Legends Of The Holy Grail Summary
The quest of the Holy Grail was considered to be the greatest adventure in the Arthurian legend. However the man, who first wrote about the grail, never completed this story. The great French poet, Chretien de Troyes, was the first to introduce the grail to the Arthurian legend.
His story exerted great influence to later writers of this legend. His hero was the Welsh youth named Perceval. Other writers have Perceval as the hero, though some wrote that Gawain was the Grail hero or at least played important role in some of the romances. It wasn’t until the Vulgate Cycle in the second quarter of the thirteenth century, that a new hero emerged. This hero was named Galahad.
It was for this reason that I have divided the “Grail Legend” into four separate pages.
The first page (this page you are reading) is sort of introduction to the Grail. It gives a little background of the Grail. It also concerns other artefacts found in the legend (Bleeding Lance, the Broken Sword, etc), including information on the Grail Castle, Joseph of Arimathea and the Fisher King.
The second page concerned with history of the Grail, set during the time of Joseph of Arimathea, the first Grail Keeper.
The third and fourth pages are the grail romances that follow two separate traditions. One tradition (the 3rd page) had Perceval as the main grail hero. The last (4th) page followed the tradition with Galahad as the hero.
|Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail|
|The Fisher King and Maimed King|
|Sword! Sword! And More Swords!|
|The Ship and the Tree|
|The Holy Grail became the source of the greatest quest in the Arthurian legend. The Grail was often called Sangreal, which san greal literally means “Holy Grail”. However, through arrangement of the letter “g”, sang real come to mean, “True Blood”.
Chretien de Troyes was the first author to write about the Grail. In the Le Conte du Graal, Perceval was the hero who witnessed the procession of people carrying mystical objects. To Chretien, the grail was a platter or dish, not a chalice. When Perceval saw the Grail the first time, he noticed that something in the vessel that seemed to illuminate the room more brightly. We learn that the Grail contain a holy host that able to sustain life (host, as in like the consecrated bread that is use in sacrament). It was the content that was important, not the vessel itself. Though Chretien say that the vessel was holy, he did not make explicit connection between Christ and the Grail. It was unfortunate that Chretien never finished this tale.
Later, Arthurian authors were more concern with the Grail itself than the contents in the Grail. Several writers tried to finish Chretien’s works; these works were known as the Grail Continuations, by picking up where Chretien had left off.
The next, most important author, after Chretien, was a French poet named Robert de Boron (or Borron). Boron wrote three books, two of the books, concerning the Grail itself. Whereas in Joseph d’Arimathie (or Roman de l’estoire du Graal), Boron wrote of the Grail’s origin. Boron explicitly says that Grail was the cup or chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper, and later at the Crucifixion, when Joseph of Arimathea used the Grail to catch the blood of Christ. However, the gospels (Bible) placed no special emphasis on the cup except that it was only used at the Last Supper; the cup was never seen again in the Bible. There was no connection between Joseph and the Grail in the gospels. Boron also says that it was the Rich Fisher, named Bron, who was the brother-in-law of Joseph, and that it was he who brought the Grail to Britain. This is different from the Vulgate text (Estoire du Saint Graal and Queste del Saint Graal), where it was Joseph and his son Josephus, who brought the Grail to Britain.
In Boron’s second work called Merlin, the tale linked the first book with the last, where the wizard Merlin created the Round Table, using Joseph’s Grail Table as a model. The story included Arthur’s conception, birth and fosterage, before he drew the sword from a rock, to signify that he was the true successor of Uther, as king of Britain.
The third book, called Perceval, was lost; however, prose or redaction version known as Didot Perceval used Boron’s lost work as its source. It recount the adventures of Perceval’s quest of the Grail, where he eventually became the successor of the Fisher King (who happened to be his grandfather, Bron), but the hero became the last guardian of the holy vessel. The Grail (and the Lance) vanished with Perceval’s death.
In 1225-1237, the Vulgate Cycle or Lancelot-Grail Cycle detailed the tale of Lancelot’s love for Arthur’s Queen (Guinevere), in the work called Lancelot or Lancelot Propre. This large volume prepare the way for quest, where Lancelot fathered a son, named Galahad, who would eventually become the true Grail Knight, who completed the quest in the Queste del Saint Graal. Like Boron’s trilogy, the Grail is seen as cup of Christ or the chalice.
Writers like Wolfram von Eschenbach who wrote Parzival (c. 1210), say that the Grail was a stone fallen out of the sky. This stone or Grail was called lapis exillas. The essence of the lapis exillas was so pure that it is able to nourish a person who stands before its presence, as well as sustaining a mortally wounded person for at least a week and slowing the age processes (though your hair will still turn grey).
