Holy Grail

Graal, Graaus, Graaux, Gradale, Graï, Grasal, Greal, Grëaus, Sangradale, Sangreal

Dates | The Name - "Grail" | The Quest and the History | The Story | Objects

There are entirely plausible pre-Christian meanings of this mystical dish or cauldron of plenty, but I do not examine them here. The New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) verifies its general modern identification with the cup or chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper, but adds that it might alternatively have been identified with the dish of the pashal lamb. The holy grail was a vessel sought by the Knights of the Round Table.

The same source points out that two classes of Grail romances developed, mainly between the years 1180 and 1240: the Quest type and the Early History type. The Early History romances explained it as above (i.e., the dish from which Christ and his apostles ate the lamb, or else the chalise from which he drank), adding that Joseph of Aritmathea used it to collect His blood as He hung on the cross. Joseph of Arimathea later brought the Grail to Britain, where it was put into keeping of the Fisher Kings, or Rich Fishers, at Carbonek Castle. King Pellam was the last Fisher King to guard it here; when Galahad and his companions achieved the Adventures of the Grail, the sacred vessel moved to Sarras and thence to Heaven.

Chrétien de Troyes' Percival is generally acknowledged as the earliest known Grail romance; he himself speaks of having drawn it from a book given him by Count Philip of Flanders, but this book seems to be as lost and mysterious as the Grail itself ever was. As for the Welsh Peredur, its date relative to that of Chrétien's account seems to be controversial: while the Mabinogion stories are commonly considered to antedate Chrétien's time, it seems that they were actually committed to writing more than a century after Chrétien's death.

In any case, as Ronan Coghlan observes (Encyclopaedia of Arthurian Legends, 1991, Perceval entry) in Peredur the salver holds the bloody head of Peredur's cousin, whom he must avenge; I would consider this twist as setting Peredur, whatever its antiquity and origin, pretty well apart from the Grail romances properly speaking.

Chrétien's being the earliest known account, it might be as well to list the order of the Grail procession as he describes it.

    1. The lance bearer
    2. Two lads each carrying a ten-candle candlestick
    3. The Grail maiden
    4. The maiden (Phyllis Ann Karr names her "Etheria") bearing the silver platter

Chrétien names neither the Grail Castle nor the Grail Maiden. Nor does he give the Fisher King a personal name, though he identifies him as an uncle of Percivale's. (In fact, I suspect that the family relationships in Chrétien's poem would be very difficult to reconcile with the line of Rich Fishers as per later romances.)

See also
Fisher King's Candlesticks | The Legends of King Arthur
Fisher King's Carving-Dish | The Legends of King Arthur

The name - "Grail"
The Arthurian legends are bountiful in their variety with so much that has a clear life and identity of its own. Merlin, Lancelot, Guenevere, Excalibur - each have their own separate identity as well as being clearly part of the overall legend. But there is a legend associated with King Arthur that possibly has an even greater life of its own, and that is the legend of the Holy Grail.

How often have we used the phrase "Holy Grail" when we've felt we were after something unattainable, something that was just too perfect to achieve? To reach it would require insurmountable trials and hardship. That is exactly what the Quest for the Holy Grail was. It was the quest for ultimate perfection. Yet behind that simple statement there is so much more - so much that is not said but is only hinted at.

The earliest story of the Grail is that of Chrétien, in which Percivale is the hero. In this it is called 'a grail', a common noun, later becoming 'the Grail'. Nor does he tell us the Grail's previous history; what little he says of the lance's seems exceedingly sketchy. It was only in later versions that Chrétien's silver plate was to become the paten covering the chalice, and the bleeding lance, the spear with which the Roman centurion Longinus had pierced Christ's side. Ruth Harwood Cline notes that Chrétien never even calls it "the Holy Grail" - the closest he comes is once having Percivale's hermit uncle call it a holy thing.

Otherwise, to Chrétien, it is always simply "the Grail". D.D.R. Owen even remarks that the glow accompanying it could conceivably emanate from the maiden rather than the vessel. This did not prevent the "San Greal" ('Holy Dish') vs "Sang Real" ('Royal Blood') debate from developing over its apparently post-Chrétien appellation, Sangreal. W.W. Skeat, in his 'Concise Etymological Dictionairy', which Spence quotes without giving its date, rejects the "Sang Real" division as a deliberate falsifivation. Which did not stop the authors of that hilarious piece of pseudo scholarship that made a little stir in the 1980s, 'Holy Grail, Holy Blood', from latching onto "Sang Real" and claiming that it refers to the actual living bloodline descended from Jesus Christ and still today living in France! In my own opinion, the medieval authors may well have seen both possibilities and delighted in so appropriate a wordplay. "Royal Blood" could, of course, simply transfer the emphasis from the dish itself to its contents.

