Grail Legends



The Holy Grail is a portion of the Arthurian cycle of romance, of late origin embodying a number of tales dealing with the search for a certain vessel of great sanctity, called the "grail" or "graal." Versions of the story are numerous— the most celebrated of them being the Conte del Graal, the Grand St. Graal, Sir Percyvalle, Quete del St. Graal, and Guyot; but there are many others. These overlap in many respects, but the standard form of the story may perhaps be found in the Grand St. Graal—one of the latest versions, which dates from the thirteenth century. It tells how Joseph of Arimathea employed a dish used at the last supper to catch the blood of the Redeemer which flowed from his body before his burial. The wanderings of Joseph are then described. He leads a band to Britain, where he is cast into prison, but is delivered by Evelach or: Mordrains, who is instructed by Christ to assist him. This Mordrains builds a monastery where the Grail is housed. Brons, Joseph's brother-in-law, has a son Alain, who is appointed guardian of the Grail; and this Alain having caught a great fish, with which he feeds the entire household, is called the Rich Fisher, which title becomes that of the Grail keepers in perpetuity. Alain placed the Grail in the castle of Corbenic, and thence in due time come various knights of King Arthur's court in quest of the holy vessel, but only the purest of the pure can approach its vicinity; and in due time Percival attains to sight of the marvel.

It is probable that the Grail idea was originated by early mediaeval legends of the quest for talismans which conferred great boons upon the finder: as for example, the Shoes of Swiftness, the Cloak of Invisibility, the Ring of Gyges, and so forth; and that these stories were interpreted in the light and spirit of mediaeval Christianity and mysticism. They may be divided into two classes: those which are connected with the quest for certain talismans, of which the Grail is only one, and which deal with the personality of the hero who achieved the quest; and secondly those which deal with the nature and history of the talismans.


A great deal of controversy has raged around the probable Eastern origin of the Grail Legend, and much erudition has been employed to show that Guyot, a Provencal poet who flourished in the middle of the twelfth century, found at Toledo in Spain an Arabian book by an astrologer, Flegitanis, which contained the Grail story. But the name "Flegitanis" can by no means be an Arabian proper name; and it might perhaps be the Persian feleke-ddneh, a Persian combined word which signifies " astrology," and in this case it would be the title of an astrological work. Professor Bergmann and others believed that the Holy Legend originated in the mind of Guyot himself; but this conclusion was strongly combated by the late Alfred Nutt. There is, however, good reason to believe that the story may have been brought from the East by the Knights Templar. The Grail Legend has often been held by certain writers to buttress the theory that the Church of England or the Catholic Church has existed since the foundation of the world. From early Christian times the genealogy of these churches is traced back through the patriarchs to numerous apocryphal persons ; but we are not informed as to whether it possessed hierophants in Neolithic and Paleolithic times, or how it originated. This mischievous and absurd theory, which in reality would identify Christianity with the grossest forms of paganism, is luckily confined to a small band of pseudo-mystics, comprising for the most part persons of small erudition and less liberality of outlook. The Grail Legend was readily embraced by those persons, who saw in it a link between Palestine and England and a plea for the special and separate foundation of the Anglican Church by direct emissaries from the Holy Land. Glastonbury was fixed as the headquarters of the Grail immigrants, and the finding of a glass dish in the vicinity of the cathedral there not many years ago was held to be confirmation of the story by many of the faithful. The exact date of this vessel cannot successfully be gauged, but there is not the least reason to suppose that it is more than a few hundred years old.


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