NIGHTBRINGER | The Arthurian Encyclopedia

Sword with the Strange Hangings

Sword of the Strange Hangings, Sword with the Strange Baldric
Epee as Estranges Renges, l’Espee as Estraignes Renges, l’Espee de David

A magnificent weapon that first appears in Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval. According to the Loathly Damsel, the knight who rescues the maiden besieged in the hill below Montesclaire may have the right to gird it on safely.

Gawain assumed the quest, and won the sword in the First Continuation of Perceval. The First Continuation tells us that the Sword had originally belonged to the Jewish patriot Judas Maccabeus. In Raoul de Houdenc’s Meraugis of Portlesguez as well, Gawain embarks on an adventure to obtain the sword on the Island without a Name.

We learn the full story of the weapon in the Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal, in which it assumes the importance of the Grail Sword from the earlier tales. It had once belonged to the biblical King David of Israel and Judah. It was known as the Sword of David. Upon David’s death, it passed to his son King Solomon. The sword was adorned with precious jewels, and the crossguard was made of the ribs of two mythical beasts – the Papagustes and the Cortenans (Ortenax). It rested in a scabbard known as the Memory of Blood, made from Eden’s Tree of Life, and covered with a serpent’s skin. For all its glory, however, its girdle was made only from hemp, crafted by Solomon’s wife.

King Solomon placed the sword upon the Ship of Solomon and sailed it out to sea. It was ordained on the pommel of the sword that only the best knight of the world should ever draw it, and many men fell fate to the sword when they tried to draw it themselves. The first was Nascien, who encountered the ship and the sword at the Turning Isle. He drew the sword and used it to slay a giant, for which Nascien was wounded through the thighs by a holy lance, and the sword was broken. King Mordrains later mended the weapon.

On another occasion, some time before ArthurKing Varlan of Wales used it to kill King Lambor of Listenois, the Grail King. This blow was called the Dolorous Stroke, and it turned Wales and Listenois into the Waste Land. Varlan fell dead upon returning the sword to its scabbard. In a third instance, King Pelles, another Grail King, drew the sword and also received a blow through the thighs with a spear. For this he became known as the Maimed King.

Its destined owner, Galahad, found it on the ship during the Grail Quest. Perceval’s sister made a new girdle for the sword out of her own virgin’s hair. R. S. Loomis thought that this exchange symbolized the replacement of the Old Testament with the New Testament (Loomis, Romance, 304). Galahad used it in several battles. Arthur later remarked that the magnificence of Excalibur was second only to the Sword with the Strange Hangings.

According to La Tavola Ritonda, the Sword with the Strange Hangings was left hanging around the statue of Galahad in front of the castle of Leverzep. Hundreds of years later, Charlemagne took it from the statue and renamed it Gioisa. In other tales, its fate goes unmentioned.

See also
Agrestizia | The Legend of King Arthur
Amide | The Legend of King Arthur
Damsel of Montesclaire | The Legend of King Arthur

Perceval, or Le Conte del Graal | Chrétien de Troyes, late 12th century
First Continuation of Chrétien’s Perceval | Attributed to Wauchier of Denain, c. 1200
Meraugis de Portlesquez | Raoul de Houdenc, early 13th century
Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1215-1230
Vulgate Mort Artu | 1215-1230
Vulgate Estoire del Saint Graal | 1220-1235
Post-Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1230-1240
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470