Grail Sword

In each Grail romance, the Grail appears as the most important of three objects associated with the Fisher King: the Grail, a Bleeding Lance, and a sword. The sword is perhaps the most mutable of the three.

In Chrétien’s Perceval, the sword was fashioned by the smith Trebuchet and given to Perceval by the Fisher King. The magnificent blade had a hilt of ruby. In Chrétien’s version, Perceval is warned that it will shatter if he uses it in battle, and that it will have to be repaired by Trebuchet in Cotatre. In Wolfram’s ParzivalSigune tells Perceval that the sword is good for one blow, but that it will shatter on the second and would have to be repaired by immersing it in the spring near Karnant called Lac. Perceval shattered it in a duel and did manage to mend it in the spring.

In both the First and Second Continuations of Perceval, it is said that the perfect Grail Knight could mend the sword, which had become broken through unknown means. Gawain is unable to join the pieces in the First Continuation (nor in the Vulgate Lancelot). Gawain learns that the Grail Sword was once used to strike a blow that “laid the whole country of Logres to waste”, perhaps alluding to the role of the Sword with the Strange Hangings in the Vulgate texts. In the Second Continuation, Perceval is able to put the sword together, but the hairline fracture that remains bespeaks Perceval’s failure to achieve complete perfection. We learn in the Third Continuation that it was broken when a knight named Partinal used it to kill Goondesert, the Fisher King’s brother. In the Fourth Continuation, Perceval is finally able to mend it completely.

In Perlesvaus, the Grail Sword is identified with the sword which beheaded St. John the Baptist. Gawain needed it to enter the Grail Castle, and he recovered it from King Gurguran as a reward for dispatching a terrible giant plaguing Gurguran’s land. The sword was subsequently stolen by the King of the Watch, but was returned. Gawain delivered it to the hands of the Fisher King, which somewhat alleviated his subsequent failure to ask the Grail Question.

In Heinrich von dem Türlin’s Diu Crône, the Grail Sword is simply awarded to Gawain upon completion of the Grail Quest. In the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal, it is called the Broken Sword, having been shattered when it struck Joseph of Arimathea, and it is mended by Galahad at the conclusion of the Grail Quest. However, in the Vulgate romances, the importance of the Grail Sword is eclipsed by the magnificent Sword with the Strange Hangings; Galahad’s mending of the Grail Sword is simply one episode in a long line of tests that serve to prove Galahad as the greatest knight.