The Holy Grail is supposedly either the chalice or cup with which Jesus Christ served his apostles at the Last Supper, or the dish, cup, plate or other vessel used to catch his blood at the Crucifiction. The Bible (Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation) made no especial reference to it, but legends and myths sprang up around it.
In the tales of the Arthurian cycle, the Grail came to have a central place, as the subject of the greatest Quest the knights would essay. It was linked with another mythic figure, that of the Fisher King and made to be the means by which the King might be healed of his wound and his land of its sympathetic barrenness.
As a result of this "publicity", Christian nations came to believe in the existence of the Grail, seen by the heroes of old, and still kept safely somewhere, as a token of the eventual salvation of the World.
Joseph of Arimathea was supposed to have brought it to Britain, to Glastonbury first, from where it was taken to Corbenic, to the custody of his daughter Anna, and her husband, Brons, who began a line of guardians. The whereabouts of Corbenic were lost, but in Arthur's time (the story went), the prophecy was raised that the Grail might be found by the best knight. Many knights proposed themselves for that honour. It belonged, in the event, to Galahad, son of Lancelot, and the most sinless of all Arthur's knights. He found it, in a Chapel, and he and it were lifted up to heaven.
The actual use of the word grail dates from the works of Robert de Boron -- Roman de l'Estoire dou Graal -- and Chretien de Troyes, espcially his unfinished Perceval. But references appear, from the late 5th century onwards, specifically to the chalice of the Last Supper.
An alternative, eastern, tradition made the Grail a "stone that fell from heaven". Wolfram von Esenbach, in his Parzifal reports this version, citing as sources a book given or lent to him by Philip, Duke of Flanders, who had been in the Holy Land in the 1170s, and information from one Kyot, of Provence, who had provided additional details.
According to [Wikipaedia] the Middle Ages had four outstanding candidates:
- a large two-handled silver chalice, seen by the Frankish bishop Arculf (possibly of Perigueux) in the 7th century in a chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. After this one reference, this chalice disappears from history.
- a grail kept at Byzantium, mentioned in the 13th-century German romance The Younger Titurel. This was a dish, which was looted from the Church of the Bucoleon in Constantinople, taken to Troyes by the then-bishop, Garnier de Trainel in 1204, recorded there in 1610, and disappeared during the French Revolution. Some accounts, however, reduce this candidate to a finely-wrought copy ... which still presupposes a primal Grail from which it was copied.
- a green glass dish, possibly Egyptian in origin, taken by Genoese crusaders from the mosque at Caesarea around 1101, later plundered by Napoleon, and returned broken
- a cup of agate given to King Martin of Aragon around 1399, and later supposed to have been brought by St.Peter to Rome, and then transferred to a Spanish monastery, sent there by Pope Sixtus II in the care of saint Laurence.
The vessel was also, at different times and in different versions, supposed to be hidden
- at Glastonbury (as proved by the fact that the water from a spring there ran blood-red)
- somewhere in Britain, being a small cup rescued from Christ's tomb by Empress Helena of Rome, and removed to Britain when the Visigoths threatened the city early in the 5th century (This is not supposed to be the Last Supper cup, but one used by the Magdalene to catch Jesus' blood at the Cross).
- in Wales, in Strata Florida Abbey, from where the monks removed it at the Reformation, to escape Henry VIII's commissioners, and hidden again at Nanteos House
- somewhere within or below the extravagant chapel at Roslin, in Scotland, supposedly removed there by the Templars and entrusted to the Scottish Sinclair (or Saint Clair) family, who built the chapel. (More recently a theory has been propounded that the Sinclairs moved it, with other Templar treasures) to Oak Island in Nova Scotia. Mentioned in case anyone fancies some healthy excavation)
There is also a Holy Face in the cathedral of Lucca in Italy which is supposed to house cruets of Jesus' sweat and blood.
The connections between the Arthurian Grail stories and the Celtic school of Christianity has militated against the acceptance of the legends by the Roman Catholic Church -- only the Aragonese cup is acknowledged by them as having even a vestige of a claim toward honest antiquity. All schools of Protestantism would, of course, decry the Grail as blatant idolatry.
The Grail was variously supposed to heal all wounds, to be invisible to the non-believer and untouchable by the impure, and (in common with several Celtic vessels of legend) able to feed people with the dish of their choice.
- Modern rationalism has decided that the Grail is and ever was no more than a myth, and that the
various material manifestations are but self-aggrandising fakes, buoyed up by esoteric flim-flam.