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Rossetti - the holy grail
Rossetti - the holy grail

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What’s the Holy Grail? The Quest of the Arthurian Knights.

Some mysteries can change the world. The secret of the Holy Grail is an example of this. The search for this object dominates the lives of many people. Eternal youth, health, and abundance, who is not looking for this? Is the search for the Holy Grail purely symbolic, or is there actually a magical object?

What is the Holy Grail?

Most people agree that the grail is the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and that Joseph of Arimathea used to collect his blood after he died on the cross. But, as we dive into its history, we discover there are more objects that are called the Holy Grail.

What is the meaning of the holy grail?

What is the meaning of the Holy Grail?

The true meaning of the Holy Grail can not be determined. If you dismiss it as a non-existent object, then it represents nothing, but if you consider it as a symbol that stands for something much greater, then the meaning of the Holy Grail is still as relevant as in the Middle Ages or before.

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Is the Grail a chalice, bowl, or stone?

The Holy Grail is first mentioned in a novel by Chrétien de Troyes (1160-1191). In 1181 he wrote the Arthurian novel Perceval ou le Conte du Graal (Perceval, the story of the Grail), but he died before he had finished it. The story of Chrétien de Troyes was completed (and adapted) by Wolfram von Eschenbach (1160-1220).

Chrétien de Troyes describes the Grail as a bowl or a chalice from which the king takes a daily Host to fight his disease. This Grail possesses magical powers, such as immortality, medicinal action, and the ability to communicate with God.

Wolfram of Eschenbach speaks of a magical stone dating from when Lucifer was thrown from heaven. Occasionally letters appear on the stone. These letters express God’s will. Some Christians believe the Devil was once a lovely angel named Lucifer who rebelled against God and fell out of favor. This belief that he is a fallen angel is frequently based on the Bible’s book of Isaiah, which states: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations.”

The image of the Grail that most of us know comes from Robert de Boron’s book. In his Estoire dou Gral, the Grail is described as a cup. It is the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and which was later used by Joseph of Arimathea to collect the blood of Christ at the crucifixion.

The Arthurian Knights and the Holy Grail

The story of Wolfram von Eschenbach is a classic chivalric novel with many twists and plots.

It starts with the story of the anti-hero. Percival is a mother’s child. His mother, Queen Herzeloyde, lives with him in the forest to protect him from the world. She doesn’t want him to become a knight, which, of course, goes wrong. Percival encounters some knights in the forest and is impressed by them.

Determined to become a knight himself, he reports to the court of King Arthur. There he receives a thorough education from a mentor named Gurnemanz. His mentor not only taught him to become an excellent knight, but he also advised the curious Percival to be more observative and not to ask questions. 

One day, Percival was a guest at the palace of the seriously ill King Anforas, the Fisherman King.

percival and the fisherman king

He witnesses a confusing procession in the castle of this king. First, a young man appeared with a bloody lance. Then, the young man was followed by 24 maidens carrying a stone. This stone was too heavy to lift, except for these beautiful virgins.

The story tells us that the stone is the Holy Grail and dates from when the earth was created. Thanks to the stone, food and drink were plentiful.

Yet, there is a deep sadness at the table. As his mentor taught him, Parzival merely observed.
He did not ask a single question. If only he had known that one question could end the king’s suffering.

After witnessing this strange event, Percival went back to the court of King Arthur. There, a hideous woman appeared. She curses Percival for making King Anforas suffer so much by not asking the right question.

She accuses him of being a tool of the devil!

Finally, she instructs him to end the suffering of King Anfortas. But, of course, Parzival had to go through some trials before doing so. After the necessary wanderings, he returns to the king’s court and asks:
“Sir, why do you suffer so?”

This turned out to be the magic question. Finally, King Anforas is released from his suffering, and Parzival becomes the new Grail King.

What did the Holy Grail mean to the Arthurian Knights?

For the knights at King Arthur’s court, finding the Grail was a quest. It was an endless, extensive search for an object of exceptional value. You could compare it to an alchemist’s search for the philosopher’s stone.

To them, the Holy Grail is a magical object. It gave abundantly and it was a way to find God’s purpose. In this sense, you could see the search for the Grail as the search for the divine within ourselves.

Holy Grail and the knights of the round table

The Holy Grail and the Knight Templars

The 12th century was the century of mythical stories. It was in this century, the legend of King Arthur was invented and described by Geoffrey de Monmouth. It was this legend that inspired Chrétien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach and later also Robert de Boron to write the Grail novels.

It was also the period of the first crusades and the Knights Templars. Therefore, a relationship between the Grail and the Templars seems obvious.

Chrétien de Troyes and the Templars

Probably the evidence will not stand in a courtroom, but there might be a connection between Chrétien de Troyes and the Templars.

Chrétien’s surname refers to the city of Troyes. In Troyes, the rules of the Templar order were established in 1129 by Pope Honorius II. These rules were modeled after the regulations of the Cistercians of Bernard de Clairvaux. The Templars were knight monks who took a vow of poverty, chastity, purity, and obedience.

