The Holy Grail in Britain seems somewhat repetitive. The mythical cup has been synonymous with the island since its popularization in the Middle Ages. What more can we find about the historical artifact, if there is one, by looking at the legends found on this lush, verdant landscape? We have already seen that the area around the current town of Glastonbury is at the center of the Grail and Arthurian myths, as well as how they might have something to do with the actual history behind the myth. However this is not the whole story of the Grail in Britain. To learn more about an historical Holy Grail, we must see the particulars of the legend, how they fit into British history, and what happened after the "classic age" of Holy Grail mania in the12th and 13th centuries. However, to go beyond Glastonbury, we must first return there.
The Lady Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey — the site of the original Wattle Church, allegedly built by Joseph of Arimathea
The Holy Grail at Glastonbury, as we have seen, was not a golden chalice, but vessels of a much simpler form. Tradition states that Joseph of Arimathea brought two cruets, or vials, to Britain, allegedly containing blood relics of Jesus taken from his body at the cross and from the tomb. It is confusion why this tradition varies so from the classical telling of the story in which the Grail is very clearly mentioned to be a single cup. If you've learned anything about the legend by reading these pages, I can only hope that you've learned this. There is a vast difference between the history of the Grail and the legend of the Grail. What we know of the Grail today comes from stories. The tales are what we know and are familiar with, which is why most scholars accept the Holy Grail to be the myth they appear to be. However, if interested parties would merely takes the time to look for themselves, it doesn't take long to realize the story warrants a second look.
As we read in the passages about Mary Magdalene and her unguent vials, it is easy to see how Joseph might have ended up with two vials of Christ's blood, (although at this moment exactly how has not been outlined.) Suffice it to say for now that these little vials will play a key role in our understanding of the Holy Grail in legend as well as in history. Let us first begin with Joseph of Arimathea at Glastonbury. If he was actually at Glastonbury, founding the original, Wattle Church there, why were the relics never made public? Why did the monks, even at the time of the dissolution of Glastonbury Abbey in the 16th century, did the monks of Glastonbury claim they had no knowledge of the whereabouts of either Joseph's tomb nor the relics purportedly contained therein? For reasons far too elaborate and complicated to go into on a web page, I believe that the tomb and the cruets were indeed found at the turn of the turn of the 16th century when the Crypt area of the Lady Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey was built. In a letter to the King Henry V of England written by Abbot Frome in 1420, regarding an excavation of the Lady Chapel and southern cemetery conducted in the previous year, it was outlined that among other "ancient" burials of note, the burial under the altar in the Lady Chapel was richly decorated with fine linen cloth and otherwise appeared to be a burial of someone important. They didn't say specifically that it was the grave belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, but it was pretty much implied. After that, a small underground chapel was devoted to St. Joseph of Arimathea which later was enlarged to the Crypt around the year 1500.
The Crypt of the Lady Chapel at Glastonbury Abbey. This was where the remains of Joseph of Arimathea were venerated.
In my opinion, this was in fact the grave of Joseph of Arimathea as outlined by the writings of Melkin in the 6th century AD. They did not specify it as that of Joseph, nor did they speak about finding any holy relics inside. Why? Certainly at this time, there was already unrest brewing between the monarchy and the church — animosity that would reach its pinnacle in the Dissolution of the Monasteries throughout Britain in the mid 1500's. If the cruets were found at this point, they probably quietly found their way to the sacristy where all other items of veneration were kept, and their presence was only known by a select few among the Glastonbury community. Later when tensions began to escalate, it became dangerous enough to say you possessed relics of a saint, much less a relic of Jesus Himself. Finally, when the heat reached a boiling point, it was decided it was time these sacred relics be moved to a safer place.
Enter now the legends of the Grail at Nanteos Mansion. According to the legend, a group of monks from Glastonbury fled the doomed abbey to another abbey in Wales called Strata Florida. They hoped to find a sanctuary there, and a place to allow their relics to rest safely until such a time as they could return them home. However this was not to be. When the Dissolution started to enter the distant lands in the west of Wales, they knew they had little time to again find safety for their relics. Beseeching the wealthy Powell family, those who stood to inherit the land on which Strata Florida stood, these monks became the personal chaplains to the Powell family, hiding the relics among them until, one by one, the monks began to die off. The last of these monks gave their relic to a member of the Powell family, along with their story, entreating him to guard the cup until the "Church should claim its own". In that family it remained to become the famous "healing" Nanteos Cup that, until recent decades, was housed in the Georgian manor house of Nanetos in Aberystwyth on the western coast of Wales.
The Georgian manor house of Nanteos Mansion, home of the Powell family.
