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Lundy, Isle of Avalon

 La Queste del Saint Graal

   Lundy, Isle of Avalon         Arthurian and related Texts

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‘La Queste del Saint Graal’ is part of the group of tales called the Vulgate Cycle of which ‘L’Estoire del Saint Graal’ is the first. La Queste is generally believed to have been compiled by Cistercian monks in the first quarter of the thirteenth century [The compilation of La Queste del Saint Graal was influenced by the adoption in 1215 at the Fourth Lateran Council of the Catholic dogma of the Real Presence of Christ's body in the sacrament of the altar (the Host in the ciborium)].



"When they had dined King Arthur summoned his clerks who were keeping a record of all the adventures undergone by the knights of the household. When Bors had related to them the adventures of the Holy Grail as witnessed by himself, they were written down and the record kept in the library of Salisbury, whence Walter Map extracted them in order to make his book of the Holy Grail for the love of his Lord King Henry, who had the story translated from French to Latin. and with that the tale falls silent, and has no more to say about the adventures of the Holy Grail." - ‘La Queste del Saint Graal’ - Pauline Matarasso (trans)

"After Walter Map had put down in writing as much as he thought sufficient about the Adventures of the Holy Grail, his Lord King Henry II felt that what he had done would not be satisfactory unless he told about the rest of the lives of those whose prowess he had related in his book. So he began the last part, and when he put it together he called it the Death of King Arthur because the end or it relates how King Arthur was wounded at the battle of Salisbury and left Girflet who had long been his companion and how no one ever saw him alive. So Walter Map begins this last part accordingly."  - Mort Artu - Death of King Arthur - James Cable (trans)  

"At this point Walter Map will end the story of Lancelot, Because he has brought everything to a proper conclusion according to the way it happened; and he finished his book here so completely that no one can afterwards add anything to the story that is not now falsehood."  - Mort Artu - Death of King Arthur - James Cable (trans)



 "La Queste del Saint Graal is first and foremost a Christian book, and nothing in it suggests a conscious use of any pagan mythology, ritual, or folklore in their primitive forms....Once the pre-Christian elements had been appropriated, they became thoroughly Christianized and entered completely into the symbolic structure of the new religion. They had, in fact, been chosen for their insight value and as a means of illuminating the context of the new gnosis." - Frederick Locke

"The castle of the Grail is no longer the setting for obscurely motivated combats and nightmarish sounds and spectacles, but rather for meaningful sacramental mysteries. The adventures, the visions are interpreted with conscientious precision, morally or typologically or mystically, by hermit or monk or anchoress. At times this tale of knight-errantry rises to a level of solemn beauty comparable to that of the Holy Scriptures. The author has left on his work the stamp of his highly individual genius." - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol

"In the Queste the Grail is the dish from which Christ ate the Passover lamb with his disciples. It was brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea and was guarded by his descendants at their castle of Corbenic. It retains some of its earlier functions, for the sight of it heals the sick and when it appears at King Arthur's court it provides each person with the food he desires. But Arthur and his knights are told that the quest of the Grail ' is no search for earthly things but a seeking out of the mysteries and hidden sweets of our Lord, the divine secrets which the most high Master will disclose...'" - Richard Cavendish, "Grail", Man, Myth & Magic, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Supernatural, Vol. 9

the author of the Queste invented a new character as the Grail-winner, Galahad; who was 'so grounded in the love of Christ that no adventure could tempt him into sin."

The Sangreal was the chalice used at the Last Supper. Joseph of Arimathea used the The Sangreal (The Graal) to collect the blood of the crucified Jesus.He also claimed the body of Jesus from Pilate and arranged the burial. Subsequently Joseph and his companions carried the Grail (and possibly the spear with which the soldier pierced Jesus on the cross) into the West to the 'white isle' or 'vaus d'avaron'  The role of guardian of the relics was handed down from generation to generation of Joseph's descendants. Then the Grail disappeared and the Fisher King was maimed and the land became the Wasteland . Merlin sent word to Arthur instructing him to undertake the recovery of the Sangreal. Arthur was holding a feast when there was a clap of thunder and a bright light which made everything fairer than before, and all had food and drink of their favorite sort. The Grail appeared and passed through the hall before disappearing again. All present felt the loss.