The Cistercian chronicler Helinandus [dead ca 1230] explained the word "Grail" as deriving from the Latin gradale, which is the same root as our word "grade", and means something that is part of a series or sequence. It is a wide and rather deep dish in which costly foods were served gradatim ("successively": one morsel after another); it was popularly called "Graalz" because it was pleasing (grata). The New Catholic Encyclopedia rejects the derivation from gradatim or grata as fanciful, but considers a derivation from cratalis, crater [a mixing bowl] plausible. This grail, or serving dish, was something that was brought to the dining table at certain stages during a meal. It came to be something of a special dish, containing rich meats or delicacies.

We could probably find deep, philosophical meanings in even that simple origin, but let's move on. The first use of this word "grail", or in this case graal (being the Old French usage), in the Arthurian romances came from the writings of Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien was the first great writer of Arthurian romances. He took the legend from the basic Celtic sources and developed the bulk of the Arthurian stories as we know them. It was he who introduced the character of Lancelot, and named Athur's court at Camelot. We don't know much about Chrétien other than that he lived in the second half of the twelfth century and was the poet at the court of Countess Marie de Champagne, the daughter of the French king Louis VII. He wrote several Arthurian romances, but the one that concerns us most is Le Conte de Graal, composed during the 1180s and left unfinished at the time of Chrétien's death.

King Arthur, the Holy Grail, Howard David Johnson

The Quest and the History
The Vulgate cycle incorporates both types of Grail romance, the Quest and the History. It is clearer, perhaps, in the Vulgate than in Malory that to the medieval reader seeking the Grail meant not so much "seeing" or "finding" it (it had, after all, been seen, and it was known to reside most of the time at Carbonek) as to behold it clear and unveiled - i.e., to recieve mystic or religious enlightenment. Arriving at Carbonek Castle was fairly easy. One time Sir Bors de Ganis visited there without suspecting he was near a place of great and perilous adventure.

But finding Carbonek was no guarantee that the Grail would feed or heal you, or even that you would be let into the castle. Ector de Maris, arriving as his brother Lancelot sait with the castle folk to be fed by the Sangreal, was turned away as unworthy; Lionel, coming just as Galahad and eleven other knights were sitting down to the climactic mysteries, was similarly turned away at the door. To sleep at Carbonek, in the part which Sir Bors named the 'Castle Adventurous', could be extremely harrowing, if not downright dangerous - one might see all sorts of visions, including battling beasts, might be grievously wounded by mystical weapons and healed again, after a while, by the Grail; and so on.

Notice that of the twelve knights who achieve the Grail Quest in Malory, only three - Galahad, Percivale, and Bors - are British. The rest represent various other European countries. Were it not for the popularity of the matieral treasure-hunt type of Grail Quest story in our own time, I would not even bother to point out that, though in Malory all these twelve knights "achieve" the Grail, they obviously cannot all take it home!

The Grail fed the worthy, giving each other food he liked best (shades here, very likely, of its Pagan origins). It healed wounds. It was not confined to Carbonek, but appeared of itself from time to time and place to place to heal knights, and once it passed through Arthur's hall at Camelot when the knights were sitting at dinner and fed them itself, thus touching off the great general Grail Quest.

The Round Table and the Holy Grail, Évrard d'Espinques, c. 1475

To embark on the Grail Quest, you must confess your sins; you must not take along your lady; and it would not be a bad idea to restrict yourself to a diet of bread and water, maybe wear a hair shirt, and garb yourself in some symbolic outer garment (Sir Bors wore a scarlet coat while on the Quest). You need not be a virgin - Bors achieved the Grail, although he had once trespassed on his virginity - but you must remain celibate while on the Quest. Take heed: if you enter this Quest unworthingly, you will return worse than you set out; this may explain why Lancelot, relapsing into his old sinful affair with Guenevere, grew careless about keeping it secret, why the Round Table seems generally to have gone to pot after the Quest, and why even Bors (after his return to court) did some rather surprising things for a saintly man to do.

