NIGHTBRINGER | The Arthurian Encyclopedia

Grail Castle

Carbonek, Castle of Joy, Castle of Souls, Corbenic, Eden

The castle in which the Grail was housed and where it was guarded by the Fisher King. It stood in the heart of the Grail Kingdom.

The Grail Castle is a central element in the quest for the Holy Grail, and various versions of the legend exist. One of the most well-known accounts comes from Arthurian legends, particularly the Arthurian prose romances of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In these stories, the Grail Castle is often described as a magical and mysterious place that can only be reached by a chosen few.

It is called Munsalvæsche in Wolfram’s ParzivalIlles in Diu Crône, and Corbenic (Carbonek) in the Vulgate and Post-Vulgate Cycles.

In Perlesvaus, the Grail Castle was approachable only by a number of perilous bridges, guarded by two stone lions who mauled the unworthy. After the death of the Fisher King, it was conquered by the King of the Castle Mortal. All its holy artifacts disappeared until it was re-conquered by Perceval. A chapel outside the castle held the body of Joseph of Arimathea. It was also called Eden, the Castle of Joy, and the Castle of Souls. After Perceval re-conquered it, Joseus the Hermit served as its steward. Eventually, it crumbled to ruin, although the chapel remained in perfect condition.

Chrétien de Troyes does not give the Grail Castle a name. He describes it as a square tower of dark gray stone, flanked by two smaller towers, with hall, arcade, and drawbridge; all located in a valley between a river in a deep, rocky bed and a wood. The building is at first invisible to Percivale, even after the Fisher King in his boat has described it; its finally coming into Percivale’s view could have either a mystical explanation, or a nature one involving angles and perspective. When he meets his cousin (the Fisher King’s niece) next day, however, she remarks that there is no lodging within forty leagues along the way he has come. Hearing that he has lodged comfortably, she knows it could only have been at her uncle’s house. She does not identify it as an Otherwordly outpost, but her general reaction seems to suggest as much.

The description of this castle and its locale somewhat resembles those of both Gornemant’s Gohort and Ygerne’s (Igraine) Rock of Canguin in the same romance.

Perlesvaus | Early 13th century
Parzival | Wolfram von Eschenbach, 1200–1210
Vulgate Queste del Saint Graal | 1215-1230