"And then the King and all estates went home unto Camelot, and so went to evensong to the great Minster, and so after upon that to supper, and every knight sat in his own place as they were beforehand. Then anon they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that them thought the place should all to-drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam more clearer by seven times than ever they saw day, and all they were alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Then began every knight to behold other, and either saw other, by their seeming, fairer than ever they saw afore. Not for then there was no knight might speak one word a great while, and so they looked every man on other as they had been dumb. Then there entered into the hall the Holy Grail, covered with white samite, but there was none might see it nor who have it. And there was all the hall fulfilled with good odors, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world. And when the Holy Grail had been borne through the hall, then the holy vessel departed suddenly, that they wist not where it became. Then had they all breath to speak. And then the King yielded thankings to God, of his good grace that he had sent them" - La Queste del Saint Graal (Translated by Sir Thomas Malory)

Gawain was the first to vow to find the grail and return it. When he was followed by all the rest of Arthur's companions. Arthur lamented that this meant the end of the fellowship of the Round Table.

An old man accompanied by a young man entered the hall and said to Arthur, "Sir, I bring you here a young knight that is of kings' lineage, and of the kindred of Joseph of Arimathea, being the son of Dame Elaine, the daughter of King Pelles, king of the foreign country." This young man was Galahad, the natural son of Lancelot, who had been brought up at by his mother at the castle of King Pelles, his grandfather. Galahad was welcomed by the company and was seated in the Siege Perilous.

When Galahad rode forth on his quest for the grail he carried no shield. He arrived at a white abbey where the monks showed Galahad an altar where hung a shield of white blazoned with a red cross. Galahad took the shield and rode on his way until he came to a hermitage where he was told that the shield had belonged to Joseph of Arimathea.

"If one may sum up the essential doctrine of the Queste, it is this. The Grail is a symbol of grace, and grace is God's love for man. One of the supreme manifestations of that love was the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of fire [the first Pentecost]; thus the entrance of the Grail in the hall at Camelot was preceded by a dazzling ray, and all were at once illumined of the Holy Ghost. Through grace all man's spiritual desires may be satisfied, thus the Grail dispensed to every knight such meats and drinks as he best loved in the world. God's love begets a response in the hearts of men and draws them to Him; thus the knights of the Round Table were moved to seek the Grail." - Roger Sherman Loomis, The Grail, From Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol


Walter Map.

Walter Map was born in Herefordshire about 1140, his parents were in the service of King Henry II, both before and after he was crowned. From 1154 to1160 he was a student in Paris, probably studying law. On his return to England in 1161 Walter Map returns to England and joins the royal household of Henry II. He was at Limoges in 1173 with the king. In 1179 Walter Map was sent by King Henry II to the Lateran Council called by Pope Alexander III, where he met the historian William of Tyre. On his way to and from Rome for the Lateran Council Walter Map stayed at the court of Count Henry of Champagne, which is where he met Chrétien de Troyes. Walter was a Canon and a Precentor of Lincoln when he was appointed a Prebendary of St. Paul's Cathedral, London.

Walter was with King Henry II in Anjou in 1183 and was present in Samur when the king's heir, Prince Henry died. By 1184 Walter Map had returned to England and by 1186 he had been appointed Chancellor of Lincoln. In 1187 Walter resigned from the Precentorship of Lincoln and was appointed Archdeacon of Oxford. He died around 1209.

Walter Map was the author of Prose Lancelot, La Queste del Saint Graal, Mortu Artis and De Nugis Curialium ( A Couriers Triflings )


1175 earliest date for Chrétien de Troyes - Conte del Graal.
1179 Lateran Council attended by Walter Map and William of Tyre.

From the Dictionary of National Biography; Walter Map is 'probably the author of Lancelot and the Quest of the Holy Grail, written in French.'


related pages

The Grail Legends.

Perlesvaus or the High History of the Holy Grail
L’Estoire del Saint Graal



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