If you’ve ever had a chance to watch Monty Python or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you will have touched on culture’s obsession with this supposed holy chalice.
It had its pique of interest in the mid-middle ages but fizzled out in the nineteenth century. Revivals of interest in objects akin to the grail (seen in literature by C.S. Lewis and Dan Brown) have brought this inconspicuous object back into the light.
Where did this mythical grail come into existence? Why does it have ties with Christianity? And what part does it play in history?
Let's first look at: What is the Holy Grail?
The “Christian” relic known as the Holy Grail has dotted the lines of medieval literature. Whether the Holy Grail is a cup, cauldron, or stone depends on which version of the legend you're reading. Supposedly, it was a vessel of importance, used by Jesus or one of his followers during his ministry. Read more on this in the possible scriptural influences section below.
The object has varied in size throughout the various narratives from a wine bowl, to a stone that fell from heaven, to the now culturally accepted cup.
As for what the grail can do, that differs by account as well. Some say it carries the elixir of eternal life. Other writers reimagined the grail as the philosopher’s stone, a stone with the ability to give longevity. Or perhaps it also played into the fountain of youth narrative that later played a role in historical conquests. Other myths have attributed the Holy Grail to satisfying the needs of whoever drank from it, or providing the ultimate spiritual or mystical experience.
Supposedly, according to Arthurian legend, the Holy Grail was guarded in a castle. It appears first, however, in a 12th century text known as Conte del Graal ('Story of the Grail'), written but never completely finished in 1180.
Is the Holy Grail in the Bible? Possible Scripture References:
Although no verse in the Bible points to a specific Holy Grail object, several verses point to where this legend may have sprouted from.
Some stories have attributed the Holy Grail to the cup of wine Jesus used during the last supper (Luke 22:20).
Others have placed the grail in the hands of Joseph of Arimathea, who according to legend, collected Jesus’ blood in the grail while Jesus was on the cross, literalizing “this is my blood shed for you.”
According to this version of the legend, Joseph is thrown in jail for collecting Jesus’ blood, and during his stay, Jesus expands upon the powerful properties of the grail. In jail, the grail provides for his biological needs. Supposedly from there, Joseph of Arimathea made a trek to the British Isles, where the grail was later housed and quested after by Arthur and his knights.
And others have tied the grail to the cup offered to Jesus on the cross which had sour wine (Mark 15:23).
Is the Holy Grail really a Christian object?
No, it’s not. Although it has some ties with certain verses in Scripture, it also has origins in Celtic magic and mythology. We do have to keep in mind, not everything that has ties to the Christian Scripture is Christian.
The Quran, for instance, has a number of people in it from Scripture such as: Aaron (Moses’ brother), Abraham, Adam, David, the Disciples, Gabriel, Jesus, and more, but that doesn’t make it a Christian text.
Anything not mentioned in Scripture has to be evaluated with extreme caution.
We also should be wary of the various opinions on what the grail promises: youth, eternal life, or a grand mystical experience. As Christians, we know eternal life only comes from the Lord, not from relics.
Relics played a major role in medieval church history.
Bones of saints and relics used by Jesus and the apostles supposedly had supernatural powers and abilities. Christians would travel on pilgrimages to holy sites to see such objects and hopefully experience the same healing powers from them that those who had encountered Jesus had done so in his ministry (Luke 8:43-48).
Objects associated with Jesus or Mary had the most power, so an object such as the grail would have an extremely powerful importance. Some of such relics Christians supposedly housed in holy sites and churches were:
- Jesus’ baby teeth
- The milk of the Virgin Mary
- St. Peter’s bones
- The Shroud of Turin (supposedly the burial shroud of Christ)
- The finger of St. Thomas
- The Body of St. Mark
- The Head of John the Baptist (Matthew 14)
Throughout medieval history many relics were duplicated (two or more places would supposedly have the same “relic”) or stolen; and several were destroyed throughout history.
Why does a quest to understand the Holy Grail matter?
It does and doesn’t matter.
It matters because it can serve as a potential warning for placing our trust in anything aside from Jesus. If we spend our lives questing after supposed relics with supernatural powers, we miss the point of true Christianity and our purpose here on earth to spread the Gospel. Healing comes from God alone, not from objects Jesus or some saint supposedly touched.
It also matters because it can show us how easily one can mix Christianity with other religions. The Holy Grail has roots in pagan Celtic religions, and some historians argue can trace back even further to Ancient Roman religions.
Either way, if anything twists the Gospel or takes the truth of the Gospel and mixes it with a lie, it does not come from God. We have to keep in mind Satan likes to operate in half-truths instead of whole-lies. He often likes to take the truth and twist it just enough where it sounds real.
It doesn’t matter because although we can explore how the grail (and other relics) have shaped church history throughout the centuries, it has no true bearing on our eternal standing. What matters is we accept Jesus as our Savior and Lord, spread the Gospel, and do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).
Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, “Blaze,” (Illuminate YA) just released, and they contracted the sequel for 2020. Find out more about her here.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/serikbaib