In another German romance, Diu Krône (13th century), the hero was Gawain. Here, when Gawain first saw the Grail, it was crystal vessel, but when he later completed his quest, it was a golden bowl adorn with precious stones.
In Perlesvaus or Le Haut Livre du Graal (c. 1212), wrote that Grail and Bleeding Lance had vanished when the Fisher King died, before Perceval could complete his quest. The quest had changed to where the hero must find a golden circlet, instead of the Grail. This golden circlet was known as the Circle of Gold, but it was actually the crown of thorn that the Romans placed on Jesus’ head, when they tortured him, and before crucifying him. The Grail, the Bleeding Lance and other holy relics reappeared only when Perceval’s wicked uncle, King of Castle Mortal had died.
In the Welsh Peredur Son of Evrawy (c. 13th century, which is one of the tales in the Mabinogion), the grail was replaced with a severed head on a large platter. This head was Perceval’s cousin, killed by the nine witches of Gloucester. Instead of a quest for a Grail, this tale ended with Perceval avenging his cousin, by killing the leader of the nine witches; Arthur’s men killed the rest of the witches. See Peredur Son of Evrawy.
Whatever Chretien had in mind about the grail, other writers had their own interpretation of what the holy object was.
To understand the significant of the Grail (where the vessel was a cup or chalice), you must know a little of the New Testament from the Bible.
The Grail was associated with the cup used by Jesus in the Last Supper [Matthew 26.26-29; Mark 14.22-26; Luke 22.14-20]. Jesus shared bread and wine with his apostles, saying that this was his last meal with them. Jesus broke the bread and said, “This is my body, which is given to you” [Luke 22.19]. With the wine in the cup, he said, “This cup is God’s new covenant sealed with my blood, which is poured out to you” [Luke 22.20]. After the Last Supper, the cup was never mentioned again.
The new Covenant is the teaching of Jesus: repentance, baptism, salvation. The whole covenant allowed them to live in heaven after their death on earth. The new Covenant was meant to replace the old Mosaic Covenant of the Jews.
The Gospel of John is markedly different from the other three gospels (Synoptic Gospels), particularly when Jesus was crucified. At Jesus’ death, one of the Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side, [John 19.31-37]. Blood and water flowed from his wound.
There was no mention of the name of that Roman soldier. Nor did they mention Joseph of Armathea catching the Christ’s blood in a cup of the Last Supper (Grail).
Jesus was buried, or entombed I should say, in a cave outside of Jerusalem, not too far from where he was crucified, at Golgotha (Place of Skull). A rich Jew named Joseph from Arimathea prepared the tomb for Jesus. Joseph, with the help of Nicodemus, anointed the body with oil, spices and herbs, before wrapping the body with a shroud of made of linen. (See Joseph of Arimathea for more detail.)
The authorities of the Roman Catholic Church could never come to term with the story of the Grail, because the Grail owed more to pagan origin than in Christian belief. The magical restorative power of a cup was a common theme in Celtic myth than the Bible. The predecessors of the Grail were the Celtic magic cauldrons, which appeared so frequently in Celtic literature.
In Irish myth, the Cauldron of Dagda was a large vessel on wheel that had some powerful magical properties. It was always full. The food in the cauldron, would satisfy person’s hunger, refresh or renew his strength. It also had the magical ability of being able to heal a person. However, Grail legend owed more to the Welsh literature than in Irish myths.
In the Welsh myth, Preiddiau Annwfn (Spoils of Annwfn from the Book of Taliesin), Arthur and his companions went to the Annwfn (Annwyn), to steal a magic cauldron. Annwfn was the Welsh form of the Otherworld. Cauldron played an important part in Celtic myths, having magical properties. In this story, the food wouldn’t boil for a coward. Here we have a connection between Arthur and the grail-like cauldron. We don’t know if Arthur was successful or not. Of the three shipload of warriors who had accompanied Arthur, only seven had survived. See Spoils of Annwfn in Fabulous Voyages.
There is another story concerning magic cauldron that may have influence the Grail legend, in the Welsh myth – the story of Branwen Daughter of Llyr in the Mabinogion. Branwen was the daughter of Llyr and sister of Bran the Blessed (Bendigeidfran). Bran was the legendary king of the Land of the Mighty (Britain or England), who possessed the magic cauldron of rebirth. The cauldron can bring to life the dead. Bran gave this cauldron to his brother-in-law, King Mallolwch of Ireland. But war broke out when Bran heard that Mallolwch had mistreated his sister.
In the war, Bran could be identified with Arthur in the story of Spoils of Annwfn (which was already mentioned above), as well as with Bron the Rich Fisher, the brother-in-law of Joseph of Arimathea, in the Grail legend. According to Robert de Boron, Bron was the one who brought the Grail to Britain, and he was also said to be the grandfather of Perceval.
