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HOLY GRAIL

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The Holy Grail is the drinking vessel that was quested by The Knights of The Round Table. The word is derived from the Old French word grael, which means a dish.

 

The Holy Grail of Christian legend is the vessel given by Christ to his disciples to sup from at the Last Supper.

 

Later, it is said to have been given to his grand-uncle, St. Joseph of Arimathea, who used to collect Christ's blood and sweat whilst he hung upon the Cross.

 

Sometime after the Resurrection, Joseph was imprisoned in a rock tomb similar to the one he had given for the body of his Jesus. Left to starve, he was sustained by the power of the Grail which provided him all he sustenance for living.

 

Many years later, in around 63AD, St. Joseph journeyed to Britain with his family and several followers.

 

He settled at Ynys Witrin or Glastonbury, and there the Grail stayed. Later the Grail was taken to Corbenic where it was placed in a castle, to be guarded always by the Grail Kings, who were themselves the descendants of Joseph's daughter, Anna (Enygeus) and her husband, Brons.

 

Centuries later, by the time of King Arthur, the location of the great castle of Corbenic was forgotten.

 

But at his court, it was prophesied that the Grail would one day be rediscovered by a descendant of St. Joseph. This knight who would discover it would needs be the best knight in the land. What is more, he would be the only man capable of sitting in the mysterious Siege Perilous seat at the Round Table. Such a man arrived in the form of Galahad, the son of Lancelot.

 

As reward for his purity of heart, he was granted a miraculous, though brief, vision of the Grail itself. Once he relayed his story, the quest to find this holiest of relics began. Through many adventures and many years, the Knights of the Round Table crossed Britain from one end to another in their search.

 

There are many other stories of their travels. Perceval or Peredyr discovered the castle in a land that was sickly like its spear-wounded King. When entertained by this Fisher King or Grail King, however, the knights failed to ask of the Grail and left without it.

 

In another legend, Lancelot reached Corbenic, but was prevented from entering because of he was an adulterer.

 

Finally Galahad arrived. He and he alone was thus permitted to enter into the Grail Chapel. There he gazed upon the wondrous sight. His life became complete and together Grail and knight ascended in to heaven. And there are earlier traditions of a grail that link healing with holiness, and Celtic and ancient British notions of fertility and kingliness.

 

The earliest legends of the grail is seen as being something which can be brought to heal the land, when the Maimed King has become wounded in the thigh. The emphasis upon a wounding to the king's thigh appears to have been originally a fertility story. Once his powers are restored, the king gives life to the land. While the king is well, the land is well. The thigh is a symbol for fertility; In ancient society, the wounded fertility of the king leads to a wounded land. The waste land is still a metaphor for us today.

 

Stories of a sacred vessel or cauldron were dear to the Celts. Such legends seem to have became entwined with the story of the Christian Holy Grail.

 

The search for the Grail has inspired countless Quests and crusades across England and Europe to find it. The film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a fairly recent re-telling of this popular quest.

 

The first stories similar to our popular ideas about the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail, come from Chrétien de Troyes. He was aware of a Celtic oral traditions of the Grail, which he probably received from the Bretons of Brittany, who knew well about old legends from Britain, but he also incorporated a Christian mission to the story.

 

From the 14th Century it was said that the Grail was the cup of the Last Supper, and had had been brought to Glastonbury by Joseph of Arimathea. King Arthur, the Christian king, inspires his knights to seek this wondrous vessel through aspiring to complete holiness and spiritual bravery.

 

In finding the Cup which contained the Blood of Christ, the knights would yet again bring healing and life to the world. Different stories, say different knights found or saw the Grail. According to the Queste, it was Sir Galahad who found the Holy Grail. After Sir Galahad's death, a hand carried the Grail to Heaven.

 

The Holy Grail first appears as simply 'a grail' in the works of Chrétien de Troyes. The word is probably derived from the Old French word graal meaning a "broad and capacious dish or salver". Though usually thought of as being a cup or chalice, the Grail has indeed been variously described as a platter, dish, a cornucopia, and a horn of plenty.

 

Blue Glass Pewter Chalice

The name of the Castle of Corbenic has several possible explanations. It could come from the Old Welsh cors, meaning 'horn' as in The Horn of Plenty.