Although women are absolutely forbidden to accompany their knights on the Quest, the fact that a maiden damsel was the Grail Bearer at Carbonek and that Percivale's saintly sister, Amide, played a major role in the Adventures suggest to me that a damsel may undertake the Quest alone, under the same moral condition as knight. It is interesting, indeed, that, although Nascien absolutely forbade any knight who went on the Grail Adventures to travel with a woman, the only three knights who achieved the Grail were, in fact, those who traveled at least part of the time with a damsel, Amide. (Vera Chapman, in her excellent modern Arthurian romance The King's Damosel, has Lynette achieving the Grail.)

According to Malory, after Galahad's death the Grail was taken up into Heaven and never seen again on earth. Other traditions, however, place it still in England. Phyllis Ann Karr says: "Some years ago I saw it, or at least a relic believed to be it, on a telivision documentary; it was a bowl-like wooden cup, olivewood I think, no longer quite whole. I have also found a carving of it on a Cornish church pew, which showed it more the shape of a soup mug than of a goblet, as we usually think of it."

There seems to be an opinion drifing around that the Grail was the mystical uniting force behind Arthur's Round Table. I disagree. Far from powering the Round Table, the Grail seems to have helped destroy it. When all the companions left at once on the Quest, they were of course all unavailable at the same time for a long period. Many of them were killed on the Quest. Those who did come back were all, presumably, worse than when they had left, with the possible exception of Bors [and I have my doubts of him; he seems to have acted as go-between in the affair of Lancelot and Guenevere]. Galahad and Percivale, the court's most spiritual knights, had died in the odor of sanctity. It must have taken some time before Arthur could even be sure which knights were definitely not returning, so that he could fill up their seats with new members and restore the Table to its full strength.

The story
This is the story of the young Percival, who had been raised in a sheltered existence by his mother who kept him ignorant of the world. One day Percival encounters some knights and, despite his mother's advice, he leaves for Arthur's court. From there he embarks on his first adventure and encounters a strange castle where, while partaking of a meal, he is witness to an unusual procession, known as the Procession of the Grail. Percival does not ask about the nature of the procession. He later learns that this omission has meant that the ailing Fisher King has not been cured.

Now, who was the Fisher King, and why was he ill? Chrétien does not go into details on this. Indeed, although he sets Percival off on a quest of expiation, the story remains unfinished. It is one of the great cliff-hangers of medieval literature, and set scores of other poets and writers off on their own quests to complete the story.

It is clear from the whole description that Chrétien was drawing upon the some older legend with profoundly deeper meaning. In fact the basis of his story comes from a Celtic legend which surfaces elsewhere as the tale of "Peredur, Son of Evrawc" in The Mabinogion. This is a collection of Celtic tales and legends, some of which date back certainly to the years before the Norman Conquest, although none survive in writing earlier than the twelfth century. Their appearance in books is thus contemporaneous with Chrétien's stories. It is interesting that it was at the same time that both the Norman French court and Celtic scholars were bringing the Arthurian stories into the written form. How much of this was national pride and rivalry and how much of it was a serious attempt to explore the mysteries and realities of the past is difficult to say. Whatever the reason, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw a remarkable flowering of Arthurian literature which was so dominate the Anglo-Norman world for two centuries.

In the Celtic "Story of Percival" a more distant story has started to emerge. In the shape of Peredur, or Percival, we come to see that here is an innocent youth who realizes that he must understand the nature of the Grail (not acquire the Grail itself) in order to restore the Fisher King (who may signify the Land) to health. Evidently some time before this story happens the Land has been despoiled, and something must be done to restore it. Just what that is, is the crux of the Grail legend.

It is worth just mentioning in passing that there was a real Peredur. He was a Celtic ruler of York in the sixth century, living perhaps fifty years after the time of King Arthur. He was one of the strong kings of the North who fought at the Battle of Arthuret in about AD 575, at Galloway just north of Hadrian's Wall. He and his allies were trying to save Britain from the invading Saxons and Norsemen as well as the Picts and Irish. One could read into this a very real origin for the notion of the failing health of Britain, with the land being invaded and plundered from all directions in the centuries following the fall of Rome. Although it is Arthur who is remembered above all in legend as the man who held back the Saxon onslaught, he was not alone - clearly other legends stuck to other heroes, and with Peredur we may have a rather more mystical portrayal of a king who, despite valiant efforts, failed to restore the Realm.

