About 800 years ago, a French poet told of the Grail for the first time. Chretien de Troyes described it as a shining object and the world’s most precious treasure. “No gem can compare to the Grail,” he wrote.
Later, Wolfram von Eschenbach declared that the Grail was a huge emerald owned by a brotherhood of pure-hearted knights, who kept it under guard in a mountain castle. According to the German writer, anyone allowed to approach the Grail when it began to glow received great power and understanding. Some people believe the Grail is real and devote their lives to finding it.
Mun-salva-esche, or “The Sacred Mountain,” was the Grail castle’s name. The knights there enjoyed a special festival every March 14. During the Ceremony of the Sun, a girl carrying the Grail on a green cushion walked in procession to a large, round table where the knights were seated. At its center, she placed the Grail, which gave off a bright, beautiful light and affected everyone near it. Old persons became young again; the sick were healed; favorite foods appeared; and men were inspired to undertake important tasks.
But only those who were pure of heart and deed were permitted in the Grail’s presence. Outsiders sought the Grail without success. Most never found it, even after many years of search. Some looked straight at the Grail but could not see it. Others saw the Grail but were so consumed with hatred they thought only of destroying it. A few found the Grail, but died when they tried to touch it. Those who possessed the Grail might lose it, or it would no longer shed its powerful radiance for them.
Once, the Fisher King, who inherited the Grail from his father, lost the “Perfection of Paradise,” as he called it, when he was injured in a selfish battle. The Grail light went out, leaving him to suffer from a wound that would not heal. Outside Mun-salva-esche, the countryside changed suddenly from a lush forest into a dead Waste Land. Wolfram wrote that only the most innocent stranger could restore the Grail’s power. That unknown person was Parcival. He knew nothing about the outside world, because he was born and raised by his mother in a deep forest she never allowed him to leave.
One day, however, he happened to see a troop of knights in their shining armor galloping past on their big horses. Parcival was so impressed, he ran after them, leaving his mother behind forever. The knights laughed at him for his thoughtlessness, and because he chattered away like a young fool who wanted to know how he could join them. “A real knight does not ask questions,” they said imperiously and rode away.
Lost and wandering out of his forest-home into the Waste Land, he stumbled upon a dilapidated Mun-salva-esche, where he was welcomed as a special guest. The Fisher King hoped he might be the one who could heal his wound by restoring the Grail. At dinner, the boy saw it carried in procession and heard the Fisher King groan with pain. Parcival felt sorry for the old man and wondered what hurt him but said nothing. He remembered that the knights had scolded him about asking questions. Just then, someone yelled at Parcival, “Get out, you silly goose!” Mun-salva-esche disappeared in a flash, and the lad found himself alone once more in the Waste Land.
The name “Grail” comes from the ancient Celtic word gral, or “the supreme power.” The Celts were an early European people. During the years after Mun-salva-esche vanished, Parcival had many adventures in his search for the missing Grail, but it always seemed just beyond his reach. Only after he learned that all living creatures were his brothers and sisters did it reappear. This time, he kindly asked the still-ailing Fisher King, “Why do you suffer?”
The Grail instantly lit up; the Waste Land changed back into a beautiful countryside; the Fisher King’s wound healed; and Parcival was made the keeper of the Grail. Ever since, it has remained hidden from all outsiders, save only those who are purest in heart. Although to most people the Grail is just a story, some are convinced it was and still is a real object—a lost treasure, the most valuable on Earth. They believe it grants special powers to anyone who possesses it.
Some investigators are sure the Grail was a cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, but others point out that several “grails” were known around the world long before Christ was born. For these investigators, the Grail quest goes on. During the 1930s, a young German scholar stirred up new interest with his book, Crusade Against the Grail. c was sure the “Perfection of Paradise” had been intentionally concealed somewhere in the Pyrenees Mountains separating France from Spain. He concluded that the Grail knights were actually Cathars. These were holy men and women who long ago fought a French king who wanted their powerful object. The Cathars defended themselves from a fortress in the Pyrenees called the “Secure Mountain,” Montsegur, similar to Parcival’s Mun-salva-esche. Before it fell to the army of the French king, four Cathars escaped with “a great treasure” that was never seen again. Otto was certain it must have been the Grail.
The Grail was said to assume five, different shapes: a jewel, a cup (sometimes a bowl or cauldron), a woman’s womb, a cave, and a human skull.
After years of climbing through the Pyrenees Mountains, Otto Rahn discovered a small cave. Inside was a crude altar decorated with Cathar symbols—the images of doves, cups, and skulls. In the middle of the altar stood a clear quartz crystal stone about two feet long. Convinced this was the Grail, he returned with it to Germany. There, the great crystal was locked inside Welwelsburg, a 400-year-old fortress, where it was a kept secret known only to Otto and the castle owners.
They soon grew unhappy with him, because he refused to allow anyone else to see the Grail. They told him he was no longer in charge of the Welwelsburg Stone, as they called it, and threw him out. Heartbroken, Otto hiked alone into the mountains, where he died during an ice storm. A few months later, World War II began. In March, 1945, as
U.S. soldiers were about to capture Welwelsburg Castle, German commandos blew it up. Before the big explosion, they rescued the quartz crystal and buried it deep inside a glacier. No one, they promised, will ever see the Welwelsburg Stone again until the glacier melts.