You should also notice that during the war against Ireland, Bran was called the Pierced Thighs; the Fisher King was sometimes mentioned being crippled because of his pierced thighs. Was this a coincidence? Or was Bran actually origin of Fisher King? Some experts also remarked on the similarity of the names – Bran and Bron; so they believed that Bran may have being the antecedent of Bron, the Rich Fisher. (See the Fisher King).
Another common themes in Celtic myths, was asking the right question or finding the correct answer or solution. Such is the power of a question or answer, which can either restore the prosperity and fertility to a devastated land, or heal a maimed king (or both, because the land and the king are linked).
In Chretien’s Perceval and many other Grail romances, the hero had to asked the right question in order for the Maimed King to be healed of his wound: “What rich man was served from the grail?” or “Why that drop of blood flow from the tip of the white shaft?”
However with Galahad, in the Queste del Saint Graal (Vulgate), asking a question was no longer relevant in the Quest. There were many other changes to the Grail legend in the Vulgate Cycle.
The Queste del Saint Graal had shown that the Arthurian world was flawed, because their heroes relied on worldly ideals, such as chivalry, courtly love, bravery and prowess in arms. The Grail adventure was no longer about chivalric quests. The Grail quest was now a spiritual quest. Though the tale still has Celtic motifs and symbolism, the Quest was painted with Christian overtones.
Instead, the theme had changed to the hero himself. To succeed in the quest, the criteria were purity of heart and virginity (or chastity). The new story says that the hero not only needed to be a knight, but also a monk. Perceval, the first Grail knight in the legend, was no longer sufficient. Perceval was not the true Grail knight in the new tale; his role was taken over by Galahad, the illegitimate son of Lancelot and Elaine, who was the daughter of the Fisher King.
Galahad was something like a saint, who has the ability to perform miracle, such as banishing demons and healing the sick (which was why the Church opposed to the Grail legend). The Celtic motif was less evident in this story than the previous; it had even larger Christian overtone.
Clearly, the author of this new quest was a monk. There is some speculation that the Queste del Saint Graal was written by White Monk, from the Cistercian order. These monks were the most mystical or at least believed in the mystical.
|Joseph of Arimathea and the Grail|
|In the New Testament of the Christian Bible, Joseph was a rich man from Arimathea, a town probably about 30 kilometres north-east of Jerusalem.
There is not much information on Joseph. Joseph was one of member of the Council [Mark 15.42], where Jewish priests and teachers had interrogated Jesus, when Jesus was arrested. Joseph did not approve of his colleagues’ action, but was powerless to do anything to help Jesus. Joseph was secretly a follower of Jesus [Matthew 27.57; Luke 24.50-51; John 19.38], but was afraid of the Jewish authorities.
At the Crucifixion on the hill, called Golgotha (The Place of the Skull), Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judaea, granted Joseph’s request to entomb Christ’s body in a nearby cave outside of Jerusalem [Matthew 27.57-60; Mark 15.42-47; Luke 23.50-56; John 19.38-42]. With the help of Nicodemus, Joseph had anointed Jesus’ body with spices (myrrh and aloes), before wrapping in linen sheet around the body. Then, they closed off the tomb with a large stone. This tomb is now called the Holy Sepulchre is the most holy site for the Christians, where they built a large church to enclose the places of the Crucifixion and the tomb.
Only the gospel of John, mentioned Nicodemus assisting Joseph with the preparation of Jesus’ body; in fact, he appeared earlier in this gospel, twice. Nicodemus was a Jewish leader among the Pharisees. Nicodemus had gone to speak with Jesus about the resurrection. Later, when the Pharisees were outraged over Jesus’ preaching, Nicodemus tried to calm them down, saying that they couldn’t condemn a man without a hearing. In the Arthurian legend, particularly that of the Perlesvaus, the Grail hero Perceval was a direct descendant of Nicodemus, while on his mother’s side, he was descended of Joseph’s sister.
Not being an enthusiastic Bible reader, I could not find any more reference to Joseph of Arimathea in the New Testament. There were no mention of his family, and he doesn’t appear again in the Bible, after placing Jesus’ body in the tomb.
There are several apocryphal writings, which Joseph may have appeared that Boron may have used to create his own work, but I haven’t read these.
In the Bible, there are no connections between Joseph of Arimathea and the cup of the Last Supper (Grail, not even in the apocryphal texts). Though, Joseph had attended the crucifixion, Joseph did not catch Jesus’ blood in the cup, when his side was pierced by Roman spear, this event was invented by Robert de Boron, who wrote Joseph d’Arimathie (c. 1200).
His feast was held on two different days: in the East it was held on July 31st, while in West it was held on March 17. To the Arthurian authors, Joseph of Arimathea was the patron saint of Glastonbury (in Somerset, England), which was said to be the location of the Isle of Avalon.
