Art

VN Barquinha | Império do Espírito Santo está presente em 12 dos 13 concelhos da região

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Manuel J. Gandra, o curador da exposição “O Império do Divino Espírito Santo no Médio Tejo”, fez algumas revelações inéditas sobre as suas investigações acerca do tema, durante a inauguração no Centro de Interpretação Templário Almourol (CITA), de Vila Nova da Barquinha, no dia 9 de junho.

O investigador revelou que 12 dos 13 concelhos da região do Médio Tejo “estão repletos de memórias do Império do Espírito Santo”. Excluiu apenas o Entroncamento por ser um concelho recente.

Para Manuel Gandra, a exposição sobre o Espírito Santo agora inaugurada “aparentemente é alheia à temática Templária”, mas “na realidade o tema Templário e a exposição são duas faces da mesma moeda”.

Na conferência de apresentação do catálogo que antecedeu a inauguração da exposição, o investigador sublinhou que “os Templários tinham objetivos materiais mas também espirituais que passavam pela criação de uma humanidade fraterna”.

“Este território, que era sobretudo Templário, tinha já essa componente espiritual presente mas tornou-se mais evidente quando entrou na história a Ordem de Cristo e adotou para si o Império do Espírito Santo”, explicou Manuel Gandra.

Já na exposição, que ocupa um dos corredores do CITA, os visitantes puderam apreciar medalhas, imagens, cartazes, livros antigos, entre uma série de objetos e documentos relacionados com o tema. Da região há referências a festas do Divino Espírito Santo em Sardoal, Alcanena e Meia Via, mas o destaque vai para a Festa dos Tabuleiros de Tomar.

Três das vitrinas estão preenchidas com objetos relativos ao culto do Divino Espírito Santo nos Açores, no Brasil e na América do Norte.

Manuel Gandra dispõe de muito mais peças sobre o tema mas dada a limitação de espaço teve de ser feita uma seleção criteriosa. No ar ficou a perspetiva de uma outra exposição.

Depois de agradecer a “colaboração inexcedível” de Manuel Gandra na exposição, o presidente da Câmara de Vila Nova da Barquinha falou do “projeto arrojado” do CITA numa lógica de identidade do território transversal a todo o Médio Tejo.

Fernando Freire recordou que existem no concelho dois castelos templários: Almourol e Zêzere, sendo que deste último há apenas alguns vestígios.

“Já está feito o levantamento de uma muralha medieval que se encontra a nascente”, e “gostaríamos de, no próximo ano, fazer escavações arqueológicas no local”, anunciou o autarca.

Referiu-se ainda à existência de um cais Templário junto ao rio Zêzere, levando o edil a acreditar que foi ali “que se iniciaram os descobrimentos portugueses”.

Também para Manuel Gandra “a expansão marítima portuguesa começou a partir do Zêzere e de Almourol, portanto, do que é hoje Vila Nova da Barquinha”. Foi o Comendador de Almourol Frei Gonçalo Velho quem descobriu as Ilhas de Santa Maria e de S. Miguel (Açores) que inicialmente se chamavam Almourol e Cardiga, segundo o investigador.

E terá sido desta região do Médio Tejo e nessa altura que o culto ao Divino Espírito Santo chegou aos Açores e depois às Américas.

A exposição “O Império do Divino Espírito Santo no Médio Tejo” vai estar patente até ao final do ano podendo ser visitada de segunda a sexta-feira das 9h00 às 12h30 e das 14h00 às 17h30 e aos sábados, domingos e feriados, das 10h00 às 13h00 e das 15h00 às 18h00.

in mediotejo.net por José Gaio


Por Rádio Hertz


IMPÉRIO DO DIVINO ESPÍRITO SANTO – VILA NOVA DA BARQUINHA 2019

Bible History Set in Stone

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A few weeks ago, while leading a pilgrimage tour to Israel, I couldn’t wait to bring the group to one of the greatest museums in the world: the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Packed with artifacts from the biblical period, it’s a treasure trove for anyone interested in the material remains of salvation history.

