Holy Grail

Since the publication of  The DaVinci Code the debate rages as to what and where the true Holy Grail exists


Taken as a whole, the various renditions of the Holy Grail legend, whether they derive from Europe or Asia, imply that there are many forms that the Holy Grail can take.

These legends assert that the Holy Grail can be anything from the platter mentioned by Chrétien de Troyes, the first author of the Holy Grail legend, to the Cup of Christ alluded to by Robert de Boron, or even the Stone of Heaven mentioned by Wolfram von Eschenbach in Parzival.

Although it may seem confusing to those who equate the Holy Grail solely with the Cup of Christ, the Holy Grail was never only one object. In fact, states Grail researcher Emma Jung, Chrétien de Troyes was explicit in his Le Conte du Graal when he stated that his Grail platter was “a Grail, not the Grail,” thereby opening the “doors of perception” to the existence of many Grails.


The most famous historical Holy Grail manifestation is the Cup of Christ or Joseph of Arimathea’s Cup. This is the vessel that Joseph of Arimathea used to catch the blood and sweat of the Messiah after he was taken down from the Cross, and it is also the chalice that Jesus passed among his disciples as part of the first communion during the Last Supper. According to Robert de Boron’s version of the Holy Grail legend, Joseph d’ Arimathie, Joseph traveled to England with the Cup of Christ right after being incarcerated within a Jerusalem prison, where the Jewish authorities had placed him after the body of Jesus suspiciously disappeared from its tomb. One day while in his cell, Joseph found the Cup of Christ suddenly and miraculously placed at his feet by God, who then proceeded to explain “the secrets of the Grail,” which are the secrets of the Eucharist and how the rites of that sacrament reflect the Passion of Christ. Joseph was kept alive for many years by food and drink that would spontaneously manifest within the Cup of Christ, and he continued to remain nourished by the chalice until Jerusalem was conquered by the Roman Emperor Vespasian and he was released from prison. Fearing re-imprisonment and renewed torture from both the Jews and Romans, Joseph escaped to the desert with his family, where both he and they were continually sustained by the sacred Cup of Christ. Joseph died soon after the exodus, but not before placing the Cup into the care of his brother-in-law, Bron, whose inner guidance subsequently lead him north to Glastonbury, Britain, where he was told to deposit the Grail.


Thus, in de Boron’s version of the Grail it is Bron that carries the Cup of Christ to Glastonbury, however more popular versions of the same legend have it that it was Joseph himself who brought the chalice to the sacred city in England. According to one alternate version of the myth, when Joseph was still in Jerusalem the Archangel Gabriel appeared to both him and eleven other missionaries in and then instructed them to travel to Glastonbury in order to build a church in England dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Leaving Palestine with the Cup of Christ in tow, Joseph and his entourage finally reached the coast of Britain after a very long journey. Then, after sailing down an inlet leading to Glastonbury, which at the time was a marshland covered with water, they finally disembarked on an island now known as Wearyall Hill, which refers to the weary state the group arrived in. It was here that Joseph planted his famous staff into the ground and watched with jubilation as it immediately sprouted leaves and flowers, thus signaling to himself and his companions that they had completed their journey.


Once settled in their new homeland, Joseph and his companions followed Gabriel’s instructions and constructed St. Mary’s Chapel, which became the first Christian church in Europe. Twelve dwellings were built in a circle around this chapel, each of which faced the central Chapel, which thus became building number thirteen, the number of the Christ. It is believed that the Cup of Christ was placed within this central chapel, thereby uniting the Grail Cup with its owner, the spirit of the Christ. Joseph’s little Chapel was eventually torn down and a larger chapel rose to take its place, one that would later be incorporated into the structure of Glastonbury Abbey. But before Joseph died, it is said that he buried the Cup of Christ in one of the mounds of Glastonbury now known as Chalice Hill. Or, states an alternate myth, Joseph secreted his Holy Grail in the Chalice Well, where today blood-colored water, symbolizing the blood of the Messiah, continually flows out to nourish and heal all bathe in it or drink it.


But other legends abound, including one that states that Joseph did not die in Britain as believed. Instead, he left Glastonbury soon after constructing St. Mary’s Chapel and sailed south to Spain with his Holy Grail. Supposedly he landed at Barcelona and then proceeded overland to either Montserrat in the Pyrenees or Montsegur in France, two mountain refuges that later became linked to the Cup of Christ or some manifestation of the Holy Grail. Since Joseph’s era, both of these mysterious mountains have often been equated with Munsalvaesche, the holy mountain of Grail legend upon which the Holy Grail is said to be interred in the Grail Castle of the Fisher King. 


Which of the legends regarding Joseph can be relied upon? Discerning the truth becomes an even more odious task in light of the growing body of evidence that asserts that Joseph did even not bring a cup to Britain as thought, but instead arrived with two cruets or small flasks of “white and silver.” The image of Joseph and his two cruets containing the blood and sweat of Jesus has become a popular theme of poets, historians, and artists, who have placed stained-glass images of Joseph with his two vials in strategic British churches, such as the Church of Saint John the Baptist in Glastonbury and All Saints Church in Langport. And even though one legend asserts that the flasks remain buried with Joseph in Glastonbury, some scholars claim that they have since been located and remain in the care of private collectors or in museums. According to them, Joseph’s vials currently exist as the Hawstone Park Vial and the Zingaro Templar Vial. The Hawstone Park Vial, which is a small onyx flask found hidden within a statue in Hawstone Park in Shropshire, England, has the size and shape of Joseph’s legendary cruets. It is also nearly identical to the Zingaro Templar Vail, Joseph’s supposed second vial, the location of which first came to light in a 1995 article featured in The Boston Globe that proclaimed that “the Holy Grail had been discovered in Italy.” The newspaper described the Zingaro Vail, which has since proven to be a close match to the vials depicted with Joseph, as a small green flask, two to three inches in length, that had for sometime been in the possession of Rocco Zingaro di San Fernando, the Grand Master of an Italian branch of the Knights Templar  Supposedly the vial had been given to Zingaro by Antonio Ambrosini, another Templar, who discovered it in a Coptic monastery in Egypt. It is probable that the Zingaro Templar Vail arrived in England with Joseph and was later taken to Egypt; or perhaps Joseph deposited the vial in Egypt on his way to England. Either way, The Boston Globe is conclusive that at least one Holy Grail manifestation was in the protection of the Knights Templar just as Grail legend suggests.


Besides Joseph’s two cruets that are reputed to have been deposited in Glastonbury, England, there was another famous pair of cruets filled with the blood and sweat of Christ that were taken out of the Middle East following the Messiah’s death. The owner of these vials was Nicodemus, who, like his close friend Joseph, similarly gathered up the blood and sweat that rolled off the Messiah’s body while assisting in the preparation of Jesus’ body before its internment. In order to hide his precious cruets, Nicodemus is said to have secreted them inside an image of the crucified Christ that he carved himself. Many scholars today claim it is still in existence as the Volto Santo, a wooden crucifix that currently hangs in Saint Martin’s Cathedral in Lucca, Italy. Identified as a legitimate Holy Grail manifestation in the mediaeval Grail legend known as the First Continuation, the Volto Santo arrived in Italy after being hidden for many years in Palestine, during which time it was in the care of the descendants of one Isaac or Isaachar, a member of the early Church whom Nicodemus hand picked to guard the Volto Santo just before he died. Following their arrival in Italy, the two cruets of blood were quickly discovered within the image’s head by the bishops of Luni and Lucca, each of whom took one and placed it within his respective cathedral.