Most of what we know of Joseph of Arimathea come from the Arthurian legends, particular from a work by a French poet named Robert de Boron (Borron) called Joseph d’Arimathie (c. 1200). From the Vulgate Cycle, prose adaption called Estoire de Saint Graal, and Queste del Saint Graal (c. 1230).
Joseph and his son-in-law Bron (in Boron’s version) or his son Josephus (Vulgate), were keepers of the Grail. Joseph received the Grail, when he was thrown in prison, because the Jewish authorities thought he had stolen the body of Jesus, after the Crucifixion. Forty-two years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Joseph was released from prison by the emperor Vespasian. Joseph and his son (Josephus) or his son-in-law (Bron) took the Grail to Britain, where it was kept, until the time of King Arthur.
Obviously, Boron’s source for the imprisonment of Joseph come from the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, since there was no more information about Joseph after placing Jesus’ body in the tomb. Except that Joseph was immediately put in prison by the Jews for putting Jesus’ body in the tomb.
Joseph also had another son who was named Galahad, king of the Hosselice. (Hosselice was another name for Wales). Lancelot and the Grail hero, Galahad, later found his tomb. These heroes were therefore descendants of Joseph of Arimathea.
Joseph of Arimathea and his son (Josephus) befriended the pagan king of Sarras, named Evalach (Mordrain), and his brother-in-law and seneschal, named Seraph (Nascien). Josephus became a bishop at Sarras, and aided Mordrain.
When Joseph and son went to Britain, they were imprisoned by the pagan king but were rescued by Mordrain. Joseph was wounded in thigh by a broken sword. (Later in the quest, Galahad would restored the Broken Sword and given it to Bors. See Holy Grail in the Quest of the Holy Grail.)
(Most of my information about Joseph of Arimathea in the Arthurian legend comes from the Queste del Saint Graal (Vulgate Cycle), because I could not find affordable English translation of Joseph d’Arimathie (by Robert de Boron).
The Arthurian writers not only considered Joseph to be a saint, but also he and his son were one of the earliest and greatest Christian knights.
|The Fisher King and Maimed King|
|You may have wondered who this Fisher King is. The Fisher King appeared in the first Grail story by Chretien de Troyes. He was the uncle of Perceval, (actually the brother of Perceval’s mother). The king was never given a name, except that Perceval later learned of the title as the Fisher King.
Perceval stayed overnight at the Grail Castle where he witness the procession of the Grail and the Bleeding Lance.
In the morning, Perceval found that the castle appeared deserted. The moment Perceval left the castle, the gate closed behind him. No matter how much, he demanded and cursed that they open the gates, the gates would not open for him, so the hero left.
He then met a damsel, who was Perceval’s cousin, not far from the castle. The damsel told him that the Fisher King was wounded through both thighs by a javelin, during a battle. The Fisher King became a cripple, spending most of his time fishing. (See the Grail Castle.)
In this case, the Fisher King was the Maimed King. In other versions about the Grail (due to the fact that Chretien never completed Le Conte du Graal), other authors used their own interpretations, sometimes distinguished the Fisher King as a separate person from that of the Maimed King. At other times, there was probably more than one Fisher King or Maimed King, which can be really confusing sometimes.
From Robert de Boron’s work, called Joseph d’Arimathie (Estoire del Saint Graal) and the Didot Perceval (from unknown author), the Fisher King was Bron, the brother-in-law of Joseph of Arimathea, who brought the Grail to Britain, forty-two years after Christ’s Resurrection. Bron was known as the Rich Fisher, because he had prepared the fish for supper at the Grail Table (table of Joseph of Arimathea, not the Round Table).
Bron had married Joseph’s sister, Enygeus, and they had twelve sons. It was Alain le Gros, the youngest son of Bron, who became known as the Fisher King. In most case, Alain became Bron’s successor as the Keeper of the Grail. It was Bron’s grandson who was destined to seat on the Siege Perilous, the seat of the true Grail hero. This grandson was Perceval.
At the end of Perceval’s quest, he became Bron’s successor and the last Keeper of the Grail. When Perceval died, he vanished along with spear and the Grail.
See Didot Perceval.
Bron had being identified with Bran the Blessed, the king of Britain in the Welsh myth, titled Daughter of Llyr (Mabinogion). The Fisher King or Maimed King probably originated with the story of Bran, who was sometimes called the “Pierced Thighs“. The tale has the magical Cauldron of Rebirth, which resurrects those who had died, but they were dumb, because they no longer had the ability to use their tongue to speak. So the similarity of this tale with later Grail story is that the Cauldron was sort of like the Grail, and whenever the Grail appeared in the room, everyone is silence as if they were struck dumb.