The museum also houses one of the more important archaeological finds of recent years: an artifact that has bolstered our confidence in the veracity of the Old Testament accounts of the kingdom of David, his son Solomon, and their successors.

Biblical “minimalists” had long contended that King David did not actually preside over a kingdom that originated circa the tenth century B.C., as the Bible states. Indeed, these scholars alleged that David, Solomon, and in fact the entire line of Davidic kings chronicled in the Old Testament, are nothing more than fictional characters invented by the writers of the Hebrew scriptures.

In favor of the “minimalist” argument was the lack of any evidence of David’s existence outside the Bible.

But here’s where archaeology came to the rescue. During the 1993-94 excavations at Tel Dan, in northern Israel, a stele (a stone slab bearing an inscription) was unearthed. Made from basalt, a volcanic rock plentiful in the region, it bears an account of a military victory. Scholars have postulated that the inscription commemorates an Aramean king’s defeat of Israelite forces. It may have been commissioned by Hazael or Ben-Hadad III, his son (cf. 2 Kings 10:32, 13:3, 22; 2 Chron. 22:5).

The key line on the monument, the stunning find, is the mention of the “House of David.” There it was, written in stone—independent confirmation of David’s existence and of a line of kings so powerful that defeating armies from this “House” warranted a public brag of sorts on this stele, for all passersby to read and marvel at.

Analysis of the stele dates it to the mid-ninth century BC, right around the time when, according to Scripture, David’s dynasty would have been flourishing. It appears that the stele was broken by the Israelites after they recaptured the area some time later, and was eventually repurposed into building blocks for the city wall.

After this discovery, as chronicled by Craig Evans, the minimalists changed their approach. “Okay, okay,” they admitted, “maybe David existed after all. But he was a nobody. A local tribal chief, at best, certainly not the originator of the vast, Iron-Age kingdom described in the Old Testament.”

At this point, faced with what seems like special pleading, one is tempted to respond like Jerry Seinfeld: “Really? Really?”

But don’t despair—again, archaeology is our friend here.

First of all, if David had been merely a small-time local yokel, what on earth were his descendants doing fighting battles all the way up north, near the modern-day border that separates Israel and Syria, far from his allegedly tiny operation in Jerusalem?

Also, a vast, centralized complex of buildings—in all likelihood, a government compound—has been unearthed in the Old City of Jerusalem, and can be seen on tours today. It’s located in what’s known as the “City of David” and dates to approximately the tenth century B.C.; once more, the time when Scripture says that David and Solomon were establishing their empire. Again, this seems fairly excessive if we’re talking about an insignificant tribal chieftain, but it does fit the biblical narrative of David’s expansive realm.

To this our minimalist might say, “I’ll grant you that David existed, and perhaps he did preside over a significantly large kingdom, but we still can’t trust what the Bible says about him. The people of David’s time would not have been significantly literate enough to record his exploits or those of his descendants”.

This last objection is at least partially answered by—you guessed it—yet another archaeological discovery. In 2008, an ostracon (an inscribed piece of pottery) dating to the tenth century B.C. was disinterred at the ancient fortress city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which was the only fortified Judahite city during the reigns of David and his predecessor, King Saul (in fact, the Qeiyafa ostracon is the only extant relic that mentions Saul).

The famed French epigrapher Émile Puech regards the inscription as the earliest writing narrating the transition of Israel from a people ruled by judges into a kingdom. It shows that the people living around David’s time were literate, and in fact, more than capable of recording (and passing on) the annals of David’s dynasty, such as we see in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles.