Complicating the identity of the true Holy Grail even further is the third person who assisted Joseph and Nicodemus in wiping down the crucified body of Jesus. This was Mary Magdalene, who used a white alabaster jar to collect the blood and sweat of Jesus. According to the Golden Legend written by the French Archbishop Jacobus de Voragine, Mary transported her jar to France in a boat crewed by her sister Martha and her brother Lazarus. Mary was also accompanied on her journey west by Jesus’ aunts, Mary Jacobi and Mary Salome, and one of Jesus’ seventy-two disciples, St. Maximim. The Golden Legend states that Mary and her companions originally set sail against their will right after the Ascension, when “heathens” sent them aimlessly adrift on the turbulent Mediterranean Sea “without any tackle or rudder…for to be drowned.” Fortunately, states the legend, “by the purveyance of Almighty God” they eventually landed safely in the French coastal city of Marseilles.


The accepted French legend has it that Mary Magdalene died around 75 A.D. after spending the last forty years of her life as a hermit in a cave in the French hill region of Saint Baume.  After her transition, Mary’s body was interred by her brother disciple, St. Maximim, in the chapel he administered in the village of Villalata, later renamed St. Maximim in his honor. Between the 3rd and 4th centuries, Mary’s body was placed in an ornate white marble coffin, where it remained until 710 A.D., when Saracens invading southern France compelled Cassian monks to move Mary’s remains into a less ostentatious coffin, and then secretly bury it. Finally, in 1279, Mary’s tomb was re-discovered by Charles, a nephew of King Louis IX of France. Her bones and accompanying sacred objects were dug up and became part of her Sacred Relics, which were subsequently interred in the Basilique Sainte Madeleine. Today, Mary’s Relics reside within in the French village of Vezelay, and her skull is the centerpiece of an annual procession through the streets of St. Maximim.


Unfortunately, the whereabouts of Mary’s alabaster jar currently remains a mystery. One legend suggests that it eventually became one of the prized possessions of the Cathars, a group of Gnostics who were exterminated in 1244 by a crusade organized by Pope Innocent and his Inquisition. According to this legend, leading up to their final decimation on March 1, the Cathars took their most sacred books and artifacts, which included both the Holy Shroud and a version of the Holy Grail – possibly Mary’s alabaster jar – and then sought refuge in their nearly impenetrable mountain-top fortress of Montsegur, the principal seat of the Cathar Church since the year 1230. While their fortress was under siege by soldiers of the Inquisition, two or more Cathars are believed to have clandestinely escaped down the side of the mountain with many of the Cathar treasures, including both the Shroud and Mary’s Holy Grail, and then to have hid them in the surrounding countryside. The recovery of the Cathar relics in southern France has been an obsession of treasure hunters ever since.


Could Mary’s Holy Grail still exist somewhere in the south of France? As strange as it sounds, Mary’s Grail may have been discovered and moved to another location by Hitler’s Nazis. In 1931, Otto Rahn, a German who believed himself to have been a Cathar in a previous incarnation, was sent to Montsegur by Heinrich Himmler to search for the lost Cathar treasures. Rahn discovered tunnels and caverns beneath Montsegur, but he died mysteriously before he was able to extract any of the treasure interred within them. Another SS officer, Otto Skorzeny, was then dispatched by Himmler to complete the job, and according to one eye-witness account he was later seen leaving Montsegur with a plane load of relics headed for Himmler’s secret fortress of Wewelsburg. Then, states an additional eye witness account from the end of World War II, a German Heinkel 277 V-1 left Salzburg, Austria, bound for the East, possibly Nepal or Tibet, with a plane load of cargo believed to include the ancient Cathar relics. According to Howard Buechner, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, on board the German plane were also “twelve stone tablets of the Germanic Grail, which contained the key to ultimate knowledge.”


Mary’s Holy Grail could, therefore, currently either reside in either southern France or in the Far East. But one alternate ending of its odyssey asserts that the Nazis eventually transported Mary’s Holy Grail from Berchtesgaden to Antarctica by a clandestine submarine and it now resides within a stone obelisk marking a cave in the Muhlig-Hoffman Mountains. This mysterious cave, known as the Emerald Cave, is supposedly linked by tunnels to caverns inside the Earth, where legends imply a subterranean civilization may exist. Interestingly, the Antarctic cave’s association with an emerald links Mary’s Holy Grail with the Stone of Heaven, a large emerald referred to by Wolfram Eschenbach in Parzival as being the true Holy Grail.


Mary Magadalene is also associated with a chalice that may, instead of her jar, be the real Holy Grail of legend. Some scholars contend that Mary’s chalice was part of the Arma Christi, the “Weapons of Christ,” a name for the relics of the Passion that were discovered in Jerusalem where Jesus was supposedly crucified. According to the 5th century historian Olympiodorous, Mary’s Grail, referred to as the Marian Chalice, was discovered by excavators working for the Empress Helena, the mother of King Constantine, as they sifted through the earth in the area of Golgotha, the reputed location of the Crucifixion. After its retrieval the cup was first taken to Constantinople and then to Rome, where it resided until the city was sacked by the Visigoths, at which point it was transferred to a secret location in England, possibly Glastonbury.



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According to Graham Philips, British author of The Search for the Grail, the Marian Chalice was taken to the English Midlands, where for centuries, as a stone cup made of onyx, it was carefully preserved by the Peverel family of Whittington Castle. Sometime in the mid 19

th century, a Peverel descendent transferred the cup to a hidden stone grotto, where it was later found by Walter Langham in the early 20th

century and kept by his family. When Philips discovered the location of the Langham family nearly one hundred years later, he also found the onyx vessel. Since then, the jar has been dated by the British Museum and found to be a spice jar used during the first century after Christ.


But Philips’ conclusion that the Peverel cup is the Marian Chalice has not gained wide acceptance. Many Grail scholars maintain that after reaching England the Marian Chalice became known as the Nanteos Cup, which is a vessel made of olive wood and therefore a better candidate for being a household drinking cup used in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus than one made out of metal or stone. Supposedly the Nanteos Cup, currently owned by the Powel family of Wales, was hidden within one of the walls of Glastonbury Abbey for many years after arriving in England from Rome, where it had previously resided for hundreds of years following its sequester in Palestine. When Glastonbury Abbey was threatened with complete destruction at the hands of the iconoclastic King Henry VIII, the wooden cup was taken by the Abbey’s monks to the Nanteos Manor in Wales and kept there by them for safekeeping. When the last guardian monk was near death he asked the Lord of Nanteos Manor to safeguard the wooden cup “until the church claims her own.” Later, in 1878, the Powels of Nanteos Manor put the Nanteos Cup on public display and it has since become a national treasure.


Another chalice that may be Mary Magdalene’s cup is the Great Chalice of Antioch. This chalice, which was discovered in Antioch during the last century along with a smaller chalice and a cross, has been dated from the first to the fourth centuries and now resides in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Antioch Chalice has been set into an ornate silver reliquary and decorated with images of Jesus and the Apostles. Some antiquarians maintain that the Chalice of Antioch arrived in the city of Antioch via the Crusaders, who were returning a sacred chalice, perhaps Joseph’s Cup of Christ, to its rightful place in the Holy Land. Although the cup is very old, most experts have concluded that the Chalice of Antioch is too large and not antiquated enough to be the original Cup of Christ.

The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief

At the climax of the French prose romance, The Quest of the Holy Grail, Sir Galahad looks into the dish that was the object of the long and perilous search by himself and his companions, Sir Perceval and Sir Bors. This is his report:

For now I see openly what tongue cannot describe nor heart conceive. Here I see the beginning of great daring and the prime cause of prowess; here I see the marvel of all other marvels.