Chrétien was employed as a writer by Henry I of Champagne and his wife Maria of France. This Henri was the grandson of Count Hugo de Champagne, who became one of the first Knights Templar in 1125

His grandson Henri (not a knight templar) took part in the Second Crusade (1145-1149). When he was in Jerusalem, he was captured by Kilij Arslan. A large amount of ransom was paid to get him released. Unfortunately, he died shortly after his release.

knight

After his death, Henry’s wife got engaged to Philippe d’Alsace (Philip of Alsace) of Flanders. Although this engagement would come to nothing, Philippe was impressed by Mary’s court writer and decided to hire him.

Chrétien writes in his book that he received an old manuscript from Philippe d’Alsace that served as a source for the story about Percival. This is why Chrétien de Troyes dedicated his novel to Philippe d’Alsace.

Wolfram von Eschenbach and the Knight Templars

Wolfram refers to Kyot de Provins as his source. Kyot was probably Guiot, a troubadour and a spokesman for the Templars from the village of Provins in Champagne. As a writer, he was also associated with the Counts of Champagne. In his book, Wolfgang mentions the keepers of the Grail Temples, which could refer to the Knight Templars.

Guiot of Kyot obtained his information about the story of the Grail in Toledo, Spain, where he was given access to Flegetanis’ documents.
Flegetanis, who had found the secrets of the Holy Grail written in the stars, was a Muslim astronomer and a descendant of King Solomon.  

Von Eschenbach tells it all in the eighth book about Percival. It also states that Kyot went to investigate the writings of Flegetanis and ended up in Anjou. This also implied a line with the Templars. Fulk V, Count of Anjou, had strong ties with them and was probably one of the first members.

It is not clear whether Kyot really existed or whether he was a fabrication by Von Eschenbach to give more value to his history. In itself, it is remarkable that both Von Eschenbach and De Troyes mention that they did not invent the story of the Grail, but it was passed on to them by someone who directly or indirectly had a line with the Counts of Champagne.

What did the Holy Grail mean to the Knights Tempar?

The truth is we don’t really know. The Knight Templars might have inspired Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach. Writers like Graham Hancock and Laurence Gardner might have found some historical evidence that the Knight Templars were the protectors of the grail.

holy blood and the holy grail

In 1982 the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail by Lincoln, Baigent, and Leigh was published. They introduced a new concept of the Holy Grail. The Grail was seen as the womb of Mary Magdalene and represented the offspring of Jesus Christ. According to them, Mary Magdalene and Jesus were married to each other. The Holy Grail (in Old French Sangreal) is not San Greal (Holy Grail) but Sang Real (royal blood).

The writers claimed that Godfrey of Bouillon founded the Templars to protect the secret of the holy bloodline. Another secret society, the Priory of Sion, would be an offshoot of the Templars. Although this Priory was probably a fabrication of a Frenchman, Pierre Plantard, the idea of a holy and royal bloodline remained.
The plot of the bestseller The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is based on this idea.

The Holy Grail and the Nazis

Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS and responsible for the Holocaust, was obsessed with everything that had to do with the Holy Grail. He had intended to find it. Otto Rahn helped him (although many researchers state that Rahn wanted nothing to do with the Nazi regime).

Otto Rahn was born in 1904. As a boy, he loved the story of Percival and the Holy Grail. Rahn made a study of the Cathars and became convinced that they had hidden their treasures somewhere in the south of France, probably in Chateau de Montsegur. During his investigations, he came into contact with the mystic Antonin Gadal. Rahn incorporated Gadal’s ideas into the book Kreuzzug Gegen den Gral (Crusade Against the Grail).

An interesting detail is that Gadal lived in Ussat. He considered the caves in that area as shelters and initiation sites of the Cathars. Unfortunately, the caves are not open to the general public, but with the right guide, you can visit them.

caves at ussat

I, too, crawled (and stumbled) through these caves in the light of a strong flashlight and had the idea of being a Grail searcher. The climb to the entrance was undoubtedly a matter of hard work. Rahn’s book is said to be the basis of an Indiana Jones film about the search for the Grail.

The Nazis were not only obsessed with the Holy Grail. Hitler wanted to own the Spear of Destiny. Given the importance of Jesus’s crucifixion and the Eucharist in Christian beliefs, the search for these objects might have been a symbol of their own rightness. Or maybe they believed they could use its power for their own benefits.

Does the Holy Grail really exist?

The Grail was an invention of the 12th century. The church adopted the story and now the Holy Grail can be found in more than 100 churches.

What is the meaning of the holy grail?

What is the meaning of the Holy Grail?

The true meaning of the Holy Grail can not be determined. If you dismiss it as a non-existent object, then it represents nothing, but if you consider it as a symbol that stands for something much greater, then the meaning of the Holy Grail is still as relevant as in the Middle Ages or before.

Read More »
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What’s the Holy Grail? The Quest of the Arthurian Knights.

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