The Historical Grail

OK…cheesy I know, but you have to allow me one Indiana Jones reference. If you know me, you'll be surprised that I haven't made one yet!

As silly as it may seem to most people, I really do admire the character of Indiana Jones, and use it as "inspiration" when it comes to pursuing my research. No, I don't swing from German castles by my bullwhip, but I have been known to make the occasional leap of faith. As yet, there has always been a bridge there to catch me. When you think about it, Indiana Jones wasn't a terribly good archeologist — not in his methods, with which some have taken issue in the past, but in the sense that he never really returned with what he went after. The Ark, the Shankara Stones, the Grail…he left them all behind. In a sense, that is what makes him the best kind of archeologist. He is more interested in learning the importance of the artifacts than bringing them out for all the world to see, patting him on the back upon his triumphant return to academia. He instead is satisfied in himself in what he finds, and what he learns along the way.

In my 20+ year search for the truth behind the Grail legend, I have made a great many mistakes, went down a few dead ends, and felt the bitter sting of disappointment when a promising theory falls to ruin. Then, that is an occupational hazard — the ground falling from beneath your feet. However, I have also had moments that show me my pursuits have not been an entire waste. I have gone to amazing places, and I have seen astonishing things. Whenever I feel that this has all just been an exercise in folly, I usually find some little piece of information that serves as the "carrot" to keep me going. So far, I have not been disappointed.

To study the Grail from both an historical and archeological perspective, you must by necessity learn the skill of unlearning. Everyone has their biases of course, not to mention their own perspective on things, but to truly give the study a fair chance, you must just take what you find and let it guide your way. The first real "breakthrough" I had during my study was the day I finally realized my error was in trying to find the "one true Grail". Oh, I didn't abandon the idea that the Grail was "true", that is to say, a real-world artifact. I abandoned the idea that the Grail was "one" object. It seem by my study that there were several different places the Grail seemed to be, and at different times, each one as likely to be the case as the next. Finally I redefined what "the Grail" was. Using the term "The Grail" is much like the use of the name "Arthur" as we mentioned previously. It seems to be more of a title, a descriptor, than the name of an object. The Grail isn't the Cup of the Last Supper that was used to collect His blood at the crucifixion and was entrusted to Joseph of Arimathea. Instead the Grail could be described as being any vessel that were those things. In other words, the Grail was a vessel that was used at the Last Supper, it was a vessel used to collect His blood at the Crucifixion, as well as in the tomb, and the Grail was a vessel that was entrusted to Joseph of Arimathea, and indeed other people as well.

The historical Grail isn't one object, it is no less than six objects, possibly more. The uncertainty in this statement stems from the fact that there might well have been other vessels used to collect the blood that may not have become part of the Grail legend. Similarly, I have found recently that multiple vessels may have been preserved from the table of the Last Supper. The real truth is that the investigation, and therefore the particulars of my theory, are changing with time. Certainly the gist of my theory remains the same, but as other accounts and stories come to light, my view on the exact process that created the legend of the Grail has changed slightly. The only aspect of the subject I am pretty well 100% certain on is that there are multiple vessels that can justly be called "The Grail", or at least a Grail, and that the most positive but the most elusive among them are the 5 vials, or unguent jars, once owned by Mary Magdalene that were distributed among herself, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus who all later possessed a small amount of Christ's blood, collected in the tomb, in these small vessels.

The following is as brief a retelling as I can manage as to how the legend sprang from these vessels as I can possibly construct. Also, I have made it as concise as possible, leaving out a great deal of corroborating evidence that would, quite simply, be too extensive to outline here. I will trace the path of each vessel as best I understand it at this moment through its role before, during, and following the Last Supper and Crucifixion, through its part in the evolution of the Grail legend, and try to determine where each object is today. I will begin with the meal at Martha's house attended by Jesus.