The original Grail stories, which were written between 1180 and 1250, were closely connected with the development of Eucharistic adoration and of the concept of the Beatific Vision. The audience for these stories was a class of increasingly sophisticated knights, who wanted a transcendent ground for their careers of adventuring and their ethic of duty and loyalty.


There is no single key to understanding the Grail. There are  the major versions of the Grail story, and there is the revival of interest in the Grail in the 19th and 20th centuries, with its new role in conspiracy theories of history. There are Jungians and the possibility that the “secrets of the Grail,” so often alluded to in the Grail poems and romances, may have included some spiritual exercises that bordered on “white magic.”

The chief source for all streams of Grail lore begins about 1180, with The Story of the Holy Grail by Chretien de Troyes. Little about him is known. His Story is an unfinished poem, not obviously of cosmic significance. Young Sir Perceval, who had been knighted at King Arthur's court, comes a across a mysterious castle. There resides a wounded lord. He invites Perceval to a feast, during which a procession occurs. It includes a lance, which drips blood, and a beautiful dish. (“Grail,” “graal,” “greal”: they are all variations on the word used for “dish” here: it is not a new coinage.) These objects are borne through the hall and into another chamber. Perceval had been taught not to ask questions, so he does not ask, “Whom does the Grail serve?” Had he done so, the lord would have been healed, and order would have been restored to that land. As it was, he awoke to a deserted castle. Then he began a career of aggression and cruelty, in the course of which he forgets about God. At the end of the poem, he meets a hermit, who turns out to be his uncle. The hermit explains that the wounded lord (the Fisher King) is yet another uncle. The Grail, which the hermit describes as “such a holy thing,” carries a consecrated host to the Fisher King's father, on which the old man subsists. Perceval repents. He promises to find the Grail castle again and ask the question. Meanwhile, the hermit teaches him a regimen of penitence, including some secret names of Christ that are not disclosed to the reader.

Bits of this tale might be traced, but not the ensemble: the basic Grail story is as original as Tolkien's Ring story. It is barely conceivable that the motif of the clueless young knight comes from Wales. It is also possible that the Grail is a refined version of the Welsh “cauldron of plenty.” However, there is no obvious way that those elements could have come to Chretien's notice, and it is not clear how our understanding of the story would be enhanced if they had.

As it stands, Chretien's account is little different from the sorts of adventures that fictional knights routinely experienced. What we do know is that Chretien's hints and omissions provided hooks for new story elements that snapped into place with lightening speed. New versions of the story said the Grail was not just present at the feast in the Grail castle, but magically provided the food. The Grail's ability to cure the Fisher king expands to the ability to cure all maladies, and eventually to confer immortality on those who remained in its presence. By the time we reach the Quest of the Grail, the chief Grail-quester is Galahad, whose spotless character and ultimate success in his endeavor is contrasted with the failure of his father, the adulterous Lancelot. The disorder of the Grail kingdom occasioned by the wounding of the king becomes the uncanny Wasteland, the suspension of the natural order while the quest is unfulfilled. In some versions, King Arthur himself becomes a Grail hero.


The Grail knights achieve their quest by finding the castle and asking the right question, thereby curing the Fisher King. Then, depending on the version in question, they may take part in a Mass using the Grail, at which Christ himself is seen to be present.


The Grail itself undergoes many modifications and improvements. The most important is that the Grail becomes associated with Joseph of Arimathea, a minor character in the New Testament. In Grail stories, he is said to have come to Britain, bringing various relics with him. Thus, the Grail becomes the dish used at the Last Supper, or the cup that Jesus used then, which is sometimes also the cup in which the blood of Jesus was collected at the Crucifixion.


That lance, by the way, becomes the Spear of Longinus, which pierced the side of Christ at the Crucifixion. It, too, is sometimes the object of a quest within the larger Grail framework.


Tthere are two versions to start with. One is The Quest of the Holy Grail , an anonymous prose work in French from about 1220-1230 (actually part of an extended romance called The Lancelot-Grail). The other is Wolfram von Eschenbach's epic poem, Parzival, from about a decade earlier.

The Quest is the basis, more or less, of later Grail stories in French, and also of Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. (Written about 1470, it was one of the first books printed in English.) King Arthur's Round Table in the French and English stories might seem like an Order of the Grail, but if so, the Order is ephemeral: the beginning of the quest is often the beginning of chaos. Their Grail is generally a plate or cup; it might appear in several such guises in the same story.


Parzival established a somewhat different Grail tradition, which we see in Richard Wagner final opera, Parsifal, the work that so infuriated Friedrich Nietzsche. In the German version, the Grail is a mysterious stone, the center of a sort of Grail utopia from which the world is secretly regulated. In Wolfram's version there is even a Grail dynasty. The connection of the Grail with a sacred bloodline has been revived sometimes, rarely to good effect. Some bad etymology helps here: “Holy Grail,” or “Sangraal,” was quickly mistaken for “sangre real,” or “royal blood.”


Some of these ideas are not self-evidently orthodox, and conceivably they came from a theological underground. There is the Grail tradition that the first bishop was Joseph of Arimathea. That would give England priority over Rome; it would certainly give Joseph's traditional seat at Glastonbury priority over Canterbury. Still, the medieval religious authorities took no official notice of the Grail stories. Several relics were identified as “the Grail,” in the sense of the cup or dish used at the Last Supper, but no one tried very hard to connect them with the Grail romances.


Interest in the Grail waned with the Middle Ages. Because of the strong Eucharistic associations of the stories, the new Protestant establishments condemned the whole Grail tradition, to the extent that they knew of it. Even in Catholic countries, though, literary taste moved on to other things. It was only in the 18th century that systematic interest in the subject revived, largely for antiquarian reasons. With the beginning of the Romantic movement, the Grail reentered popular culture. It also began to acquire an esoteric dimension that, probably, it had not had before.

Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was being reprinted by the early 19th century, and soon became a favorite source for artists. There was a revival, or a reinvention, of the rhetoric of chivalry and quest, quite often in the service of movements for social reform. The immensely influential

Pre-Raphaelite Movement embraced the Grail. There was great demand for murals depicting Grail themes, for instance. In France, and especially in Germany, there were parallel developments.


There was a problem, though. The key scenes of Grail imagery were also often Catholic imagery. This was awkward in Protestant England when such works were commissioned for public places. It required tact on the part of the Anglo-Catholic artists to whom the subject most appealed. But it was also a problem in Catholic countries. People who might be attracted to the Grail material esthetically might also be alienated from the Catholic Church, whether theologically or politically. A trend began to separate the Grail from its obvious Christian context; or better, to show that the Grail was actually subversive of that context. Thus, perhaps inevitably, the Grail became part of the furniture of the occult revival.


Already in the 18th century, the suggestion had been made that the Grail knights were really Templars. The Masons had rather favored unsubstantiated theories that linked themselves to the Templars, too. One result was that, when a vast Masonic conspiracy was blamed for the French Revolution, the Grail tradition became an object of suspicion. In Metternich's Vienna, the theory was not unknown that perhaps the plot to overthrow Christianity had been operating as early as the 13th century. The people who identified the Grail with the Templars, and later the Cathars, generally regarded the identification as an indictment. However, even paranoids have enemies. By the end of the 19th century, there were people who were attracted to the Grail precisely because they thought that subverting Christianity was a really keen idea.


Of these perhaps the most flagrant was Otto Rahn, the Nazi researcher who is sometimes credited, on dubious evidence, with actually finding the Grail. What we know he did do was publish several books with titles like The Crusade against the Grail and The Courtiers of Lucifer. His argument was that the Grail legends masked Cathar doctrine. The Cathars worshipped Lucifer, understood as the liberator from the Jewish God, and the true Grail was the lost Cathar treasure.


