Legend, religion, and the fog of history all obscure one of mankind’s most fascinating and treasured artifacts, but what exactly IS the Holy Grail? Is it Real? Where is it located? We venture to answer all these questions and more as we venture on our own ‘grail quest’ attempting to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the holy grail.
Even answering this question is complex. The grail is, according to the Christian Tradition, known as the Holy Chalice, and it is the cup Jesus himself used to serve wine. He shared this cup with the Apostles during the moments depicted in the iconic da Vinci work. There are of course also theories that the grail is not a cup at all, but rather a symbol for Christ’s blood and bloodline. Over time, however, the grail itself has become intertwined with other myths and meanings. What is the Holy Grail? It literally could have been an actual simple cup. But it’s also been so much more to countless humans for thousands of years.
Before we dig too deep into what it all means and what it could be we should address another pressing matter. Where is the grail? The concept of its actual location is almost as important as its meaning. Certainly, its location is PART of its meaning. Some people say the grail never existed and thus can’t be found and is nowhere. Some claim it was last seen in Troyes in 1610. Some claim they have it now! Could it be in the Basilica of San Isidoro or the Valencia Cathedral? Hard to say. There are over 200 things being called the grail in Europe. Who could confirm if any of them is in fact the grail itself? Maybe one guy…
King Arthur and the Holy Grail. King Arthur is similar to the grail in that his own voracity is a constant challenge posed to historians and theologians. Does he exist? Kind of? Maybe? Sort of? Either way, his own quest for the grail became a concept tied to ideas of chivalry. Arthur’s greatest quest was supposedly for the grail, never finding it himself. Legend says Sir Galahad did. We know of a few other legendary figures who interacted with it…
Monty Python and the holy grail is a 1975 comedy about the concept of the Grail and the legends surrounding it and King Arthur. The heart of the film is sending up ideas of these beloved regional mythologies, but also of their relationship to the harsh realities of the Middle Ages in the United Kingdom.
Has the holy grail been found? As we said before, many claim to have discovered the holy grail or kept track of it. The act of looking for the holy grail is, as we have mentioned, its own legend and meaningful act. The search for an item with this kind of significance and power becomes a focal point for people throughout history, and a narrative theme in Western culture right up to the modern era…
Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail could be an alternate title for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the 1989 film centers on the titular hero and his father’s personal quests for the grail, and obsession with its role in history and myth. The film has less to do with the grail’s history or religious implications and more to do with concepts of chivalry and legacy both historically and from father to son, which brings us back to perhaps the main point.
What exactly is the Holy Grail meaning? Well beyond the attempt to factually define it we can consider the modern colloquial usage. The Holy Grail is often used in reference to a potential “quick fix” or panacea. Something amazing that solves everything and is hard to find. It is possible the true grail legend predates the Christian model and was a Greek, Roman, and Celtic mixture of notions around life-restoring potions and magical medicine. It is in the way these concepts weave into Christian belief through Jesus, and then into the story of a figure like King Arthur that we find something as simple as a cup becoming… so much more… to so many people… for so long.
The Holy Grail definition would be to state simply that the holy grail is a unique and legendary cup or vessel. A chalice, perhaps. But it’s also been suggested its etymology is a ‘wide-mouthed shallow vessel’ So in some ways, we can’t even be sure if it was a cup. Maybe it was more like a bowl. Or a serving platter. History and legend have even obscured what we thought we knew about its raw physical properties.
Is holy blood part of the holy grail? Not exactly. In Luke 22:20 Jesus says “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” which arguably continues the tradition and belief in a manifest covenant between humanity and God.
Is the Holy Grail real? This is probably, ultimately, the wrong question to ask. The importance of the holy grail is a symbol of faith. Of man’s pact with God. Beyond the obvious concept of holiness and relationships with religious ideals, there is the idea of a perfect thing to be striving towards, even in looking for it. So those who seek the grail almost replicate those who sat at the table with Christ himself and took the pact that they would strive to some greater ideal. It is in this way that the grail and the grail quest become part of the same concept, and in that sense, the grail is very real. It has driven people to action both internal and external since early recorded history.
The grail then is a symbol of our relationship to a better version of ourselves. It is our commitment to the idea that we can strive for something better than what we are. It may be that in fact the grail itself can never be found, or reached and this ideal can never be achieved. But it is in the act of reaching that we become our best selves. Or so the legend of the Grail would imply.