals of the Genoese navigator,  Niña, Pinta e Santa Maria. The Holy Grail was transported to the Oak Island and located it at the bottom of an impenetrable well, call “money pit” (water well of the money). 

  

A print by Gustav Adolf Closs of 1892. To be noted the Crosses Pattée on the sails of the caravel of Christopher Columbus. 

 

Is the Holy Grail in Apulia? 

The 9th of May 1087 the remains of Saint Nicholas, christian bishop of Myra, entered the city of Bari, transported by several sailors. The remains of the Saint were got by a secret mission in Turkey, whose principal was the pope, Gregory VII. Some popular sources assure that, in a deconsecrated church of Myra, the sailors of Bari found something, a relic of inestimable value. It would be the precious chalice, whis was immediately identified as the Holy Grail. The next years Gregory VII ordered the construction of an impressive building, whose function was to keep the remains of Saint Nicholas. From then, the Grail would be hidden inside the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. 

 

The Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Bari. 

 

 

 

The Cathedral of Saint Nicholas 

Some elements inside the building support this hypothesis. Firstly, the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas contains a reproduction of the spear of Longinus, that the centurion used for piercing the side of Christ. On the archivolt of a gate of the building, called “Lion Door”, there is a representaion of the Knights of the Round Table of King Arthur, an iconographic element attributable to the Holy Grail. However, it is surprising the construction of the gate (Basilio, XII century) is antecedent to the spread of the Arthurian cycle. Another clamorous element is represented by a mysterious writing that nobody could ever decipher. They are 624 Latin characters on a altar of the right transept of the Cathedral. 

 

The mysterious writing 

The writing is divided into horizontal portions and two columns. 

Upper portion:

GSMIIPGATPPAICIDMSEOEPLMDNIPERDMGMVAMMPDTLCDMPPDIVEIM

VVSSOPEICMIIMIQVSIVCPDMPASTLCCLSSEPMEDE TESBEPMEGSAQPIMGDEPCLMCPCSMAGVEM

AIPNVPSATPPVEPLEGIMIGEMEELPPDIEMECMPLMGPEIQSFATGNQVQPDSDTSSAESCL 

ASCDGIETPECCGMISGPHEPDTMIDBODDTSAIGDHQHEMPAAMIEF

OPDVEPEDAGEPDORDCEDTDSSECHBEEBSAPDVMEDSACLAATMGA

Right column:

EADQIVEMSEGECCACDTLSMNEPNNSBAIMSSQL

CQINCACIVGSADOATPPCADGRNTPAMIHDDSPIAP

Bottom portion:

QSCTIMCEVIMCAVEFCTPEPIAPMMTQCTEPLSMCCRSASMGIQ

PEACLTGADAAIMNNNMACCLSPCETDPPADMITQEDDMCIVPI 

MSIQPEPAMPRAMDIQPPCDAMARCCIISHAIVECQDBAMNEML

DSMDIIQIMRNCCEFGDCCDGEDMEDGELTPMNMCESNLMI 

GLAMRADCGEMSALSDMEPPFN

Left column:

PPGMVNVFMAIMEDLACMDICRPPBLVMDTININPIV

DMDPLTDDTDERACISEPVSPALGMICEQVRDMNF

 

Interpretations

A possible interpretation of the writing is provided by the scholar Vincenzo dell’Aere in 2003, according to which it would say: “The chest and the casket from the crypt of Myra and the Gradual coming from the chapel of the Eternal of Galgano are here hidden” [ARCA TESTA TECTA A CRIPTA IN MIRA ET GRADALE A SACEL(LO) IN GALVA(NI) SEPULCR(O)]. Hence, it would be an incontrovertible witness that the Holy Grail is kept in Bari. 

Even the figure of Saint Nicholas would be linked to the meaning of the same Chalice. In fact, this last is described in the Arthurian literary cycle as a provider of the man needs, like food or objects, so the Knights Templar could have used it for assuring the useful food for feeding. The tradition wants that Saint Nicholas (5th century AC) was in possession of the Chalice, and thanks to it he could bestow gifts and care to whom needs. The myth of Santa Claus was born from that. 

 

Castel del Monte

Another possible hiding place of the Grail in Apulia is represented by Castel del Monte in Andria. The building was commissioned by Frederick of Svevia who could have taken possession of the Chalice during the period of the Christian dominion in Jerusalem. Frederick II could have hidden the Grail inside Castel del Monte, whose octagonal form would recall the Christian chalice. 

 

Castel del Monte

 

Is the Grail the Sacred Basin of Genoa? 