One can see where these ideas might come from. In later German tradition, the Grail is made from a jewel that fell from Lucifer's crown, and of course Wolfram himself introduced the disturbing idea that the guardians of the Grail had been the Neutral Angels, who neither rebelled against God nor remained obedient to him. On the other hand, there is no way to connect these notions with the Cathars, much less with the Grail. There is also no reason to believe that these issues, or Rahn's researches, were especially interesting to the Nazi government. Still, they are not as idiosyncratic as one might suppose.


Much more intellectually serious was the attempt by Rene Guenon, one of the most influential of obscure 20th-century intellectuals, to incorporate the Grail into his theory of the Primordial Tradition. Tradition in this sense is the supposed orientation toward the transcendent that is shared by all the great religions. In their exoteric forms, these religions may be more or less corrupt, but Guenon suggested, along with other occultists, that the Grail stories might have been created by an esoteric Christian elite. Guenon was always looking for means in the great religions of “initiation.” Guenon claimed to be frustrated in his search for a living initiatic tradition in Western Christianity. The vision of the Holy Grail, however defined, would have done quite nicely. Eventually, though, Guenon gave up on Christianity, and became a Muslim Sufi.


One of Guenon's disciples, Julius Evola, undertook to create, or recreate, an anti-Christian elite. Evola argued, along with Dante, that the Holy Roman Empire was a divine institution, and essentially the European expression of the primordial archetype of universal dominion. Unlike Dante, he dismissed Christianity, in both its contemporary and historical forms. Rather, Evola said the Grail represented the spirituality of the empire, and especially of a secret movement of knights and crusaders who were the true Grail knights. As a notable ideologist of fascism both during and after the Mussolini regime, he hoped to create a new Order of initiates around which the empire could form again, but this time without the Christian trappings. His success was mixed at best.

The keynote poem of the 20th century was The Wasteland, a term from Grail mythology. In general, the 20th century tended to treat the Grail as an ominous symbol. The great exception he finds is the work of Charles Williams, who was a former occultist, a long-time editor at the Oxford University Press, and a friend of C.S. Lewis. He wrote several novels with Grail themes, and a major poem, Taliesin Through Logres.  Williams did what the medieval writers never quite managed: recasting the Arthurian material in a coherent structure around the quest, and giving the search for the Grail a universal significance. Moreover, Williams did this while returning to the idea of the Grail as the Beatific Vision, but with the added notion of the Grail as a mode under which the divine intervenes in history.


W e r n e r  H u e m e r

Fascination with the Grail

The reality behind the myth...


Sagas describe the Holy Grail as a chalice with fairy-tale powers; it’s been the inspiration for countless tales, legends and also works of art. And it is both a stranger to the Christian body of thought -- and yet somehow connected with Christianity in mysterious ways. What is it about the "Holy Grail"? Why is it still the subject for mainstream movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Fisher King? Is there something more substantial behind the Grail than simple legend? If we can delve deeper into the true meaning of the Grail, the core of many poems, legends, novels, and fairy tales may become apparent.


The more seriously someone undertakes to approach the subject "Grail" -- because he feels touched personally by it -- the more certainly will he come up against questions such as whether or not the knowledge about the Grail can be traced back to some revelation… A revelation handed down out of a mythical distant time, but weighed down, proliferated and falsified on its way through time, through the world and the life of countless generations. Let us begin at the beginning...


Seeking the roots...


Whoever starts out to search for the roots of the sagas and legends connected with the Grail treads on adventurous paths. They lead back to heathen customs and confront us with the God-distant darkness of the Middle Age crusades, but also point out ever again the direction to the true origins of the unusual inspiration of many great artists, which invariably transcended by far the purely intellectual grasp of the concept "Grail."


Our search for the trail may begin with a sober look into various reference books. Even here, though, there is a general uncertainty about the origin of the word "Grail." It is known that the word came to us from the old French language, where it was spelled "Graal." The root of the word is predominantly accepted as the Greek/Latin crater (mixing bowl), from which then developed the Latin gradalis (stepped chalice), and cratalis (flat, woven bowl). Its representation in poetic works was often as a "chalice" -- earlier also "kettle" -- a vessel with wondrous powers. One first encounters such writings in England.


There, from the 9th century A.D. onwards, ever increasing fantasy-filled details proliferated around the legendary figure of a "King Artus" (Arthur). Historically provable is the figure of an army-commander named Arturius, who had fought 300 years earlier in Northern Britain against the attacking Anglo-Saxons. In sagas and poetic works he progressively became "King Arthur." He transferred his court, considered the centre of heroic life and knighthood, ever further towards the South of England (Wales).


Celtic-Welsh story elements flowed into the stuff of legends, while Christian ideas also increasingly mixed themselves in. Finally, the adventurous reports from Arthur's Court fertilized and inspired the culture of the Continental courts and literature, which further developed the legends as "Matiere de Bretagne."


In the reports of adventures from earlier centuries, it is typical for the hero to go on a quest to find a vessel of magical powers, which is often protected by young maidens. This motive of early Britannic poetic works has as yet nothing to do with the Christian symbolism found in the Grail literature of later centuries. The Celts however believed in a "Kettle of Immortality" as an idol, and many poems express the search for it. Their content—this search for the magical kettle which exudes immortality—naturally mirrors the longing of mankind for eternal life, to be allowed an eternal life in this Creation, above everything transitory and earthly. That is why the saga also shows the picture of the vigilant maidens.


Why maidens? The female gender forms the unavoidable bridge into the realm of eternal life. It is the fine intuitive ability of the woman, the -- as Göthe put it -- "eternally female" quality, which "attracts" us. But the female intuition must be pure, so that it can fulfill its function as a bridging element, unburdened by vanity and egoism. The concept of "maidenhood" expresses spiritual purity. This shows that behind seemingly superficial adventure stories, there is often an inkling of greater, deeper connections. Let us from this viewpoint also look at the miraculous "kettle" itself, of which the old poetic works report.


"The Holy Grail" really exists as a life-giving source at the pinnacle of Creation, as the connecting point between the Creator and His work. And this eternal source, upon which everything depends and which pours out its blessing from step to step and plane to plane down into the whole of Creation, was symbolized in the Celtic magical kettle and likewise in the "Grail" of later poetic works.


Tales of the Grail and Aurthurian Legend...


The paths upon which the Grail-saga was transmitted from generation to generation intertwined, until in the Middle Ages it finally became a subject of occidental fantasy literature, and no longer comprehensible in detail.


We merely know that the legendary circle around King Arthur and his round table dominated the whole literature of the Middle Ages. He offered poets a wonderful framework to build story upon story. Practically all the Celtic fairy tales and fables found their way into the "Arthurian world."


Based on the tales in both prose and verse of the Celtic poets in Britain and the Bretagne, there arose in the 12th and 13th century the great verse-novels of the French poets, who modernized the adopted material, the "Matiere de Bretagne," in that they changed the Celtic magical world into one of courtly knights.


When the Grail saga now was told, the poets transferred the hero of the saga, Perceval (Celtic: Peredur) to the court of King Arthur, where so many brilliant knights already lived, and made him a member of the famous Round Table. According to today’s research, Chretien de Troyes, whose name dominated French literature of the 12th century, was the first in the history of the occident to treat the Grail story within the framework of the Arthurian legend. Chretien de Troyes (ca. 1150 to 1190) lived at the courts of Champagne and Flanders. In approximately 1185, he wrote his Perceval li Galois ou les Contes del Graal. Due to the poet's untimely death, however, the work remained unfinished.