See Daughter of Llyr for the story of Bran and Cauldron of Rebirth.
In the Vulgate Cycle, the romances had given introduced a new family to be contemporary of King Arthur. King Pelles of Listenois was the Fisher King and the keeper of the grail, at the time of Arthur’s reign and the Grail quest.
Pelles’ grandfather was King Lambar; a king who was killed in the war against neighbouring King Varlan. Though, Varlan was losing the battle against Lambar, Varlan fled and found the magic ship. There he found a Sword with the Strange Belt on the bed. With the new sword, Varlan attacked and killed Lambar. The blow to King Lambar also destroyed many people and laid waste to their two kingdoms. These two barren kingdoms became known as the Waste Land. Varlan returned to the ship to retrieve the scabbard, since he wanted to keep the sword. No sooner than he sheathed the sword, King Varlan fell dead. He was struck down by sword, apparently as punishment for using the sword against his pious foe (Lambar).
Pelles’ father, King Parlan (Pellam) also found the ship and the Sword with the Strange Belt. Parlan only drew the blade by a handbreadth, when a flying lance pierced his thighs. Parlan became known as the Maimed King, whom Galahad would later heal at the end of the Quest.
It was Perceval’s sister who recalled this family history of the Fisher King to Galahad and his companions. See Aboard the Ship in Quest of the Holy Grail (Galahad’s Tradition).
See Sword with the Strange Belt, for the prophecy about the sword.
In Perlesvaus or The High History of the Holy Grail, Pelles appeared as king, but he was not the Fisher King. Pelles was the King of the Lower Folk. The Fisher King and King of Castle Mortal were his brothers. His sister Yglais was the mother of Perceval and Dindrane (Dindraine). Alain le Gros was Yglais’ husband and the father of Perceval. Alain was the son of Garis le Gros and the grandson of Nicodemus (Nichodemus). (See House of Perceval).
The name of Pelles had originally appeared as Perceval’s maternal uncle, who was a hermit, instead of the Fisher King (however, not in Chretien’s story).
The origin of the Grail family of King Pelles goes back further in time. During the time of Joseph of Arimathea, Josephus, Joseph’s son, became the Keeper of the Grail, where he befriended King Mordrain and Nascien. Before Josephus died, he left the Grail into the care of Alan the Fat (Alain). Alan the Fat used the Grail to cure King Calafes of the Land Beyond. Calafes changed his name to Alphasan when he was baptised.
In return for this miracle, King Alphasan (Calafes) had his daughter married to Joshua, Alan’s youngest brother. Alphasan had also made Joshua as his heir, building a new castle for Joshua, which was called Corbenic, meaning “Holy Vessel”. It is this castle that would house the Grail. Joshua and his descendants would rule in the Land Beyond, from Corbenic Castle, until the time of King Pelles, the last Grail king of Corbenic. Pelles was a direct descendant of Joshua.
Alphasan died because he slept in the same chamber as the Grail. An angel wounded Alphasan with the spear. After this incident, this part of the castle was known as the Palace of Adventures. Anyone attempting to sleep in this palace would also die from the burning lance.
This story is different to the one told in the Post Vulgate Cycle known as the Suite du Merlin (c. 1240) and Sir Thomas Malory, in Le Morte d’Arthur.
It was Balin de Savage (Knight of Two Swords), who would use the spear (Bleeding Lance) to wound King Pellam (Parlan or Pellehan), the father of King Pelles. The blow to Pellam was known as the Dolorous Stroke. The spear pierced his thighs, which crippled the king. Thereafter Pellam was known as the Maimed King.
The Dolorous Stroke killed many people in the castle, and laid waste to three kingdoms [Le Morte d’Arthur, Book II chapter 15] and became known as the Waste Land. A great enchantment fell upon the kingdom of Logres.
The land remained barren until Galahad healed Pellam (the Maimed King), and completed the quest. The enchantment upon Logres would also be broken, when Galahad healed the king. See Knight with Two Swords in the Legend of Excalibur, about Balin and the Dolorous Stroke.
Pelles was also the Maimed King, when he found the magic sword, and wounded himself [Le Morte d’Arthur, Book XVII chapter 5].
The story though is connected with the theme that Grail comes from God or at least from the Last Supper, it has many of the pagan motifs from Celtic myths. Such as when the king become wounded or crippled, the land would fall into enchantment, causing the land to become barren, a Waste Land. Only by the healing the king would the fertility be restored to the land. This was a common theme of Celtic myths.