The fascination with Chrétien's unfinished Grail story led to others seeking to complete it. The main scribe was another Frenchman, Robert de Boron, from Burgundy, who survived Chrétien by about twenty years. He wrote three long romances, Le Roman de l'Estoire dour Graal, Merlin and almost certainly Perceval. This last has been lost, but a prose reworking of it has survived.

It was Robert de Boron who gave us the background of the Grail. He made it the vessel from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper and which was used to represent the Chalice which symbolically held the blood of Christ. According to Robert, it was in this chalice that Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood of Christ from the Cross after Jesus was speared by the centurion Longinus. Thereafter Joseph brought the Grail safely to Britain, where it was protected by Joseph's descendants.

It is unlikely that Robert de Boron simply made this up. Like Chrétien, he would have been drawing from a rich vein of tradition, but by linking the Grail to Christianity he also transformed the Arthurian stories from pagan legend to something considerably more significant.

The idea of the cup, or, more appropriately, a horn or cauldron that was plentiful and could restore life (as Christianity would bring everlasting life to those who followed Christ) was something that existed in Celtic legend as the Cauldron of Plenty. It is also known as the Cornucopia, or Horn of Plenty from Greek legend. Early Celtic poems and tales such as "The Spoils of Annwfn", tell of the plunder by Arthur and his men of the land of Annwfn whereby they acquired what became known as the Treasures of Britain. This includes a magic cauldron which will not boil the food of a coward. It is the Joseph of Arimathea connection, however, which adds special fascination to the legend.

According to one legend, Joseph was sent to Britain in AD 63, he was said to have brought with him two cruets containing the blood and sweat of Christ, as well as the Chalice. He was head of a delegation of disciples by the apostle Philip, then in Gaul. Joseph acquired land from a local king and established the first Christian church at Glastonbury. This particular legend was, perhaps not surprisingly, promoted by the Abbey of Glastonbury itself, almost certainly as part of its continuing propaganda in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when it sought to establish itself as both the resting place of Arthur and as the primacy of Christianity in Britain.

The legend states that Joseph then entrusted the Grail to someone who is named Brons or Brân, who may have been one of Joseph's companions, or possibly even his brother or brother-in-law. This man became the second Guardian of the Grail after Joseph. There are links here to Brân the Blessed, another great Celtic hero and protector of Britain. Brân was reputed to own a magic cauldron that could restore life. He was mortally wounded, and before his death he commanded that his head be buried at the White Mount, in what is now London, to serve as a talisman protecting the Land. This is reputedly now the site of the Tower of London.

Some legends nickname Brân the Fisher King, because he provided fish for Joseph. Other legends reserve the title Fisher King for later Guardians of the Grail, in particular one who is wounded in a joust and is thereafter unable to ride. He thus passes his time fishing. All these attempts to give a reason for the name are colourful but ineffective. There is much stronger attribution linked directly to the Christian message. Christ called his disciples "fishers of men", and the early symbol of Christianity, prior to the use of the cross, was of a fish. The title Fisher King makes much more sense when linked to the Christian faith and seen as indicating the Head of that faith in Britian - in other words the King or Leader of the Fishers of Men.

The concept of a Fisher King separate and distinct from the Head of the Roman church in Britain, which was established by Augustine at Canterbury in AD 596, highlights yet more conflict. There was considerable opposition to Augustine from the Celtic church, already established in parts of Britain, and Augustine's efforts to establish his sovereignty over the native British at the Conference of Aust on the Severn in AD 603 was unsuccessful. In fact this rift was part of a much greater schism that had arisen as far back as the year AD 416. In that year the teachings of a British monk, Pelagius, were regarded as heresy. Pelagius challenged the beliefs of the Roman church, particularly on the grounds of free will and original sin, but he also maintained that the apostolic succession of the Roman church from St Peter was debatable. Although he did not directly confirm a British primacy, the implication is there. How much did Pelagius know about the story of Joseph of Arimathea, and about the origins of the Celtic church?

So here is more fragmentation of Britain in the years both before and after Arthur. Not only was Britain being conquered by Saxon and other invaders, but the Celtic church was under threat from Rome. We can add even more problems. There had been a total eclipse of the sun in AD 538, visible clearly from Britain, which would have been regarded as an omen and a portent. This was in or around the same year that saw the death of King Arthur at Camlann, and was followed by a devastating bubonic plague that decimated Europe in the mid-sixth century. The powerful Welsh king Maelgwyn died of it in AD 549. There was indeed considerable illness in the land, and the Fisher King was ailing. No wonder there was a yearning from the Celtic church to restore the King and help the Land.