Chretien de Troyes seems to have taken the material for his Grail literature from a book loaned to him by his then-patron Philippe d'Alsace, Count of Flanders. This poetry has the form of an educational romance, a morality lesson as it were, and shows through the example of Perceval the development of a knight; it teaches which virtues he ought to acquire and which manners he has to make his own, in order to appear at the cultivated courts of his time.


Around the year 1200 at the court of the Count Gautier de Montbeliard, Robert de Boron drew up his Grand estoire dou Graal, a short narrative of 3,514 verses. This is regarded as the most important old-French manuscript of the Grail saga. For Robert de Boron, the Grail is now the original bowl of the Last Supper, in which Joseph of Aramathia is supposed to have caught the blood of Christ.


The sources for Boron’s poetry are probably a pseudo-gospel from Nikodemus, the so-called Pilate-files (an apocryphal report about the sentence and the death of Christ, which the Roman governor Pilate is supposed to have sent to Caesar Tiberius in Rome, which however was probably only written towards the end of the 2nd century), as well as, above all, the Grail poetry of Chretien de Troyes.


Meanwhile between 1197 and 1210, Wolfram von Eschenbach (ca. 1170 to 1220) created his "Parzival" which is considered the greatest epic poem of the German Middle Ages. It is the only completed epic of Wolfram. He used the poetry of Chretien de Troyes as his model and, like him, blended the legend of King Arthur and his Round Table with the saga of Parzival and the Grail. In the idealised figure of Parzival, Wolfram shows how his hero grows beyond worldly knighthood, how in spite of all doubts, suffering and trials he attains spiritual knighthood and finally, as the crowning of his pure, honourable striving, is called to become King of the Grail. Wolfram von Eschenbach describes the Grail as a miracle-working, radiant stone, which is lying on a cushion of green silk. Parzival sees:


Fulfillment of wishes and Paradise: That was the Grail (before which earthly radiance was as nothing), the Stone of Light.


With Wolfram too, a pure maiden stands in connection with the Grail: Repanse de Schoye carries it as its servant. Because this was the way of the Grail: Only she who had fully retained her chastity and knew herself to be free from falsehood, was permitted to be its servant.


The knights lived from the power of the Grail, a stone, "fallen from the heavens." Everyone who looks at the stone cannot die for one week. Once a year, on Good Friday, a Dove comes from heaven and lays a host upon the stone, whereby its power is renewed.


Crusade Against the Cathars...


Wolfram von Eschenbach gave as sources for his poetry Chretien de Troyes and also the works of a Provencale, whom he called "Kyot the singer." Wolfram tells in Book IX, how Kyot discovered the material of the Grail saga -- and at the same time suggests a heavenly Revelation as the actual source of the Grail saga:


In the dust of Toledo found

Kyot, the well-known master,

the saga in crinkly heathen writing

which here meets the origins of the tale.

A heathen (name of Flegetanis),

whose rich knowledge one praised

selected from the family of Solomon

born of the people of Israel,

a wise expert on nature

he brought the first trace of the Grail.

Flegetanis, the heathen, saw

what he only shyly passed on,

from the light and progress of the stars,

a deep secret, and uncovered it:

There existed a thing, called the Grail:

so said he, since he found the name

clearly written in the stars.

It was left on earth by a host

which again flew to the stars,

because their purity drew them homeward.

The stone must now by Christendom

be attended with modesty and purest virtue:

To those human beings belongs the blessing of honour

who are ordained for service of the Grail!


According to this, the saga would have come from Palestine via Egypt and Spain to France and finally also to Germany. In spite of all the investigations to date however, neither a Provencale poet by the name of Kyot, nor any trace of his supposed work could be found. There consequently has been heated argument about the existence or non-existence of a man of this name.


The description of the exact origin of the Grail saga by Wolfram von Eschenbach in making mention of "Master Kyot," who in Toledo, therefore in Spain, comes across "the origins of the tale" and thereby the heathen Flegetanis, who "was selected from the family of Solomon, brought the knowledge from the Orient as "a wise expert on nature," well versed with the secrets "of the light and progress of the stars" -- this description has also led to the assumption that Wolfram's "Master Kyot" had been a Cathar. The strongly ascetic religious denomination of the Cathars had spread out in southern and western Europe since the end of the 10th century, and around 1200 belonged to those sects which were bitterly persecuted by the Papal Church of Rome. Although the Cathars, who called themselves the "pure," accepted as their highest commandment the leading of an exemplary life according to the Word of Jesus, they rejected Papacy, the Church of Rome and its dogmas. So they thought little of the veneration of Saints and Relics, questioned the sacraments of the Church, confessed to the teaching of reincarnation and had chosen as the symbol of their belief not the cross of suffering of the Roman Catholic Church, but the equal-armed cross, that age-old, already pre-Christian symbol of Truth, of harmony between the active and passive, male and female, positive and negative. The most important symbol of the southern French Cathars, who guarded their own knowledge in Montsegur, was, however, the Grail! It represented to these believers -- who saw themselves equally as noble knights, priests, poets and singers -- the highest symbol of purity.


The Cathars, to whom the people flocked in ever larger numbers, cultivated the religion of "Manichaism," the origin of which goes back to the 3rd century A.D., and combined it with knowledge from the Far East. The founder of Manichaism, Mani (216 to 277 A.D.), successfully endeavoured in Persia and India to bring the Christian religion into harmony with the teachings of Buddha and Zarathustra. At the core of their teachings, they were concerned to guide man out of the darkness towards the Light.


For the Church of Rome however, the Cathars were seen as a sect dangerous to the "true belief," which had to be destroyed. In the year 1208, Pope Innocent III ordered the Inquisition and the crusade against the Cathars, and so they were murdered in their thousands during the years up to 1229. They fell in battle or ended up being burned at the stake. Montsegur too, was put to the torch. Only a very few Cathars must have been able to flee into nearby caves in the Pyrenaes where one found later, in the form of paintings, witness to a spiritual knowledge that produced a meaningful connection between the Christian teachings and the legendary world of the Grail.


Obliterate All Trace...


Against the background of the tragic events of the Inquisition, it is easy to understand why the poets of the Middle Ages were only too eager to obliterate all traces which might point to the Cathars and their knowledge. They chose to free the legendary material from the "stench of the pagan" -- to "catholicize" it in a way -- through the emphasis of Christian elements, making it more attractive to the Church of Rome.


If Wolfram von Eschenbach had really received the secret wisdom of the Orient that he wove into his "Parzival" legend from a master of the Cathars, he would have been forced to conceal every trace that would link his informant to the Cathars, in order to protect him from prosecution and the judgment of the Roman Inquisition. Therefore, it is logical to assume that Kyot may be a pseudonym for a Cathar who preserved the age-old wisdoms of the Oriental tradition.


According to another opinion, Wolfram von Eschenbach is supposed to have belonged to the Order of Templars. The primary aim of the Templars, a spiritual order of knights founded in 1119 and subject only to the Pope (1139), was to protect the Holy Grave in Jerusalem by fighting against the nonbelievers. They named themselves after the residence of their current Grand-master in the place in Jerusalem where Solomon's Temple once had stood. The Templars had the best imaginable relations with the Orient; many of their Grand-masters counted Arabian nobility among their friends. Thus, the two cultural circles, Christian and Islamic, fertilized each other, and a spiritual exchange took place-an exchange for which the Templars were later reproached.


Back to Wolfram von Eschenbach... 


Whether von Eschenbach himself belonged to the Templars, or whether his "Master Kyot" was merely a pseudonym for a Cathar, all researchers agree with each other on one main point: the Orient mediated the knowledge of the Grail to the Occident.


