NIGHTBRINGER | The Arthurian Encyclopedia

Percivale’s Hermit Uncle

Directed by thirteen penitents, Percivale finds this holy man living deep in the woods. The hermit is not completely alone: he is beginning the Good Friday service together with a priest and an acolyte. Whether they live with him or have come only for the day one cannot say, nor whether the hermit is himself an ordained priest, though he seems to have pre-eminence over the undoubted priest mentioned so briefly.

The hermit turns out to be Percivale’s uncle on the maternal side, and the Fisher King’s uncle as well, the Fisher King’s father being his brother. The hermit gives Percivale confirmation of his mother’s death, explains the meaning of much (not quite all) that Percivale saw at the Grail Castle, and provides him with basic spiritual instruction, including a secret prayer – replete with many important names of God – not to be used except in case of dire fear.

There is a possibility that this episode may have fulfilled Percivale’s quest to Chrétien’s own satisfaction. If not, then perhaps the secret prayer was to have saved Percivale when Trebuchet’s Sword shattered (assuming that its shattering in his fight with the Haughty Knight is an interpolation).

I might further remark that the Good Friday services does not, in modern Catholic tradition, include the Mass, nor have I yet found evidence suggesting that it might have included Mass in the 12th century; it strikes me as curious to find Chrétien calling it the Church’s highest and holiest ceremony.

Could Percivale’s holy uncle in Chrétien’s version have become Percivale’s holy aunt in Malory’s?