When a man become king, he was consider to be wedded to the land. Especially when a king married a goddess. The land and his queen become one. In the Irish myths, King Ailill of Connacht was not only wedded to Queen Medb (Maeve), by marrying the queen with godlike quality, Alill was also wedded to the land. Similarly, the Irish god Dagda would have sex with Morrigan, at least once, every year, on the night of Samhain-eve. This copulation with the goddess was to ensure the prosperity (fertility) of Ireland were renewed each year. Samhain was a Celtic festival that marks the end of summer.
Arthur was the same way, when he married Guinevere. In some Welsh legend, Guinevere was a goddess or personification of Britain. Arthur was not only wedded to the queen, he has become wedded to the land. As much as Arthur represented the kingdom of Logres or Britain, Guinevere was identified with the land.
In later legend, from Guinevere’s father, Arthur received the Round Table as part of dowry or a wedding gift. In a way, Guinevere was the Round Table. Arthur’s strength comes from the Knights of the Round Table. When Guinevere was about to be executed without a trial, the Round Table was split into two factions – Gawain’s and Lancelot’s. The circle of the Round Table was broken (figurative speaking, of course; the table was not physically broken).
In the case with the Fisher King, the health and virility of the king were tied to the land. If he were debilitated, then the land would suffer from drought and famine.
Elaine duped Lancelot into thinking that he was sleeping with Queen Guinevere. From their union, Galahad was born. Galahad was destined to be the hero of the Quest. It would be Galahad who healed his great-grandfather, Parlan (Pellam).
There is one story written by the monks of Glastonbury (1200-1210), called Le Haut Livre du Graal or Perlesvaus, where Perceval failed in his quest, because the Fisher King died before he could be healed. The Grail vanished with Fisher King’s death. Perceval’s quest changed to a search for a gold circlet, instead of the Grail.
|The Grail Castle was enchanted home of the Grail Keeper. The Grail Keeper was sometimes called the home of the Fisher King or Maimed King. According to the Vulgate Cycle and the Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, this Fisher King was King Pelles of Listinoise.
The Grail Castle was often called Corbenic Castle. Corbenic means “Holy Vessel”. Within Corbenic are the Church of Norte Dame and the residence of the Fisher King, which was known as the Palace of Adventure.
The Grail Castle was like the Celtic Otherworld, but in the form of a magical castle. Normal rules of the human world do not apply here. Few mortal heroes were allowed in this mysterious castle. Some may be invited into the castle the first time, but may have trouble finding or entering the castle again.
In Chretien’s Conte du Graal, Perceval visited the Grail Castle, where he saw the Grail. He did not seek out this castle yet he came upon it when the Fisher King invited the hero into his home. Later when he set out on a quest to find the Grail Castle, Perceval had search for five years but could not find it. No name was ever given to this castle, in Chretien’s story. It was just known as the castle of the Fisher King.
Similarly, several other heroes had seen the Grail at Corbenic (Grail Castle), in the Vulgate’s Lancelot. Bors, Lancelot, Gawain, and Perceval had all gone to the castle, and had seen the Grail in the castle, at one time or another (before the actual quest began). Galahad had probably lived at Corbenic with his mother Elaine and his grandfather King Pelles. Yet, in the Queste del Saint Graal, why would he or the other knights need to transverse the land on the quest to find the Grail, when each of these knights had already been there before?
It seemed that Castle is not always where is supposed to be. I supposed that the Otherworld does not obey the normal rule of the human world. It may also require the heroes who set out on the quest must pass one test or another, before they can set foot at the gate of Grail Castle. It is a form of initiation to the mysteries. In the cases of Queste, the heroes must seek spiritual path, in order to succeed in the quest.
According to Perlesvaus (c. 1210), the Grail Castle was called Castle of Souls, but originally it was called Eden, and then Castle of Joy, before it received the current name. The Grail and other holy relics were kept in the Grail Chapel.
And according to the German romance, Parzival (1200), this Grail Castle was called Munsalvæsche. It was the home of the Grail family, a secret society to protect the holy vessel from intruders. The castle was guarded by the formidable temple knights. Could Wolfram von Eschenbach be referring to the historical order, where these crusading warriors were commonly called Knights Templar?
There have been speculations for centuries that the Knights Templar were hiding and protecting some strange artefacts that they brought back from the Holy Land. Even today, many scholars and theorists have connected the order with Knights Templar.
|Sword! Sword! And More Swords!|
|Of all the weapon man had made, it was the sword that contained noble, symbolic and mystical meaning.
The swords frequently appeared in the Grail legend. Often these swords would be the only one wielded by the true Grail knight. Sometimes the sword allowed the knight to comprehend the mystery of the Grail.
In Chretien de Troyes’ Le Conte du Graal (or Perceval), the Fisher King received a beautifully crafted sword from one of his nieces, with the blonde tress. The Fisher King gave that sword to Perceval as a gift. Perceval had not seen any finer sword than this new gift. We are told that the smith had only made of such swords.
