The Holy Grail

Ch 12: The Holy Grail
Edinburgh, Scotland

Our Story:

It is the 6th century A.D. The Saxons are overrunning the British Isles. Despite his best efforts, Ambrosius Aurelianus knows his army cannot hold them back much longer. His duty to God and country requires him to visit the fortified monastery atop a sacred hill, to warn its inhabitants of the impending danger, but the monks refuse to evacuate. Before Aurelianus returns to his military duties, the abbot charges him with a sacred duty: to become the next Arthur, protector of one of Christianity’s most holy relics, and to hide it where the heathens cannot harm it, and where he himself cannot be tempted to use it for his own personal gain.

The Real Story Behind the Holy Grail

The Grail appears in many guises in European literature from medieval times onward, taking different forms depending on the context. Most sources identify it as a golden cup or chalice that was used at the Last Supper and/or at the Crucifixion, although some interesting alternatives have been proposed in works like Dan Brown’s recent bestseller The Da Vinci Code.

The Grail first appeared in the 12th-century epic of Perceval, whose French author claimed to have based it upon an earlier source—but in this story, it is just an unusual bowl. Just a few years later, the Grail came to be seen as a holy relic linked with Joseph of Arimathea, the Christian disciple who offered up his own tomb for Jesus’ burial after the Crucifixion. As early as the 9th century, early European histories had suggested that this Joseph, along with Mary Magdalene and a few other disciples, was sent by the early church to proselytize in the west; in one version, he is said to have made it to Glastonbury in the west of England, a town where 12th-century monks also claimed to have found the bodies of Queen Guenevere and King Arthur. (This claim must be taken with several grains of salt, however, since monasteries and abbeys were vying with one another during the Middle Ages to be considered important pilgrimage destinations, and they often played up their connections with notable people, both real and imaginary.) Not coincidentally, the Holy Grail became known in subsequent legend as the object for which King Arthur and his Camelot knights had searched in their neverending quests.

Because Joseph of Arimathea was said to have been directly responsible for the preparation of Jesus’ body, and because he might have been one of the first Christians to travel to the British Isles, most European accounts thus came to depict the Grail as the chalice that had been used to collect the blood of the crucified Jesus and that had been taken to the British Isles. Unfortunately, the Bible itself does not single out any particular vessel used either at the Last Supper or at the Crucifixion, and there is no independent historical or archaeological evidence that Joseph of Arimathea himself ever left the Holy Land. Moreover, historians still debate whether King Arthur himself ever existed: he is first mentioned by name in the Historia Brittonum of the 9th century, but some of the deeds attributed to Arthur in that text were originally ascribed to others. Most notably, the earlier author Saint Gildas names Ambrosius Aurelianus as the Romano-British warrior who successfully fended off the Anglo-Saxons in the 6th century, but not before his parents were killed by the invaders.

While hard evidence may be lacking, treasure-seekers are still inspired by the great antiquity of the centuries-old stories about the great deeds of King Arthur and his quest for — or stewardship of — the Grail.

The Chapters: 12 Lost Treasures

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