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The Holy Grail - The Grail Legends

The Grail Legends

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The Grail Legends.

'To speak of the Grail as a single legend is misleading. It is more of a central mystery, interwoven with multi-coloured strands belonging to different authors, written at different times and arising from differing backgrounds.' - Malcolm Godwin - The Holy Grail. Its origins, secrets and meaning revealed.

"The best known version of the legend tells us that Joseph of Arimathea came to the west after the death and resurrection of Jesus with his son, Josephus, and a number of disciples. They were cast up on the shore hungry and thirsty, but they met an old woman bringing twelve loaves from the bakery. These were not enough to satisfy them all, so Joseph ordered the loaves to be brought to him and told everyone to sit down on the ground. Just as Jesus had done in Galilee, Joseph then 'brake the bread and placed pieces here and there, and ay the head of the table he put the Holy Grail' which he had brought with him from the Holy Land. 'As he set it in place the twelve loaves were multiplied in such a miraculous fashion that those present, who numbered four thousand had every man his fill.' After further adventures the miracle-working Grail was brought by Joseph to Glastonbury, where he and his followers founded a church dedicated to the Mother of God, and where they enshrined the holy vessel."   - Noel Curer-Briggs.

The Grail Romances.

'The Principal Romances associated with the Holy Grail fall into two classes;

[1] Those which relate the adventures of knights of King Arthur's time who visit by chance or design the castle in Britain where the vessel is kept.

[2] Those which relate the history of the vessel from the time of Christ to the time of Merlin and which account for its removal from the Holy Land to Britain.

There are eight important texts in the first group and two in the second.'

from Loomis; The Grail from Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol



The texts of the first group are;

[1] The Conte del Graal or Perceval, composed by Chrétien de Troyes, a poet of Champagne, for Phillip Count of Flanders.

[2] Four long continuations of the same, two anonymous, one by Manessier and one by Gerald de Montreuil.

[3] The Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach, a Bavarian knight, which was the main inspiration of Wagner's Parsifal

[4] The Welsh prose romance, Peredur, included in the Mabinogion

[5] The Didot Perceval, a French prose romance, so called from the name of a former owner of the manuscript.

[6] Perlesvaus, a prose romance from northern France, or Belgium, translated by Sebastian Evans as the High History of the Holy Grail.

[7] The Prose Lancelot, which forms the third member of a vast compilation called the Vulgate cycle.

[8] The Queste del saint Graal, the fourth member of the Vulgate cycle.

( Books XI to XVII of Malory's Morte d'Arthur are based on material from the Lancelot and the Queste.)

the second group comprises;

[1] Joseph of Arimathea, by the Burgundian poet, Robert de Boron.

[2] L'Estoire del Saint Graal, the first member of the Vulgate cycle, but probably composed after the Lancelot and the Queste.

after Loomis



'According to Emma Jung, analyst, lecturer and the wife of the eminent psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung, the way in which the literary genre of the Holy Grail appeared at the end of the twelfth century was both sudden and surprising. In an authoritative study of the Grail legend ( which she undertook on behalf of the Jung foundation ) she argued that something of great significance must have lain behind this abrupt and dramatic materialisation. Indeed she went so far as to suggest that in Chrétien de Troye’s Conte del Graal and Wolfram’s Parzival – the first two exemplars of the genre – it was almost ‘as if a subterranean watercourse had been tapped.’' ………The Sign and the Seal – Graham Hancock.


'All these basic Grail texts were composed within a period of about fifty years. The earliest Chrétien's poem, was written about 1180, the first two continuations of the same may be placed before 1200, Manessier's between 1214 and 1227,  and Gerbert's about 1230. Wolfram's Parzival is fixed between 1200 and 1210. The date of the other texts probably precede 1230.

Loomis; The Grail from Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

One intriguing feature of these Grail Legends is that De Boron, Chrétien, Wolfram all attribute their stories to an earlier source. Chrétien says that he turned in to rime the best tale ever told in a royal court, which Count Phillip of Flanders had given him in the form of a book. The author of Perlesvaus gives his source as a Latin book kept at the holy house in the Isle of Avalon.

Almost everything about these early grail texts is disputed, the identities of the authors, the dates of writing, the sources they used.

" A word as to the attitude of the Church towards the legend. It would seem that a legend so distinctively Christian would find favour with the Church. Yet this was not the case. Excepting Helinandus, clerical writers do not mention the Grail, and the Church ignored the legend completely. After all, the legend contained the elements of which the Church could not approve. Its sources are in apocryphal, not in canonical, scripture, and the claims of sanctity made for the Grail were refuted by their very extravagance. Moreover, the legend claimed for the Church in Britain an origin well nigh as illustrious as that of the Church of Rome, and independent of Rome."  


The Grail Knights ->



Related Pages

Peredur (full text)

Perlesvaus ( full text)

Le Morte d'Arthur ( full text )


Chrétien de Troyes

The Queste del saint Graal

Robert de Boron



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