The Holy Grail is traditionally thought to be the cup that Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper and that Joseph of Arimathea used to collect Jesus’s blood at his crucifixion. From ancient legends to contemporary movies, the Holy Grail has been an object of mystery and fascination for centuries. Scores of people have hunted for this sought-after Christian relic. But what makes the Holy Grail so significant and alluring?
What Is the Holy Grail?
The Holy Grail is the subject of numerous myths and legends, which makes it difficult for scholars to distinguish fact from fiction.
The word “grail” probably comes from the Latin word gradale, which refers to a deep platter that foods were served on at medieval banquets. Throughout the years, the Grail has been described as a dish, a ciborium, a chalice, a platter, a goblet and even a stone.
Many literary works have portrayed the Grail as possessing miraculous healing powers. Historians believe that the origins of the Holy Grail can be traced back to pre-Christian Celtic mythology as well as Christian legend.
The quest for the Holy Grail first made its way into written text in Chrétien de Troyes’s Old French unfinished romance, the Conte del Graal (‘Story of the Grail’), or Perceval, which was written around 1180.
Robert de Boron further specified its Christian significance around 1200 in his poem Joseph d’Arimathie, citing the Holy Grail’s origins at the Last Supper and Christ’s death.
WATCH: Full episodes of History's Greatest Mysteries online now.
The Holy Grail and Medieval Legend
The Holy Grail became a popular theme in medieval literature, and stories about it were read and recited throughout Europe.
Some Arthurian tales claimed that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Grail to Glastonbury in England. One legend has it that on the spot where he buried the Grail, the water runs red because it travels through Christ’s blood, though scientists agree this is just the effect of red iron oxide in the soil.
The mythical literary figure, King Arthur, was said to coordinate great spiritual expeditions to search for the enigmatic relic. Legends hold that the Grail had the power to heal all wounds, deliver eternal youth and grant everlasting happiness.
In one popular Arthurian story, a character known as the “Fisher King” had a serious wound that kept him from moving. He needed the Grail to be healed and could only sit and fish near his castle until someone found the magical cup.
Since the inception of these widespread tales, countless travelers, scientists, historians and archeologists have attempted lofty quests to recover the Holy Grail.
In March 2014, two Spanish historians claimed they discovered the Holy Grail at a church in León in northern Spain. They said the chalice had been there since the 11th century.
Scientific dating confirmed that the cup was made between 200 B.C. and 100 A.D. The historians also presented data that included three years of research on the whereabouts of the Grail.
Despite these convincing facts, there’s no way to know for sure that what the pair discovered is actually the true cup that Jesus drank from. Adding to the controversy is the fact that there are roughly 200 alleged Grail cups in various locations around the world, and many scholars question whether the Holy Grail ever existed at all or is merely a legend.
Popular Culture and the Holy Grail
In recent years, the Holy Grail has appeared in many popular books and movies.
Some of these films include Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Excalibur (1981), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and The Fisher King (1991).
In Dan Brown’s popular novel, The Da Vinci Code, the Holy Grail isn’t described as an object but instead as Mary Magdalene’s womb. The book proposed that Mary gave birth to Jesus’s child, which started a bloodline of Christ.
Although scholars may never know whether the Holy Grail was an actual physical object or simply a mythical fantasy, the mysterious relic continues to fascinate millions even to this day.
The Quest for the Holy Grail: The British Library.
The Holy Grail: Symbols and Motifs: The Camelot Project: University of Rochester.
Crowds flock to Spanish church after holy grail claim: The Guardian.
The Real History of the Holy Grail: Catholic Culture.
The Holy Grail: New Advent.