Nearyby Strata Florida Abbey, where the "Holy Grail" Nanteos Cup was found, likely harkening back to an earlier tradition.
Now, if you were paying attention while reading that story, you have already detected a little inconsistency. The two cruets from Glastonbury morphed over time to a single, wooden bowl known as the Nanteos Cup. Again, remember that there is a vast difference between history and legend. It is almost certain that, if Joseph was in fact at Glastonbury, the relics he possessed were in fact two cruets. It is likely that they were in fact in his grave with him until they were found late in the history of Glastonbury Abbey. In keeping with the Nanteos tradition, it is likely that they were moved to Strata Florida Abbey where either one or both cruets stayed until the danger reached them as well. There is some evidence, (discussed later), that they did in fact become the personal chaplains to the Powell family, only it was the Stedman family who would later marry into the Powells — later establishing the manor at Nanteos. I think that the Nanteos Cup, which turned out to be a medieval wooden "mazer" bowl made of wych elm, was incorrectly identified with the vessels of legend that came to Strata Florida from Glastonbury, only in truth it was in the form of a small vial and not a cup or bowl of any sort. It is not clear if it was one or both of Joseph's cruets that came to Strata Florida, but if it was only one, as tradition seems to indicate, it is a possibility that the monks of Glastonbury chose to split the two relics up, going to different places to maximize the chance that at least one of the relics would survive. If that is the case, it is possible that there might be another place in the UK, with a Grail tradition of its own, that might have played host to one of these relics at some point in its history. Such a place might be the infamous Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. The Grail has been closely tied to the chapel in the past, but seldom with any correlation to Joseph of Arimathea, and more owing to the mysterious Knights Templar. Granted, I have found little evidence to support this theory. I leave that to the Grail Hunters of the future to work out. However, it would seem logical, both to split the relics up and to send one west and one North. It would be the two places farthest, and thus safest, from the endangered Glastonbury Abbey as the monks could take their venerated relics.
Beautiful and mysterious Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, depicted in the movie The DaVinci Code.
A stone's throw away from Rosslyn Chapel, Rosslyn Castle was the home to the Sinclair family. If the Holy Grail was at Rosslyn, it was most likely kept here, not in the Chapel
Britain is a land rich with legend and history without doubt, but often it is nearly impossible to comb fact from legend. So is the case here. However, investigating these places of interest to the Grail Hunter can sometimes find curious, and maybe even conspicuous, pieces of information that provide hope for finding the lost histories of Joseph's cruets. In January of 2013, I found just such a piece of information. The following is a transcription of my notebook following the discovery.
Hawkstone Park in Shropshire England where, according to the dubious claims made by Graham Phillips, the small onyx vial he claims is the Holy Grail was found.
Hill Hall, home of the wealthy Hill family of Shropshire. Related to the Powells of Nanteos by marriage, one of Joseph's cruets may have once been housed here.
Don't have long but wanted to make sure I go this down. I DID IT! I found the link between Strata Florida & Nanteos to Hawkstone Park and Graham Phillips' constructed tale of the "Marian Chalice". Strata Florida monks with 1 of Joseph's cruets ally with the Stedman family who marry into the Powells who later get ownership of the Abbey ruins and manor house of Ty Abaty. Apparently it DID go to Nanteos for a time… After the death of Thomas Powell around 1797, his wife Eleanor was charged with taking care of the estate. She enlisted the help of 2 people, one of whom was John Hill — SIR John Hill, 3rd Baronet of Hawkstone Manor. I'm not sure of the "whys and wherefores" but that's got to be it. It can't be coincidence. Between George Powell's eccentricities and the then several-generations-gone relic, he dimly too the story and, with the help of recent excavations and finds at the Strata Florida ruins, [referring to victorian antiquarian digs conducted on the grounds of Strata Florida], created the Nanteos Cup as the Holy Grail.
Apparently, the Powells and the Hills were more than just close, they were related through marriage. The 2nd Baronette, Richard Hill, was apparently the great evangelist, and between him and Joh, created the gardens and follies of Hawkstone Park. Richard is likely the one who fashioned the statues of the lion, eagle, etc. as symbols for the evangelists, and likely the one to hide the vial in the base. [If that actually happened. It is difficult to find fact in the "research" of Graham Phillips who posited that the Holy Grail is an onyx vial found in Shropshire in the early 90's.]
At these sites, primarily Glastonbury Abbey, and afterwards the sites of Strata Florida, Nanteos Manor, Hawkstone Park and Manor, and Rosslyn Chapel and Castle, we can potentially see the story of Joseph's cruets past the time of the Dissolution in the 16th century, potentially to modern day. As I said previously however, these are connections I will leave to the next generation of Grail Hunters to work out.
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