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Some days before the Passover in Jerusalem that would come to be known as the Last Supper, Jesus attended the meal mentioned previously at the house of Martha, Mary Magdalene's older sister. During this meal, Mary opened the box of oil, one pound of it, and used it to anoint the feet of Jesus as He sat reclined at the table. As I mentioned, this one pound box of nard would not have been a big box with a pound of oil poured into it. It was a box containing a quantity of small vials containing the oil. The box would most likely have consisted of 6 vials containing about 2 ounces by weight, (since the 1st century Hebrew pound was 12 ounces, not 16.) Mary used one of these six vials to anoint Jesus, leaving five remaining.

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Turning now to the associated legends of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, we see that traditionally both are seen has possessing two vials each — Joseph's two vials containing the blood and sweat of Jesus, and Nicodemus's two vials which were hidden in the recess near the neck of his famous carving, the Volto Santo. Additionally, the body of Mary Magdalene was said to have been found with only one "alabaster" jar, keeping with the notion that of the six, she had already used one, leaving her only one if they were to be distributed as evenly as possible. These vials, appearing first at the meal at Martha's house, reappeared after the tomb was found empty, having been brought there by Mary to finish anointing the body inside the tomb. If we recall the 1st century Hebrew funerary rite involving the collection of blood from the body of the deceased before it was entombed with the body, we realize that these vials were not initially intended for this purpose, leading to the question, in what vessel or vessels was the blood originally collected?

As we mentioned previously, there were two places where the blood might have been collected from the body of Jesus: once while on the cross, and again while His body was being hastily prepared in the tomb. Let us first look at the occasion of Jesus at the cross. Here, blood would have both ran down the cross or otherwise dripped onto the ground, causing the soil to become saturated with blood. This blood soaked soil would have been collected. Once the body had been taken down from the cross, any blood that still issued from the body at this point would have been collected, probably in another vessel, desiring to keep the liquid blood separate from the blood held in the soil. Turning now to the activity inside the tomb, this same vessel was probably used to collect the blood that ran from the body, mostly from the spew wound as it was the freshest at this point, as well as any blood that was washed from the body during its preparation. Both vessels, (if there were in fact two as I have supposed), would have been left in the tomb, and sealed inside with the body. Three days later, when the group of women went to the tomb to complete the ritual of anointing the body with oil, (specifically Mary's oil), they found the tomb empty, and leaving the box of oil jars at the tomb, they ran back to alert the disciples. Returning to the tomb, these women as well as Peter found the tomb empty and assumed the body of Jesus had been stolen.

At this point, one of two things could have taken place. Either the blood that was collected in the two vessels was left in the tomb, being the nearest thing to the body they had to bury, or they took the vessels of blood with them lest they too fall victim to thieves or destroying Romans. I tend to believe they took these vessels with them when they found the tomb empty, believing the body had been stolen. According to the Bible, it was not until some time later when the resurrected Jesus appeared in the room with them that they believed He had been resurrected instead of the body being stolen. After this time, I believe that the blood that remained in the collection vessel was distributed among those possessing the unguentary vials, leaving some in the bottom of the original vessel. It is possible that the vessel containing the bloody dirt was left in the tomb, not seen as sacred or precious to Jesus's followers as the blood that was still liquid. The blood in the bowl of the collection vessel likely was small enough in quantity that it was transferred to another smaller vessel, or perhaps simply dried up in a short time.

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The question remains, where did this "collection vessel" come from? Was it the cup from the Last Supper? Possibly. The tradition was to take the body of the fallen loved one to the family home to prepare it for burial. That was not possible in the case of Jesus, so they did the next best thing they could. They went to the Upper Room of the Last Supper, the room that became their temporary "home" and refuge after the arrest of Jesus, and, remembering the last commandments of Jesus on the night of the Last Supper, took the vessels He used as those which would serve to collect His blood. This vessel was brought out to the tomb where the body was simply cleaned and wrapped in a shroud before the stone door was put in place, the intention being to return later to complete the ritual. After all the blood was collected, and distributed, each individual began their ministry of the Gospel around the area, and eventually to foreign lands. Peter would find his way to Rome, Joseph and Mary would travel together for a time through the Mediterranean until Mary stopped and settled in France with her single vial, Joseph continuing to Britain with his two vials. Nicodemus would remain behind in Jerusalem to create his Volto Santo, hiding his two cruets inside for several centuries.