But how were the tidings made known to the Arabs? Wolfgang von Eschenbach wrote that Flegetanis was "selected from the family of Solomon, born of the people of Israel." Otto Rahn considers in his work, Crusade Against the Grail, the question of whether the saga might originate from the famous Solomon treasure, which had fallen into Arab hands in Toledo, in the year 711, after they had decisively conquered the West-Goths and begun to take over Spain. Had Solomon known about the Grail at that time, or himself received the revelation? Or does this secret knowledge go even further back, perhaps as far as Moses?


In the Middle Ages, due, in large part, to von Eschenbach's work "Parzival," the concept of the Grail became public property, at just the time when the Church was making every effort to leave no trace of the Cathars and their cultural shrine, to finally stamp out everything that stood against the dogma of Rome.


Interpretations of the Post-Middle Ages...


Von Eschenbach's "Parzival," the great epic poem of the Middle Ages, triggered a flood of free renderings. The Grail motif became familiar and inflamed the fantasy of many Western poets. Everyone who treated the material added something of himself and his culture, thus further confusing the legend and watering down, even distorting, the Truth as it was handed down through the generations.


Reworkings of the story went so far as to claim that Adam received the Grail in Paradise. Chased out of the Garden of Eden, though, he was forced to leave it behind. According to legend, Adam's son Seth supposedly received permission to fetch the wondrous goblet and look after it until the Grail could finally be placed into the hands of the Son of God.


But the fascination with the Grail went even beyond poetic fantasy. People everywhere were determined to locate the Grail, which most thought was a bowl or vessel of green coloring. For instance, some believed that a precious bowl from the St. Laurence Church in Genoa, Italy was the Grail. In the year 1247, the Patriarch of Jerusalem presented King Henry III with a bowl decorated with emeralds, which was meant to have come from Nikodemus and Joseph of Arimathia.


For many years, the story of the Grail was a celebrated and popular subject for writers, until the end of the 15th century, when the tradition faded into nothing more than an ancient legend. Still, in the followingera, a few free renderings surfaced, such as 18th century Swiss scholar Johann JakobBodmer's "Parvical," written in the year 1753.


The most thrilling rearrangement of the Grail material, however, occurred in the 19th century, when Richard Wagner, the poet-composer, created "Lohengrin" in the years 1845 to 1848. Wolfram von Eschenbach had previously related the story of Lohengrin and Elsa von Brabant at the end of his epic poem "Parzival." This narrative served as Wagner's model for his own "Lohengrin." Especially noticeable in this work is the Grail story. In it, much of the old tidings of the Grail receive new life. Wagner writes about the Grail Castle, the home of Lohengrin,


In distant land unreachable by your steps

lies a castle, called Monsalvat;

A luminous temple stands in the middle there

so costly, as nothing known on earth:

In it a vessel of miracle-working blessing

is guarded there as highest holiness,

is tended by the purest human beings,

Each year a dove from heaven draws near

to newly strengthen its magical power:

It is called the Grail and purest blessed faith

is imparted through it to its knighthood.

Whoever has been chosen to serve the Grail

him it will arm with super-earhtly power

on him is every evil person's deception lost

when he sees it, the night of death gives way…


Richard Wagner, one of the leading artistic personalities of the 19th century, was fascinated by the poetry of the Middle Ages and especially the legend of the Grail. Already in one of his first great works, the first performance of Tannhäuser in 1845, he let Wolfgang von Eschenbach appear. Five years later, "Lohengrin" premiered, telling the story of a Grail knight who comes from the Grail Castle to help the Truth to fight for a victory.


The Grail legend was now in a dramatic new form: it was the story of Parsifal, King of the Grail, who gains knowledge and "becomes knowing" through compassion, finally bringing redemption. And yet, Richard Wagner still could not forget the legend of the Grail, even after the completion of his "Lohengrin." And so, through him, came the most important new interpretation of the Grail legend. As Wagner himself portrays it, he had a decisive encounter with the Parsifal material on the morning of Good Friday in 1857. While under a strong influence, there immediately arose in Wagner's mind a solemn melody, which later became "Good Friday Magin" in his "Parsifal." But the outline for his own "Parsifal-drama" did not ripen until the year 1865. Twelve years later, on January 25 1877, Richard Wagner created the stage inauguration festival piece which was to form the final work of his creative prowess. On that day he wrote, "I am beginning 'Parsifal' and I am not letting up until it is ready." In the first act, Wagner wrote about the Grail, which he connected with the bowl of the Lord's Supper,


…You know, that it is granted only to the pure to join up with those brothers, who for the highest works of salvation strengthen the holy magical powers of the Grail…


In "Parsifal," Richard Wagner placed the suffering of the ailing King of the Grail, Amfortas, in the centre of the action. Ever since a sinful transgression, which connected him with the darkness, Amfortas suffered from an open wound that would not heal. Every new unveiling of the Grail, and every outpouring of power in connection with it, brings a renewal of his suffering. Under great inner turmoil, Amfortas decides that he can no longer fulfill his duty as King of the Grial due to the unbearable agony associated with the unveiling of the Grail. Eventually, he is rescued from his painful prison by the heroic knight Parsifal. At first, Parsifal is ignorant of his task to save Amfortas and spends his time roaming around the world, finally arriving in the magical kingdom of Klingsor. Here, he is beguiled by alluring flower maidens and is captivated by the siren-like Kundry. When she seductively kisses him, Parsifal awakens from his ignorant stupor. He recognizes the cause of Amfortas's illness, feels the latter's wound now burning in himself, and pushes Kundry away from him. When the temptress calls her master, Klingsor, for help, Parsifal steps up to duel him in personal combat. In the midst of intense fighting, Parsifal acquires possession of Klingsor's spear, which originally belonged to the knighthood. With the sign of the cross, Parsifal depletes Klingsor of his magical powers, and immediately his magical kingdom disintegrates. Finally, Parsifal heals Amfortas's wound and as a result becomes the new King of the Grail.


Through Richard Wagner's musical masterpiece, the Parsifal saga experienced its most lively rebirth since the time of Wolfram von Eschenbach. Wagner's musical skill fully portrays the internal and external progress of the action, profiles the characters, and illuminates the situations with incredible clarity. The premiere of "Parsifal," Wagner's last work, took place on July 26, 1882 in the Festival House in Bayreuth. The public at the premiere must have been unusually deeply moved. After the conclusion of the performance, the theatre-director August Forster from Leipzig, proclaimed to some of his acquaintances, with tears in his eyes, "You will see, Wagner is going to die!" He believed that with the achievement of "Parsifal," Wagner's life works were completed.


Indeed, Richard Wagner's health soon began to decline rapidly. The poet-composer died on February 13, 1883 in Venice. His "departing-this-life-work," as "Parsifal" was later called, completely reformed the legendary material from the Middle Ages. Wagner concentrated the fullness of the legend that had been handed down over the centuries into a plot of three acts. Like a skilled surgeon, Wagner surveyed an enormous multitude of details and recounted events, divested them from an excess of fantasy-filled, ornate, and periodic accessories, and dynamically displayed the remaining core narrative.


Also worthy of note is the time period in which Wagner's "Parsifal" took shape: On April 18, 1875, Abd-ru-shin was born; he would later write In the Light of Truth: The Grail Message. This work published in the 1920s, was the first to truly elucidate the high Truth that actually forms the basis of the legend of the Holy Grail.


The 'Search for the Grail' Misused...

The search for the Grail, the leading motif of poetry from the Middle Ages and of Wagner's later operatic work, symbolizes a human longing; it is as far from esoteric as it is romantic, as little Middle Ages as it is mystic, religious, or modern. Rather, it is timeless and unconditional, and has something to do with that which is eternal and what differentiates the human being from his fellow creatures on Earth.