When Perceval left the Grail Castle, he met a damsel, who was his cousin; she recognised the sword that Perceval he now possessed. (Was she the same niece who gave the sword to the Fisher King?) She warned Perceval that the sword would break if used. She informed her cousin that only a smith named Trabuchet could repair the sword.
In the Fourth Continuation, Perceval had this sword repaired by Trabuchet.
However the first magical broken sword that can only be restored by the Grail hero, first appeared in the First Continuation. The sword would be restored when the hero simply joins the two broken ends of the sword together. By restoring the Broken Sword, the hero would be able to understand the secrets of Grail mystery. However, Gawain twice visited the Grail Castle, and failed twice to restore the Broken Sword. Therefore, Gawain was not ever able to comprehend the Grail secrets, because each time he came to the castle, he fell asleep, finding himself in a meadow field, with no Grail Castle in sight.
The second and the third Continuations had Perceval successfully restored the Broken Sword.
In the Prose Lancelot (Vulgate Cycle), Eliezer or Elyezer, the son of King Pelles (the Fisher King), carried the Broken Sword with him, searching for the best knight in the world, so the knight could restore the sword. The sword was broken, because a Saracen seneschal had wounded Joseph of Arimathea in the thighs, where the sword broke in two. It was foretold that only the greatest knight in the world (Grail Knight, ie Galahad) could restore the sword. Eliezer went searching for this knight when he met Gawain and his companions. Gawain and the other knights tried to mend the sword, but each of them failed. See Gawain at Corbenic in the Lancelot’s page.
Later, Eliezer reappeared with this sword in Queste del Saint Graal (Vulgate), where Galahad successfully restored this Broken Sword. King Pelles awarded the restored Broken Sword to Galahad’s companion and uncle, Sir Bors. See Holy Grail in the Quest of the Holy Grail.
Also in the Vulgate text, Sword with the Strange Belt was also once broken by Nascien, but restored by King Mordrain, before Galahad received this sword, a couple of centuries later. (See below for detail of the Sword with the Strange Belt.)
Chretien de Troyes was also the first author to mention about winning a Sword with the Strange Straps, in his Le Conte du Graal or Perceval.
An ugly woman rode into Arthur’s court on a mule, announced a strange quest for the heroes of the Round Table. To be awarded the Sword with the Strange Straps, one of the knights must rescue a maiden in a besieged castle of Montesclere. The sword would signify that this knight would be the greatest knight in the world. Since Chretien never completed this story, we never knew who won the sword, though we can safely assume it was probably either Perceval or Gawain, since they the two main characters associated with Grail. (See Quest Begins in Le Conte du Graal)
In the Fourth Continuation, it was Perceval who lifted the siege of Montesclere, and won the sword, proving that he was the best knight in the world.
In the Vulgate tale called Queste del Saint Graal, the unknown author gives a fuller account of history of this magical sword. This time, we have a new Grail hero named Galahad. However, there was no siege of Montesclere to be lifted. The scene takes place on a magical ship.
Galahad and his companions, Bors and Perceval, boarded the ship with Perceval’s sister. Upon the ship they found a canopied bed with three wooden posts of three different hues. On the bed was the magnificent sword. (See The Ship and the Tree, for the history of the ship.)
We learn that the magical sword originally belonged to King David of Israel, who flourished around 1000 BC.
Solomon, son of David and the king of Israel, learned from God that his last descendant would be the greatest knight in the world (Galahad). Solomon wanted to give something special to this hero.
It was Solomon’s wife who thought of the idea of giving the knight the sword that belonged to Solomon’s father, the late King David. It was she who thought of building a ship with a beautiful bed. It was her idea of placing David’s sword on this bed.
She asked her husband to give the sword, to this knight. The hilt and scabbard were replaced. She told her husband that she would provide the belt. However the belt Solomon’s wife had made was just plain hemp. She informed Solomon, that a maiden would make a new and worthier belt for the sword.
This Sword of the Strange Belt had several inscriptions on the scabbard, hilt and blade. These inscriptions were prophecies of the one destined to wield the sword, as well as warning to all others.
The inscription on the hilt, stated that no one should wield it except the Chosen One (Galahad), because every one else would find that he can’t properly grip the sword hilt. Their hands, no matter how big they were, would not be able to encircle the hilt. Only Galahad was able to grip the sword properly.
The inscription on the sheath, say that the one favoured the sword above all others, would find it fail him in his time of greatest need. Also on the scabbard, some more inscriptions stated that only a maiden of royal birth and a virgin could replace the swordbelt with a new belt she had made.
While the inscription on the blade warned anyone who would dare unsheathe the sword, would either be killed or maimed.