Somewhere in all of this, however, greater mystical matters were being implied. Henry Lincoln and Michael Baigent cause quite a stir with their books The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail in 1983, when they suggested that the Grail was the true body of Christ. They maintained that He had survived the Cross and had been brought out of Palestine by Joseph, along with Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus later married. She bore Him a son. It was that bloodline that the Guardians of the Grail protected from that day to this. The authors maintain that Jesus' descendants became the Merovingian kings of France. These kings were contemporaries of Arthur, establishing a dynasty that ruled from around AD 460 to 751. If there is any truth in this, then it raises another fascinating line of enquiry.

The reason Augustine landed in Kent and was able to establish his church at Canterbury was because Kent was already converted to the Church of Rome. The Kentish king Ethelbert had a few years earlier married Bertha, the daughter of the Merovingian king Charibert. The marriage arrangement stipulated that Bertha be allowed to continue her faith, and she thus established a core of adherents to the Church of Rome amongst the English, who were still predominantly pagan. The bloodline of Christ would thus have continued through the sons of Ethelbert, although, ironically, Ethelbert's son and successor, Eadbald, remained a pagan. The strife that followed Ethelbert's death to establish Christianity amongst the English, and in opposition to the Celtic church, resulted in considerable conflict in the land. It is quite possible that if the legend of the Merovingian descend had leaked out, then rumours of the true Grail being with the Saxons and not the Celt would have caused considerable confusion and consternation amongst the followers of Christ. Who were they to follow? What was the answer? Indeed, what was the question?

Maybe here we have some hint of the problem that faced Peredur/Percival. His failure to ask the right question and consider the nature of the Grail meant that the Land was not restored. We can start to see that what was facing the Grail Questers was the whole problem about who they should be following. Was the Church of Rome the real harbour of the Grail of Christ, or did it still rest firmly with the British, through the Fisher King?

Its links at this stage to the Arthurian legend are clearly tenuous, but because the strife in the Land, both temporally and spiritually, happened contemporaneously with the developmentof the Arthurian mythos, it is not surprising that the oral tradition that developed should start to make connections.

One of these connections is slightly bizarre, but under analysis may help our understanding a little further. In the Arthurian legend as consolidated by Thomas Malory in Le Morte d'Arthur we have the story of the Knight of the Two Swords, Sir Balin. Balin was something of a hothead, who killed almost anything that moved. He was a staunch supporter of Arthur, though he managed to incur Arthur's wrath by killing the Lady of the Lake in one of his wilder moments. Balin was always questing, and on one of his adventures he encounters an invisible knight, Sir Garlon. He kills Garlon, which angers Garlon's brother, King Pellam. Pellam and Balin now clash. In the battle Balin's sword is broken, and as he is chased around Pellam's castle he finds the Spear of Longinus on the walls and, wrenching it free, turns and stabs Pellam.

Pellam is known elsewhere as Pelleam or Pellehan, and is the Maimed King whose health must be reostored. It can only be restored if his wounds are avenged. The Maimed King is sometimes treated as the Fisher King, or the Fisher King's brother. Either way, we realize that it was Balin's action, using the very spear that had maimed Jesus on the Cross, that has brought destruction to the Land. His action has been called the Dolorous Stroke. It was this destruction that Percival could have reversed had he asked about the nature of the Grail procession, which meant he had to gain an understanding of how the Maimed King came to be injured and who it was he needed to avenge.

If we revert to our original concept of a Britain split between the Celtic church and the Church of Rome, then it becomes fairly evident that Percival's question had to relate to identifying the nature of that division. Since it was a Roman spear that had injured the Maimed King (and also maimed Christ) then by extension it was the Roman church that was the enemy and the Celtic church that had to be avenged. The Quest for the Holy Grail became a Quest to rescue the Celtic church and to prove its pre-eminence over the Roman church. It thus had to prove that the Celtic church's claim to its Christian origins was stronger than the claim of the Roman church. This conflict raged through Britain for three generations until it was resolved by King Oswy of Northumberland at the Synod of Whitby in AD 664, when he found in favour of the Roman church.

Little wonder, then, that at that stage the Celtic church resorted to establishing its tales and legends to perpetuate its own beliefs. The Waste Land of Britain that was drawn into the Arthurian legend was the strife between the two churches further aggravated by the continual encroachment on Celtic lands by the Saxons and Norsemen. By their Quest for perfection and ultimate redemption, the knights of King Arthur would establish the primacy of the Celtic church.