Not everyone believes Otto Rahn found the Grail. Some insist that the stories of King Arthur and Camelot show that the Grail was brought to Britain. They argue that his Knights of the Round Table were the actual keepers of the Grail. Supposedly, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy merchant and friend of Jesus, had long before carried away the cup of the Last Supper after the Crucifixion. He arrived with it at Glastonbury, a town in southwest England, the imagined location of Camelot. When Glastonbury was destroyed during religious wars several centuries later, the Grail was lost.
Stories of the Grail’s arrival in Glastonbury came to life in 1920. A small, stone cup was found at a place not far away called Hawkstone Park. Scientists examining it determined that the object did indeed date to the days of Jesus. They described it as an “ointment jar” for perfume that may have once preserved a few drops of Christ’s blood. The Hawkstone Park cup may be seen today in the so-called “Grail Chapel” of Whittington Castle, in Shropshire. Another British fortress is also a candidate for the Grail castle. Sitting atop a mountain in Wales is Dinas Bran. This “Castle of Bran” was named after the Celtic “Fisher King” who possessed a “cauldron of abundance.” Some believe the Grail was originally owned by the Templars, warrior-monks who sailed to Britain when they were outlawed by the French king, Philip the Fair. They hid the Grail in Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel, where investigators are still looking for it.
At Glastonbury, where Joseph of Arimathea was said to have brought the cup of the Last Supper, researchers unearthed an ancient, bronze bowl they believe may be the Grail. Nearby, at a place called Chalice Well, a cup was found to possess Grail-like healing energies. The wooden Nanteos Cup was discovered not far from Castle Dinas Bran by Grail hunters convinced that anyone who drinks water from it will receive magical powers. For many centuries, a strange baptismal font in Stone, England, has been revered as the original Grail. Dating to Chrétien de Troyes’ first book about the Grail, it is a large basin with hands sculpted across the front, making it resemble a mother cradling the unborn child in her womb. If nothing else, these objects show that feeling for the Grail runs deep in Britain.
Britain is not the only land where the Grail is supposed to be found. Across the Irish Sea, Ireland’s Ardagh Chalice is more than twelve centuries old and valued by some scholars as the one and only Grail. The Omphalos of Jerusalem combines two, important Grail features: it is a chalice containing a sacred jewel. St. Elizabeth of Hungary possessed an ornately carved, Egyptian rock crystal nearly 2,000 years old. Her father was a friend of Wolfram von Eschenbach, whose Grail story seems reflected in her cup. Many Hungarians have said that it provides miraculous cures to suffering persons who drink from it. St. Elizabeth’s father supposedly received the cup from Wolfram himself.
Another carved crystal some believe might be the Grail is the Crystal Skull. This accurate reproduction of a human skull was found in the Central American jungles of British Honduras (today known as Belize) during the 1924 excavation of an ancient, ruined city. Its teenage discoverer owned the Crystal Skull until her death in 2007 at 100 years of age in Canada. To Anna Mitchell-Hedges, the Crystal Skull radiated unusual powers only associated with the Grail. Coincidentally (?), the Knights Templars used a skull in their secret rituals.
In South America, the Inca Indians said a Grail-like “power-stone” had been brought by their ancestors from across the sea. Even today, you may visit the old Inca capital of Cuzco, in Peru, and see the granite box that once held the Paypicala, the “Transformer of the World.”
Some modern investigators are certain that the Grail rests at the bottom of a deep shaft on Oak Island, off the shores of Nova Scotia. This is the Money Pit, discovered by a pair of boys about 200 years ago. Since then, no one has been able to learn who dug it or how to remove the treasure in its depths. The Money Pit was built to flood whenever anyone tries to bring up more than a few scraps of gold. Some writers believe the Grail was taken away from Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel by the Knights Templar to Oak Island even before Columbus landed in America. The Templars were great civil engineers and could have excavated the complex Money Pit to hide the sacred object along with the rest of their wealth.
If you want to see and touch a real Grail, go to Easter Island almost 2,500 miles from South America in the Pacific Ocean. Near the shore of Akapena Bay, you’ll find the Te-Pito-te-Kura, “The Navel of Light.” It is a smooth, oval stone with bands of quartz crystal and was once worshiped as the source of great power.
Traveling further to Japan, you can visit another Grail in its shrine at the city of Nara. The Ka-nam-ah-ishi is actually a replica of the first “Belly-button Stone.” It was supposed to have been powerful enough to control earthquakes. The original “Belly-button Stone” was thrown into the sea by a priest as a peace offering to a dragon threatening Japan long ago. The story of the Grail shows that it has been possessed, lost, and found, over and over again. An ancient Egyptian Grail was said to have been installed inside the Great Pyramid for more than a thousand years before a selfish king removed it to his own palace. After he died, his successor returned the Bennu, or “Stone of Destiny” to the Great Pyramid.
A similar crystal was discovered in Tibet by Nicholas Roerich in the 1920s. The Russian artist and explorer was given the Chintamani Stone by a Buddhist holy man in order to bring peace on Earth after World War I. Roerich brought “The Jewel that Grants all Desires,” as it was known, to the United States but returned it to Tibet after the Second World War.
Some persons are sure the Grail must be real. Others believe it is only an imaginary symbol for any quest we go on for something special and hard to find. Allegory or artifact, the Holy Grail is Western man’s iconic image.