During the sacking of Caesarea of 1101 a particular object, now known as the Sacred Basin, was found. It is an emerald green glass plate, that was carried to Genoa the year later by Guglielmo Embriaco. The Sacred Basin was considered the Holy Grail for centuries although now, after in-depth studies, we know it isn’t. The Arthurian tradition affirmed that the Holy Grail was obtained directly digging from an enormous emerald, and the relic of Genoa seemed to be composed by that precious stone. However, in 1806 Napoleon was conquering Genoa when the Sacred Basin was picked up by the French army. It was destroyed, showing that actually it is composed only by Byzantin crystal. After several restorations, the relic is now preserved at the Museo del Tesoro in the cathedral of Saint Lawrence in Genoa. 

 

Saint Galgano and the Eremo di Montesiepi

The idea that the Holy Grail is in Chiusdino, in the Eremo of Montesiepi, derives from the extraordinary similaries between the story of Saint Galgano Guidotti and the king Arthur from the Anglo-Saxon mythology. 

On the Christmas day of 1180, in fact, the knight Galgano Guidotti had a mystic vision. The archangel Michael appeared to him and later twelve apostles too. Galgano understood that God was calling him to a conversion, to dedicate his life only to Him. As a gesture of adherence to this mystical vision, the knights plunged his sword into a stone. 

 

The sword in the stone 

The weapon has seemed like the cross of Christ. Galgano tore his clotes, obtaining a habit. In the place where the cross was placed the Eremo of Montesiepi was erected. Here, the Templar connotation is strong, attested by the presence of a Cross Pattée, the religious Order that was always linked to the Holy Grail events. Moreover, not far from the Eremo there is a river called Gallesse; is it a distortion in the Tuscan dialet of “Wales”, the village of King Arthur? Additionally, a legend, handed down orally by the inhabitants of the place, hosts an unexpected protagonist: the wizard Merlin defeats a terrible dragon. Further, near Montesiepi, in Arcidosso (GR), there is a cavern known as “Cave of Merlin”. 

 

The sword in the stone in the Eremo di Montesiepi

 

The Grail as an inspiration path 

Someone has hypothesized that the Holy Grail corresponds to the philosopher’s stone. This last, known as donum dei, allows to reach the inspiration at the end of the alchemical path. It is a level of consciousness and higher knowledge, which permits the elevation of man from his common condition. The realization of the philosopher’s stone would attribute to adepts extraordinary powers, that as a whole are defined “the triple crown of the wise”. These gifts correspond to immortality (or universal medicine), to omniscience, that are obtainable through an elixir composed of the same stone dissolved in alcohol, and also to the capacity of transforming  any metal into gold. According to this vision, the search for the Holy Grail would be a path of spiritual elevation. 

 

The Holy Grail and Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler and the Nazi hierarchs like Himmler, were obsessioned by the search for the occult. The aim was to demonstrate, by the exoterism and the archaeology, that Germans descended from the most pure race, the aryan. Moreover, Hitler believed that the findings of some sacred relics, like the Spear of Longinus, the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail, were allowed him to dominate the World. The dictator attributed to the Chalice of the Last Supper incredible powers, already described by Wolfram von Eschenbach, powers that could have allowed him to stay alive for at least 1000 years. 

Based on the “Parzifal” by von Eschenbach, Hitler commissioned to the archaeologist Otto Rahn the search for the Holy Grail in several places along the Pyrenees, among them the Montségur castel. A group of new Cathars exoterists helped him. However, the Grail has never been found, nor a witness of a German-Aryan descendence. Hitler lost the war without finding the sacred relic he was looking for. Like the knight Parzifal, only the pure in heart can get close to the Holy Grail, only the pure in heart are worthy of immortality. 

  

Samuele Corrente Naso

(Translation by Daniela Campus)

 

 

NOTES

[1] Jacopo da Varazze, “Legenda Aurea“, 1260-1298.

[2] Robert de Boron, “Roman dou l’Estoire de Graal ou Joseph d’Arimathie”, XIII secolo

[3] Richard Barber, “Graal”, Piemme, 2004.

[4] Mt 27, 57-61

[5] M. Baigent, R. Leigh e H. Lincoln, “Il Santo Graal – Una catena di misteri lunga duemila anni”

[6] Gérard de Sède, “Le trèsor maudit”, 1967

[7]  G.F. Ersoch ,”Gli equivoci sul Graal”  

[8] Daniel Scavone, “Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and the Turin Shroud”, 1996

[9] Bolla pontificia “Faciens misericordiam

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