All of this, though, is just one interpretation of the Grail myth, at a very superficial level. The Celtic church's Quest very rapidly became the quest of each individual to search in his heart for an understanding of the true religion and to follow that course. It was a difficult decision. Somewhere in the background, though, we can imagine that the successors of the Fisher King continued, maintaining their right to the primacy of the Christian church. Maybe in so doing they had some physical proof. Not just proof of the Grail itself, in physical form, but of other Treasures or Relics - in particular those portrayed in the story of Peredur. These are also known as the Four Hallows: the Sword which beheaded John the Baptist, the Platter on which the Baptist's head was carried, the Lance which speared Jesus' side at the crucifixion and the Cup or Chalice that held his blood. Were these treasures held somewhere in Britain, in the Grail Castle, defended by a succession of Protectors?

This would certainly account for the legend of the Grail acquiring more mystical and ritual aspects. Down through the centuries the legend, and its many contributory aspects, has become integrated with other beliefs and practices until it has become so overlaid with ritual that its innermost secrets are almost impossible to plumb. There are clearly much deeper mystical interpretations of the Grail that see it as a symbol of perfection which, once attained, allows the spirit to advance from this mortal plane of existence onto a greater spiritual plane. This shows that much earlier Gnostic beliefs have been added to the Grail legend - or, more likely, Christian beliefs were added to earlier Gnostic teachings. Either way you have a story which suggests that a true understanding of the nature of the Grail (i.e. a true understanding of the teachings of the Church) will result in an immortal of transcendent existence - the secret of eternal life. That is a quest that we all undertake throughout life. Arguably it is the search for the meaning of life itself. As such, the search for the Holy Grail is the ultimate quest to understand life and to ensure the salvation of our spirit to the next world or plane of existence.

By this token the Grail has no beginning and no end. It is a perpetual myth throughout the years, which is why it has as much meaning today as it did a thousand years ago.

In its final forms, the Grail was the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, the dish on the table at that event, or (in Wolfram) a stone. F. Anderson has argued that the Grail was, in origin, the holy object of a nearly worldwide mystery cult which showed the Trinity symbolically. J.L. Weston though it part of a pagan fertility rite, involving a story similar to that of Adoinis. Certainly, the idea of a sickly king and a correspondingly sickly land seems to indicate some kind of fertility story but, while Miss Weston felt it must be of oriental provenance, it may be of local Celtic origin. It was thought to serve people with food and this calls to mind the notion of a cauldron of plenty, which is found in Celtic mythology, and reminds one of the Dysgyl of Rhydderch, one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain. The recorded expedition of Arthur to the Otherworld, apparently to obtain a cauldron, in Preiddeu Annwfn and, what is probably its variant, the story of Arthur's expedtion to Ireland to obtain a cauldron in Culhwch may be early forms of the story of a Grail quest. However, it has been suggested that the story may originally have been built around a vengeance motif, as indicated by the Welsh Peredur. D.D.R. Owen thinks that the original tale had to do with the naming of a hero who had a cup proffered to him and was asked whom it should serve.

The idea of the Grail as a metaphor for the human body containing the Holy Spirit would seem to be a late development. In recent times the Holy Blood/Holy Grail theory has become widely known because of its appearance in popular books. These argue that the Grails was a bloodline descending from Christ and they postulate that the Cathars or Albigensians, a heretical body of the Middle Ages, were much involved. However, as the Cathars regarded sexual reproduction as evil, they would hardly have cherished a line of descent. Elaborations of this theory have involved beings from outher space and pre-Columbian contact with America.

The Christian element in the story is widely thought to be a later overlay and is highlighted to works such as the Queste. P. Matarasso suggests that the Grail experience in the Queste may well have involved some form of perception of God by Galahad. The hero who achieves the Grail is Percivale in the Chrétien Continuations, in Wolfram and in Perlesvaus, Galahad in the Queste and its derivatives; Gawaine in Diu Crône, and, in Malory, Galahad, Percivale and Bors achieve it together, Bors alone then returning to Arthur's court. J.L. Weston has argued that Gawaine was the original Grail hero, later replaced by Percivale, while J. Matthews takes the view that Gawaine was replaced by Galahad.

According to the Queste, the Grail was carried to Heaven by a hand after Galahad's death.

About two hundred objects in Europe has been considered to be the Holy Grail. Amongst them are Nanteos Cup.