For centuries the Holy Grail has been a metaphor for ultimate achievement. The quest for the Holy Grail is likewise considered a metaphor for an unobtainable goal.
However, the Holy Grail might be more than a metaphor. It might really exist and you can go see it yourself.
Learn more about the Holy Grail, what it is, and what it isn’t, on this episode of Everything Everywhere Daily.
This episode is sponsored by the Tourist Office of Spain.
I’ve spoken about the amazing places you can visit in Spain and many of its incredible festivals. But they also have amazing churches and museums with some of the world’s greatest art and historical objects.
The Prado Museum in Madrid is one of the world’s greatest, with art from El Greco and Rubens. Nearby in Madrid, you’ll find the Reina Sofía, which is one of the world’s greatest museums of modern art, and the home to Picasso’s masterpiece, Guernica.
In Bilbao, you can find the Guggenheim museum, which is the European home to the great Guggenheim collection of art.
In Merida, you can find one of the world’s greatest museums of Roman artifacts, the National Museum of Roman Art.
You can start researching your dream trip to Spain today by visiting Spain.info where you can get everything you need to know to plan your Spanish festival experience.
I’m going to start by asking you to throw out everything you think you know about the Holy Grail. That includes anything written by Dan Brown (actually, just delete anything you’ve seen or read by Dan Brown. You’ll be better off for it.) Also, anything which deals with King Arthur or the knights of the round table.
Now with that out of the way, there was no reference to anything called a grail in the first 1,000 years of Christianity.
The Bible does reference a cup used in the Last Supper, but it is only a passing reference. There was a cup because you drink wine out of a cup, there wasn’t really any significance beyond that.
There were a few mentions of the Holy Chalace throughout history. In the last 6th century a pilgrim to Jerusalem called Antoninus of Piacenza claims to have seen a cup made of onyx which was at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. (see my previous episode on that building)
There is another legend that St. Peter took the chalice with him to Rome where it was used on special occasions by the Christian community there for several centuries. More on this story later.
The use of the word “grail” doesn’t appear until the Middle Age. French author Chrétien de Troyes mentions it in the 12th-century work Perceval, le Conte du Graal.
This was an Arthurian tale about Sir Perceval and his quest for the grail. However, it never says what the grail is, or even what a grail is. There were other mentions of a grail during this period where it was believed to be a stone, the platter used during the Last Supper, and of course, the Chalice used during the Last Supper.
French poet Robert de Boron wrote a story about Joseph of Arimathea who used the cup from the last supper to collect the blood of Christ while he was on the cross. Eventually, the association with the holy chalice stuck, and the word grail became associated with a chalice.
The origins of the word “grail” are disputed. There are theories that link it to an Old French word for a cup, and others that link it to a Latin word for a serving tray, and still others to a Greek word for a vessel to mix wine in.
For our purposes from here on out, I’m going to use Holy Grail as a synonym for Holy Chalace. Those things might have been different things at one time, and the original meaning of “grail” might not have meant “chalice”, but over time that is what it became and that is what everyone assumes it is now.
So, with that, could the Holy Grail be an actual thing? The various stories and poems of King Arthur and his knights were fiction, but the mentions of a chalice from before the middle ages were not intended to be fiction.
There are several chalice type object which has been claimed to be the Holy Grail.
One is a shallow glass bowl which is located in the Cathedral of Genoa known as the Genoa Chalice. It’s an interesting object, but one look at it and it doesn’t look like something you’d drink a beverage out of, and moreover, it wasn’t until after many Arthurian stories were written that there was any association with the object and the Holy Grail.
There is the Chalice of Doña Urraca in Leon, Spain. Here too, no one ever claimed this object to be the Holy Grail until 2014 when the association was made in a book. Pretty much every historian has rejected the thesis, especially because the chalice has all the hallmarks of something designed in the 11th century.
The place that has the strongest and oldest claim to having the Holy Grail is the cathedral in Valencia, Spain.
The Holy Chalace, as it is known, it’s made out of agate, which is a type of stone. Agate is very similar to onyx, which if you remember from the report of a pilgrim to Jerusalem, was what he claimed to have seen. So that’s one thing in its favor.
Experts have also analyzed it and concluded that it is consistent with something made from the 4th century BC and the 1st century AD in Egypt or Palestine.
If you see the chalice in the cathedral, it doesn’t look like a simple stone cup. It seems very elaborate with giant gold handles, however, the handles and all the ornaments are just a setting for the agate cup which is held on the top.
If this object is legitimate, or at least old, then how in the world did it wind up in Spain?
The legend goes back to the story I mentioned before about St. Peter taking the chalice to Rome. The legend holds that the cup was held by the Christian community in Rome for several centuries. Then, under the Roman Emperor Valens, there was a percussion of the Christian community in Rome in the year 257, and one of the things Valens wanted to do was to destroy many of the Christian relics which the small community in Rome cherished.
To protect these objects, they took inventory and sent them away to other cities around the empire.
Saint Lawrence, who was born in Spain, was a deacon in Rome and took the grail back to Spain where he knew it could be kept safe. In particular, he took to Huesca, which was his birthplace.
It was kept at various churches in northern Spain for the next millennium, keeping it away from the Moors who controlled the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.
The earliest physical documentation of the grail dates back to an inventory of the treasury of the monastery of San Juan de la Peña taken on December 14, 1134. The item is described in the inventory as “In an ivory chest is the Chalice in which Christ (Our) Lord consecrated his blood, which S. Lorenzo sent to his homeland, Huesca”
This is interesting because it predates any mentions of a “grail” which came from Arthurian lore, including Chrétien de Troyes’s work. Moreover, it isn’t on a document that was meant for public consumption, it was basically done for accounting purposes.
The Cathedral of Valencia obtained control over it when it was given to them in exchange for canceling debts owed to the Spanish monarchy in the 15th Century.
In addition to the cup, the Cathedral also has a piece of vellum which dates back to the year 262 which was again part of the original inventory list when it supposedly came from Rome.
Both Pope John Paull II and Benedict XVI have said mass with the chalice when they visited Valencia.
If you want, you can check out the grail for yourself. It is on display in the La Capilla del Santo Cáliz or the Chapel of the Chalice in the Valencia Cathedral. There is a 5 Euro fee to enter the Cathederal.
So the question remains, is this really the Holy Grail? Did Indiana Jones waste his time? Could Sir Galahad the Chaste have avoided the grail shaped beacon at the Castle Anthrax and the “eight score young blondes and brunettes all between 16 and 19 ½” who lived there?
The truth is there is never any way to verify any ancient relic. There is no test that can be performed to verify what it is claimed to be. The Catholic Church never takes a stance on the validity of any relics, including the Shroud of Turin or pieces of the True Cross.
However, the case for the chalice in Valencia is better than it is for any other. The documentation and chain of evidence show that the Valencia cup is at least an ancient artifact, probably dating back to the Roman Empire. Furthermore, several archeologists have dated the object to at least the right place and time.
So it just might be that Valencia’s Holy Grail is the holy grail of holy grails.
Executive Producer of Everything Everywhere Daily is Jame Makkala.
Associate Producer is Thor Thomsen.
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