However, this spiritual longing can be misdirected, often with disastrous results, as demonstrated by many spiritual and worldly examples that range from harmless fantasies to, in the recent past, terrifying extremes of gross and grave consequences.


The most horrifying example involves a demagogue and power-mad despot who harnessed the longing in the hearts of men and manipulated them to accept his aims: Adolf Hitler. His use of the profusion of Grail material, which through the tradition of the "Artus romantic" -- including Richard Wagner's Grail operas -- occupied a high rank in the spiritual life and consciousness of Germany, was, in more than one sense, Luciferian. With conscious aim, he effectively interwove his own propaganda and ideology with the Grail myth, transforming it into a vastly different myth of diabolical themes.


Richard Wagner's operatic works, too, were engulfed in Hitler's clutches. With skewed interpretations, he formed the "Parsifal" plot, including the Grail, into the service of his own vision of "pure blood" and "spoiled civilization."


Suffering Under the Regime...


It was during this conflicted time that Abd-ru-shin (Oskar Ernst Bernhardt, 1875-1941) published the lectures of his Grail Message, In the Light of Truth, between 1923-1937.


In March of 1938, immediately after the annexation of Austria, the centre of Abd-ru-shin's activity, he was arrested by the Gestapo. His property was confiscated and he himself, after suffering months of imprisonment in Innsbruck, was deported, along with his family. The stock of published works of Abd-ru-shin was confiscated and the sale of his books was prohibited. Furthermore, Abd-ru-shin was forbidden to continue writing his Grail Message. In the distant Kipsdorf (Erzgebireg), Abd-ru-shin found a place of refuge, but he remained subject to close observation by the Gestapo. He, who had wanted to help in the face of mankind's need, suffered unspeakably under these measures. He died on December 6, 1941, during the fateful days of the turning point of the war.


And thus ended the last and greatest tidings of the Grail.


Is a deserted village the best clue to the whereabouts of the Grail Castle?

The Grail and the story of King Arthur is a myth, in the sense that things got added to it. The first Grail account did not mention the nature of the Grail, whereas Wolfram von Eschenbach particularly identified it with a black stone, speculated by some to be a meteor, by others to be a cousin of the Ka’aba stone.

The story of the Grail is like the myth of Jesus: From an interesting person, believed to have resurrected, he grew into the son of god, to the child of a virgin birth, its father the Holy Spirit. One aspect of the Grail mythology is the addition of the “Grail castle” to the original mythology.

First, therefore, we need to enter the world of the Grail stories, to uncover the basic theme. There were three distinct trends in the Grail history.

The first Grail story was Chretien de Troyes, from Northern France. The second tradition is Great Britain, with the Celtic and Arthurian tradition. Third is a series of specifications, with the most prominent one being Wolfram von Eschenbach, whose story focuses on the Grail keepers as the Knights Templar and the Grail itself, which is labelled as a stone fallen from heaven.

The story of “Perilous” or Perillos resides in this third category. It appears in the Perlevaus history of the Grail. Perlesvaus was written between 1192 and 1225, and hence a dating of 1205 is often given for the work.

The work itself is interesting.The author must have had access to a rare library, for he seems to be familiar with most of the Arthurian literature of the period. This includes archaic Welsh material. The central story line seems to be about the slaughter of the pagans to embrace the New Order, that of Christianity. It seems to be story derived from a Latin book, which was discovered in a holy house in the Isle of Avalon, which at that time was identified with Glastonbury.

Welsh material ties in with Stuart McHardy’s research in a recent publication, The Quest for Arthur. It is in that material that we chance upon the idea that Arthur might be a Christian, trying to convert Scotland to Christianity, following and paving the path for such saints as Patrick, Ninian, Mungo/Kentigern, and Baldred, the latter living in the coastal town of Dunbar and on the famous Bass Rock, not that far from here.

It is McHardy who suggests that at some point, Arthur goes on a pilgrimage to Rome, and hence deserts his country. This pilgrimage is therefore important in the Grail, as the king at one point goes on a “grail quest”, a vision quest, to revitalise the land.

Truth or myth, who can say? Let us return to the Perlesvaus account.

In short, the story is about the fertility of the land. Arthur notes how his kingdom is decaying: harvests fail, society is in decline. Everything “descends” into pagan ways. Arthur decides to go on a quest, a pilgrimage, to the Perilous Chapel. Though expecting to be accompanied, his compagnion dies before the start of the quest, making it a solitary adventure for the mythical Arthur.

When he reaches Perilous, Arthur is told that his country is in decline because one of the knights failed to ask the correction question regarding the Lance and the Grail. Arthur is able to rectify the situation and when he returns home, the status of his land is fine again.

This is a classic story, with a novelistic element, of fertility, and how decay has been rescued and has turned to rejuvenation, a concept so central to pagan beliefs, but also Christianity, with the restoration to life of the dead Jesus.

The general region of the Pyrenees, at which foot Perillos is located, is linked to the Grail.

Wolfram of Eschenbach, places the Grail castle, Montsalvage, in Montsegur. He also identifies his principal heroes with genuine characters that featured in the fight for the defence of that castle during the Cathar era… defended by one Raymond de Perella, a man similar in name to most of the Lords of Perillos: Raymond of Perillos – though he himself is no predecessor to the Perillos family, despite claims to the contrary of a modern “heir” of the Perillos family promoting himself on the Internet very much like Glasgewian Prince Michael. The Pyrenees was also the region where Otto Rahn came down to this region to try and locate that precious relic.

If leaving Scotland for Rome, one can only wonder whether Arthur passed by Perillos. Perillos is located just to the North of Perpignan and as that town was important throughout history, one can wonder whether one might have sailed towards Perpignan and have stopped there, before continuing over land or by ship to Rome. (Perpignan was situated on one of the most important “Roman highways”, the road passing literally just in front of Perillos.)

If it did happen, the castle of what is now called Chateau Perillos, but which is in fact Opoul Castle, in the 6th Century AD was, officially, deserted. Though a site of great pagan importance, the rocky outcrop was officially abandoned after the Romans. The lords of Perillos were still 500 years removed into the feature – but were present at the time when the Perlesvaus accounts were written down. At that time, the Lords of Perillos began their dramatic and enigmatic rise into the courts of Europe, in the end ending up as close confidants to the kings of Aragon, as well as grandmaster of the Order of Malta.

The historians affirm that the strengthened site really enters the history books in 1172, with the inclusion of the Roussillon region to the crown of Aragon. The formidable rock rise proves, then, to represent an effective bolt on the passage of Languedoc in Roussillon. The fortress was restored and fits proudly in opposing the Aragon defenses vis-a-vis the drawn up citadels, by King Louis, in the front line of France.

The strengthened plate shelters also a sedentarized place whose vestiges affirm a past going back to prehistory and especially to antiquity. Under the Aragon king Jacques 1st, in 1246, the village that was formed is known under the name of ‘Salvetera’. But the very painful living conditions here will make the people, little by little, give up the hamlet, until it is completely deserted in 16th Century. One century later the castelet would also be definitively forsaken... The place would fall into the usual sleep reserved for places that are deserted definitively.

Let us now move towards a modern myth. What most people often forget is that the Priory of Sion is a myth of the 20th Century. It is not a myth of the Merovingians, or the Middle Ages; it was constructed and promoted by the likes of Pierre Plantard and his entourage. It is, for this story, unimportant whether or not the myth contains truth.

It was a myth promoted by Gerard de Sede and fortuitously picked up by Henry Lincoln, who transported the myth outside of its original territory of destination: France. In England, the story would start to live a life of its own, after its “life abroad”.