 

The Grail is sometimes confused with the Old French corps or 'body'. More likely, however, is the suggestion that Corbenic stems from the Latin Corbin-Vicus. The ending is almost certainly derived from the Latin for 'settlement' or 'town' while Corben is a French translation of the word 'crow' or 'raven' which is Bran in Welsh.

 

This was also a man's name and, as Brons, he may be or be descended from St. Joseph's son-in-law, who was one of the first Grail Kings. Hence Corbenic might be Bran's Settlement. Finally, it may be linked to the home of Lancelot's father, Caer-Benwick. To this day the meaning is still by no means certain.

 

The Grail Quest has taken a new and interesting lease of life through the enormous success of the novel and film The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

The characters in the story investigate the 'sang real' or royal bloodline from Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and their supposed son. This royal bloodline is revealed to all who watch the film or read the book to be Jesus and Mary's living descendents. The true meaning of the grail is thus shown to be not a chalice, but a bloodline - which the Roman Catholic Church has spent two thousand years covering up.
 

Even though our name of the Grail appears to be quite late in origin, the quest for a divine vessel was a popular and re-occurring theme in Arthurian legend long before medieval writers introduced the Holy Grail to British mythology. The quest for the sacred cup appears in the Mabinogion tale of Culhwch and Olwen. More well-known is the story of the Preiddeu Annwfn or Spoils of the Otherworld as recounted by Taliesin. In this legend, King Arthur and his knights sail to the Celtic Otherworld to capture the pearl-rimmed Cauldron of Annwfn.

 

Like the Grail it was a source of sustenance and a giver of plenty, and also of the gift of prophecy. It was finally discovered at Caer-Siddi (or Wydyr), an island bound castle of glass, where it was guarded by nine holy maidens. But the ensuing perils to gain the grail were too much for even King Arthur's men. The mission was abandoned and only seven of their number returned home.

 

Cauldrons were used in ceremonial feasting as early as the Late Bronze Age. Ritual deposits in Llyn Fawr (Glamorgan, Wales) included such vessels, though the best known example is the Gundestrup Cauldron found in the peat bogs of Jutland, in Denmark.

 

Highly decorated with portraits of many deities, this vessel would once have held up to twenty-eight and a half gallons of liquid. These finds clearly point to the religious importance of cauldrons, as found in the Arthurian stories and even older Celtic mythological parallels.

 

The magic Otherworld or Underworld vessel was the Cauldron of Ceridwen, the Celtic Goddess of Inspiration. She is possibly the source for our own idea today of the cauldron-stirring witch. According to legend, she once set about brewing a drink of knowledge and wisdom for her hideous son to make him all-knowing. But, without her knowledge, the kitchen-boy, Gwion, accidentally tasted the concoction, which drew out all of the magic from the brew, and thus prevented anyone else from benefiting from its affects, her own son included.

 

The story now turns upon the great battle of wills which ensued between Goddess and kitchen-boy, for Gwion now held the knowledge he needed to escape even from a Goddess' wrath. In a struggle to outwit one another, the two changed themselves into various animals and things. But Gwion's luck ran out when he became a grain of wheat only to be swallowed whole by Ceridwen. Centuries later, the poor kitchen-boy was eventually reborn as the great bard, Taliesin.

 

The cauldron then reappears in the story of Bran Fendigaid or Bran the Blessed, as a vessel of knowledge and plenty, and also of rebirth. The great Celtic warrior God, Bran, obtained his life-giving vessel from a giantess, possibly Ceridwen, who had been expelled from a lake in Ireland. The Emerald Isle is a personification, in this legendry tale, of the Celtic Otherworld. This magic vessel could restore to life the body of any dead warrior placed within it: a similar scene is possibly depicted on the Gundestrup Cauldron.

 

The story continues with Bran's sister marrying the King of Ireland, and they are given the cauldron as a wedding gift by Bran. However, when hostilities break out between the two kingdoms, Bran travels across the sea to regain this wonderful, yet dangerous gift. He is eventually successful, but is wounded by a poisoned spear and, like King Arthur, only seven of his men return home. So even this story may link back to St Joseph of Arimathea. For Bran is possibly Brons, the Grail King, and son-in-law of St Joseph of Arimathea.

 

 

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