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Definition: Holy Grail from Philip's Encyclopedia

In medieval legend, the cup supposedly used by Jesus at the last supper and by Joseph of Arimathea at the crucifixion to catch the blood from Jesus' wounds. The quest for the Grail, especially by the knights of Arthurian legend, became a search for mystical union with God.


Summary Article: Holy Grail from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

In medieval Christian legend, the dish or cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper; credited with supernatural powers and a symbol of Christian grace. In certain stories incorporated in Arthurian legend, it was an object of quest by King Arthur's knights, together with the spear with which Jesus was wounded at the Crucifixion. Galahad was the only knight to achieve the mission.

According to one story, the blood of Jesus was collected in the Holy Grail by Joseph of Arimathaea at the Crucifixion, and brought to Britain where he allegedly built the first church, at Glastonbury. At least three churches in Europe possess vessels claimed to be the Holy Grail.

Literature The Grail made its first recognizable appearance around 1182 in the epic Perceval by French poet Chrétien de Troyes. This unfinished romance described how Percival, newly knighted, arrived at the court of the Fisher King, where he saw the Grail carried by a maiden, preceded by a youth bearing a lance dripping with blood. Percival failed to ask an explanation of his host, later discovering that his reticence had brought disaster on himself and others. In a subsequent, though possibly interpolated passage, he learned from a hermit that the Grail contained the eucharist, but this suspect entry was the only positive Christian reference in the romance. In Peredur, a later Welsh version of the story, the same scene substituted a severed head borne on a salver.

Christian association English chronicler and poet Robert Mannyng first identified the Grail as a relic of the Crucifixion in his Joseph d'Arimathie, almost 20 years after Chrétien's Perceval. Subsequently the Grail was generally portrayed as a radiant, sacred vessel, although German poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, in his epic romance Parzival (around 1210) represented it as a stone. Another German work illustrating the quest was Heinrich von dem Turlin's Diu Crone, in which Gawain became the hero.

The greatest prolification of the legend took place in early 13th-century France with the production of four continuations of Chrétien's epic and a number of prose romances. The popular Vulgate Cycle of Arthurian romance contained the Queste del Saint Graal, in which the virgin knight Galahad appeared for the first time, and ultimately achieved the quest.

Later development Thomas Malory's prose romance Morte d'Arthur (about 1470), based largely on the Queste del Saint Graal, was the first notable English treatment of the Grail story. The legend retained its popularity after the Middle Ages, stimulated by rehandlings as diverse as the 19th-century poetic series The Idylls of the King by English poet Alfred Tennyson, and German composer Richard Wagner's opera Parsifal (1882).

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