It was in the UK that a magazine, The Unexplained, picked up the consternation surrounding the topic, and added to it. In the early eighties, it wrote:

More than one of the romances of the Holy Grail tells how Sir Gawain is overtaken by a terrible storm, and takes refuge in the Atre Perileus, the Chapel Perilous. Some 30 miles (50 kilometres) across the hills from Rennes-le-Chateau is the tiny village of Opoul, almost certainly the lands from which Francis d’Hautpoul derived his name. Take a narrow winding road that climbs among the crags behind the village and you will come to an ancient chapel, above which loom the gaunt ruins of – Chateau Perillos. Perhaps there is something in the theory that links the development of the Grail legend – and the bizarre mystery with which it is associated – with the country around Rennes.

The name of the author was Brian Innes. He is both a named and unnamed star of the international best-seller Templar Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince. Brian Innes worked together with Lynn Picknett (she as editor, he as director) on the magazine The Unexplained. In the book, he features as a person connected to the magazine whom the authors, Picknett and Prince, identify as a suspect of being members of the Priory of Sion. The authors allegde that though there is no evidence for a historical existence of this order, they felt that throught the writing of their book on the Turin Shroud and the tradition surrounding John the Baptist, they had come across people who claimed or were deemed to be members of the Priory of Sion, including a mysterious “Giovanni”.

These authors suspected Brian Innes to be a member of the Priory of Sion, and therefore his “fingering” of Perillos as the location of the Grail castle is interesting. It would put Brian Innes in the same league as Pierre Plantard and co. Is it possible he was? We only have the interpretations and suspicions of one person to build on. But it is known that Innes had a house in the neighbourhood. It is however most bizarre that a man like Brian Innes, believed to be connected to the Priory, is promoting Opoul and its castle, and not Rennes-le-Chateau, as one would come to expect.

However, Innes made the same mistake as the modern tourist: Castle Perillos is actually “Castle Opoul”. The actual Perillos castle is a very small castle and is, in fact, smaller than this room. It is impossible to call it a castle and would have been more like a watchtower. This does, however, leave the mystery of where the official residence of the Lords of Perillos was in Perillos, but perhaps there never was one, seeing that they were in essence rich beyond belief.

Some have speculated they lived at Castle Opoul. That castle is situated on a dramatic, flat rock outcrop. The rock outcrop is by all accounts dramatic. If anyone wants to experience the mythical power of nature, this is the place to be.

Platform shaped mountains, or rock outcrops, have been associated with kingship. This is the case in Jebel Barkal in Nubia, in the time of ancient Egypt. It is also the case with Traprain Law, in East Lothian, the capital of the Goddodin, or the Votadini, the Celtic or Pictish tribe that ruled the Lothians from the 2nd till roughly the 7th Century AD. Even in the New World, in the recently uncovered city of Caral, we find platform shaped hills linked with kingship and religion, in those days not split apart as in modern times.

The link between Scotland and Perillos is very visible. In 1398, one Raymond de Perillos went to Ireland, to St Patrick’s Purgatory, one of those famous early Christianising monks. The family also had extremely close links to the Beaujeu family, and it was that family that was linked to the Douglas family, coming to Scotland to help fight the family that at one point stood next to Robert the Bruce. It should be pointed out that the castle of the Douglases at one point was known as “Castle Perilous”. The castle of Lord Douglas was so called in the reign of Edward I., because Lord Douglas destroyed several English garrisons stationed there, and vowed to be revenged on anyone who should dare to take possession of it. Sir Walter Scott calls it “Castle Dangerous”. The link between Scott and Rosslyn Chapel is well-documented, as is the link between the Douglasses and the Sinclairs. It seems that chosing the theme of Arthur inside Newbattle Abbey was therefore a very inspired decision by our organiser, John Millar.

That there might have been a link with Perillos was only uncovered through the efforts of an Irish woman, who will for the moment remain nameless.

It is also the Lord of Perillos, returning from the Crusade, which is very similar to returning from a Quest, who confronts the monster Babaos, in a parallel to Arthur who confronted Melwas, who symbolises Hell and the Diabolic Beast.

However, the most intriguing link between the Grail legends and the plateau of Opoul is that in the middle of this plateau, one can still see the remains of a chapel which was and is called “Salvaterra”; Terresalvache, “Holy Land”, “Hallowed Land”, so closely linked to the story of the Grail. The word Montsalvat is an Occitan term, whose literal translation is "Mont Sauvé" /Safe Mountain. Is this chapel the remains of the true Grail Chapel? If not the actual grail chapel, the evidence does seem to suggest that someone who was “Grail-made” to decided to build and name a chapel after the Grail accounts.

We should, however, not forget that Perilous is also linked to the Round Table.

In the story of the Round Table, there is the story of the “Perilous Seat” or the “Siege Perilous”. This is a seat on the Round Table, which is kept empty. In the end, a character sometimes named Gawain, Perlesvaus, Perceval and Galahad, takes this seat and “mysterious items hit the fan”. In one account, the occupier of the seat rides off to discover the Grail, whereas in another account, the occupier gives off such radiance that the other knights decide to search for the reason behind this radiance.

Whatever scenario is applied, the Perilous Seat is deemd to be the territory of the “greatest knight” of them all, and hence was kept empty until the righteuous one, The Chosen One, would lay claim to it.

The first in Arthurian legend was 'Perceval' and then in later legends 'Galahad' who became known as a Grail Knight deemed worthy enough to sit in it when both embarked upon the 'Siege Perilous'. The siege perilous was much revered and believed that it would crack if anyone not worthy of sitting in it tried to do so. Other reports said that the seat would devour any person who had presumed themselves worthy enough to sit on it.

The seat was said to have cracked when Perceval sat in it, but it was later healed when he became a Grail Knight. This place is said to have also been seen as the place where Christ would have sat.

A local amateur historian from the Perillos region, Courtade, wrote a history of the village and the region, this in the 17th history.

He mentions that on the lands of Perillos one can find a “royal” tomb, of a being that cannot be named and the land of the sepulchre can not be divided or sold or leave the possession of the Perillos family. He writes how there is a document that even “spoliation”, the act of getting things done within the law, but against the “spirit of the law”, cannot be applied in removing or changing ownership of this land. Of course, the French Revolution changed all of this, leaving modern researchers with a puzzle, rather than a straightforward answer, as in the 17th Century.

Is Perillos the region of the Grail? The name definitely suggests so. The history is definitely open to the suggestion and one suspected Priory of Sion member has hinted as much. The Grail, and particularly Arthur, has been connected to the Great Bear, amongst others by such authors as Greg Rigby. When the Great Bear is doubled, we get the symbol of the heraldic devices of the land of the Sabarthez represented by two bears and … a Grail, between both animals. Let us also add that the bear is the totem animal of the Roussillon, where the primordial ally was the family of Perillos. Coincidence?

In the end, one can only wonder whether a possible secret residing in and around Perillos added to the growing body of lore surrounding a mythical enigma, the Grail. That this occurred, should not cause much amazement. Even in our own times, we often find how one mystery is added to another. In fact, quite often, the addition of one myth to another adds more power of belief in the combined possibility. This is the case with the pyramids of Gizeh, to extra-terrestrial hypotheses, and particularly the latter’s connection, or possible connection, to crop circles. Two mysteries are added, and somehow melt in our mind into a coherent self-explanatory myth. Why would the story of the Grail have been any different? But if this is so, what is that linked Perillos to this story?

Though the answer might have been – if not likely have been – unknown to the writer of the story himself, the answer might still be out there, waiting to be discovered.