Nascien, contemporary of Joseph of Arimatha and Josephus, found the sword on a ship, lying at the foot of the bed. Nascien prized this sword more than any other had wielded. When Nascien drew the sword to kill an ogre, it broke in two. Therefore fulfilling the prophecy of the sword failing the person in his time of need. King Mordrain, companion of Nascien, put the two blade shards together, instantly making the magical sword whole again. Mordrain left the sword on the magical ship. Before Mordrain and Nascien could leave the ship, a flying sword wounded Nascien in the shoulder. This was his punishment for drawing the sword.
Some generations later, King Varlan had used the sword against King Lambar, the father of the Maimed King. Not only did King Lambar die, the blow also laid waste to two kingdoms, which was now called the Waste Land. Varlan went back to the ship to fetch the scabbard. The moment he sheathed the sword, he fell over, dead.
King Parlan (Pellam) was the son of King Lambar. Parlan found the sword lying next to the bed in the magical ship, where King Varlan dropped the sword. He drew the sword, and was immediately wounded by a flying lance, that came out of nowhere. He was struck on the thigh. The wound never healed, thereafter, Parlan was forever known as the Maimed King.
Before Galahad could belt on the sword, the maiden who replaced the belt of hemp, was Perceval’s sister. The belt was made from her beautiful golden hair, mixed with threads of gold and silk. The belt was also studded with precious stones. The scabbard also had a name, which was called Memory of Blood.
This sword only appeared in the Galahad’s tradition (Vulgate text and Malory’s version). Before the Quest began, a large slab of marble floated down the river to Camelot on the eve of Pentecost. In the centre of the marble was a sword, with a precious stone on the pommel. Gold inlaid inscription were found on the pommel, saying that only the best knight in the world could draw the sword out of the stone.
Arthur thought the sword was meant for Lancelot, but the hero refused to touch the sword. Arthur then ordered the reluctant Gawain to draw the sword, because he was second best knight. Gawain failed to draw the sword from the stone. Lancelot foretold that Gawain would be punished for touching the sword.
The next day, the new knight was leaving for the Quest, without a sword. Arthur remembered the incidence yesterday, brought Galahad before the floating stone. Galahad easily drew the sword. Galahad would later use the sword to wound Gawain, whom he did not recognise, fulfilling Lancelot’s prediction. (See Quest of the Grail)
According to the Suite du Merlin (Merlin Continuation, c. 1240) in the Post-Vulgate cycle, which Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur [Book II] followed, contained the origin of the sword. It was called the Ill-fated Sword. Balin le Savage had won the sword from Lady Lile. Balin had been responsible for the Dolorous Stroke, when he used the Holy Lance and wounded King Pellam (Parlan or Pellehan). Balin was tricked into fighting his brother Balan to death. They had given each other a mortal wound, before they died.
|The Ship and the Tree|
|Several times I have mentioned the magical ship. The vessel, we learned, was built during the time of King Solomon of Israel.
The posts themselves have from the oldest tree in the world. The author described that each post had different colour: snow white, blood red and emerald green. These were the natural colour of the wood.
At the dawn of time, when Adam and Eve ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they became aware of their nakedness and were ashamed. They covered themselves with twigs and leaves that they broke from the Tree of Life, to hide their nakedness. When they were driven out of the Garden of Eden, Eve took the twig with her. When they found a place to settle, Eve planted the twig in the earth. Eventually, the humble twig grew into a large, beautiful tree.
It was under this tree that their second child, Abel was born. Abel was not only the favourite child of Adam and Eve, but also of God. Out of jealousy, the eldest son named Cain had killed his brother under the same tree which Abel was born under. Part of the tree was awash with Abel’s blood. It was here that God punished Cain.
By the time of Solomon, the tree was still alive and green. Solomon had a reputation in the Bible to be a great and wise king. Solomon was the son of King David and Bathsheba, David’s favourite wife. Solomon, like his father before him, had many wives. One of his wives was a very intelligent and resourceful woman.
The king learned that one of his descendants would become the greatest knight in the world. Solomon wanted to give this knight, something that belonged to him. It was his wife who thought of the idea of building a ship that will last over a thousand years.
Once the ship was completed, she placed the large, magnificent bed at amidships. At the head of the bed, she placed her husband’s crown.
Solomon’s wife had carpenters to cut some wood from the Tree of Life. The reluctant carpenters were forced to cut enough wood to make three posts of different colours. On either side of the bed were a red and a white post. A wooden beam hanging over the bed was bolted to these two posts. The green hue post was on top of the beam’s centre.
The night everything was completed, Solomon had a vision a being coming down from heaven wrote inscriptions on the side of the ship and the sword. The inscriptions were warnings and prophecies.
On the side of the ship, the inscription warned that no one, without complete faith in God, could board the ship.