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After time, the Volto Santo was in danger of destruction in Jerusalem, thanks to the city's war-torn history as we saw previously. It was then sent to Italy, either intentionally or through the will of God on a boat with no means of steering, where it was split between the towns of Lucca and Luni, (which is today Sarzana). Both places have a carving called the Volto Santo, but only one has been found to have a recess as the legend states. The vials' whereabouts are unknown. Visiting Sarzana, I was unable to see even the more recent relic that remembers the tradition of a vessel containing the blood of Christ, must less the original objects — most likely lost or destroyed over time. Joseph went on to found the great church at Glastonbury, his remains being buried near the southeastern corner of the Wattle Church he helped build, only to be found centuries later in the 15th century. I believe that with his body, the two cruets which legend stated were buried with him were found, held for a brief time at Glastonbury, and were later moved to Wales in an attempt to save them from the fires of the Dissolution.

Here the story of St. Joseph's vials end, but perhaps with the hope of future discovery. We have read of the phiol once found at Strata Florida Abbey, the memory of which likely inspired the creation of the Nanteos Cup in Victorian times. The phiol itself likely did end up in Shropshire with the Hills of Hawkstone, but it is very likely, or at least woefully unverifiable, that it found its way there as Graham Phillips would have us believe. Instead he chose to weave an Indiana Jones, DaVinci Code-esque trail of bread crumbs rather than look at simple marriage records to find his clues. Similarly, Rosslyn Chapel, famous in the Grail legend, may have played a part in the history of the historical Grail, but that for sure we may never know. The trail has grown cold, and trodden flat by the feet of clumsy Victorians and gain-seeking modern retelling, but I remain hopeful. Discovery has been made by less auspicious trails than this.

Mary

Mary's "alabaster jar" has also gone missing, although local tradition states that it was until relatively recently on public display in the church of St. Maximin, however this as well is uncertain. Sad really…that the one who in a way brought the legend of the Holy Grail to the West through the vials she gave to Joseph of Arimathea was not herself able to hold onto what may be the last remaining unguent vial to survive into modern time from its original place in a box of straw beside its five other siblings. To date, the only vessel I believe should be called "The Grail" rests in the Cathedral of Valencia — the Santo Caliz. Although recent news suggests another vessel, similarly a red agate cup covered in gold and jewels known as the "Doña Urraca Cup", may be the true contender for the title of the Cup of the Last Supper, I believe the Santo Caliz has the better claim, at least as the cup which once held the blood of Christ, and a cup which likely originated from the Upper Room of the Last Supper. I will spend more time investigating and providing as much information as I can find on the Doña Urraca Cup in future additions to this site. Who knows…I may be forced by new evidence to again alter my theory, but if that becomes necessary, rest assured my opinions will be swayed by the weight of the evidence, not the opinions of popular culture.

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It is here that I must leave you, to embark upon your own Grail Quest. Take this information and use it, not as a definitive answer, but as fuel to drive your own investigation. I certainly don't think I have all the answers, but I do feel I have answers that are at least better than the ones I found when I began my quest. My goal is to to sway people over to my view. Instead it is merely to demonstrate that the subject of the Holy Grail has more at its foundation than the mere fancy a French story-teller. The point is, you can never know what's out there to be learned unless you look, and unless you look, you'll never find. If you don't find, then you'll never know. So go on! Grab your dusty fedora, strap on your trusty bullwhip, and jump out of that castle window! People may think you're mad, but in the end, what an adventure you'll have!


IndyHatWhip