The Tel Dan stele and the Qeiyafa ostracon are just two examples from the multitude of archaeological discoveries in Israel that have bolstered our understanding of, and in many cases substantiated the reliability of, biblical records of history. Since only roughly five percent of all biblical sites have been excavated to date (which is unbelievable considering how much has already been found), It’s truly exciting to think of how many more such finds may be unearthed in the years to come.

by Cale Clarke, in catholic.com

The Story of the Crown of Thorns

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When the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady (Notre Dame) in Paris caught fire earlier this week, the world was mesmerized by the apparent destruction of such an historical and holy edifice—one of the most widely recognized and frequently visited structures in the world.

Although the soaring Gothic cathedral is well known, until recent events relatively few people knew that it has been home to the holy relic of the Crown of Thorns worn by Christ during his Passion. The destructive fire sharpened the world’s focus on the cathedral, Paris, and the Catholic Church at the beginning of the holiest week of the year and, in God’s own providential way, made more widely known the existence of this singular relic.

It has also aroused skepticism and questions. How did one of the central relics of the Passion end up in the capital of France? How do we know this relic is authentic? Isn’t it more likely some pious myth?

The story of the arrival of the crown in Paris is a dramatic tale of the sacking of a majestic city, a bankrupt empire, and a saintly monarch desirous of manifesting leadership of Christendom in medieval Europe.

Three of the four Gospel narratives record that Jesus, during his Passion, was crowned with thorns by Roman soldiers (Mark 15:17, Matt 27:29, John 19:2, 5). However, documentary evidence for the crown’s whereabouts after the Crucifixion are scarce until the fifth century, when the Gallo-Roman bishop St. Paulinus of Nola (354-431) referenced the relics of the crown and the cross in his writings. A century later, the Roman senator and later monk Cassiodorus (c. 490-585) mentioned the relic of the crown of thorns in his commentary on Psalm 86.

Another sixth-century reference is found in the travel diary of the anonymous Pilgrim of Piacenza, a Christian from Italy who went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, who wrote, “There is in that church [the basilica Church of Hagia Zion] also the crown of thorns with which the Lord was crowned.” From the sixth to the tenth centuries, there are reports of the distribution of thorns from the crown to various persons including St. Germanus (c. 469-576), the bishop of Paris; Charlemagne (742-814), king of the Franks and holy roman emperor; and the Anglo-Saxon king Æthelstan (894-939). It is believed that sometime in the mid-eleventh century the crown was transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople, where it remained for nearly two centuries.

In the thirteenth century, Robert de Clari (1170-1216), a French warrior who participated in the Fourth Crusade (1201-1205), provided a description of his Crusade activities. He describes in his chronicle the multitude of precious objects and sacred relics contained within the majestic city of Constantinople:

Within this chapel were found… two pieces of the true cross… two nails that were driven through the midst of his hands and through the midst of his feet. And there, too, was found the blessed crown wherewith he was crowned, which was wrought of sea rushes, sharp as dagger blades.”

The Fourth Crusade, in 1204, resulted in the sack of Constantinople, which Pope Innocent III (r.1198-1216) condemned, and the establishment of a Latin Empire (called “this new France” by Pope Honorius III and colloquially known as “Romania”) that lasted until 1261. The Latin Empire faced significant challenges in its short existence, including the presence of exiled Byzantines, who wanted their imperial capital back, and a lack of western military manpower. Many westerners left the Holy Land and settled in Latin-controlled Constantinople, which ultimately weakened Christian-controlled territory in the Latin East (Acre, one of the last major Christian cities in the Holy Land, fell to a Muslim army in 1291).

The last Latin emperor to rule in Constantinople was Baldwin II (r. 1228–1273), who was also the only Latin emperor born in the city. Faced with significant financial difficulties, Baldwin embarked on a tour of western Europe in a recruitment campaign for men and money. While in France, Baldwin received word that his barons had borrowed money from the Venetians and used the crown of thorns as collateral. He begged King St. Louis IX(1214–1270) to help him repay the loan to prevent the transfer of the precious relic to Venice. In return, Baldwin promised to gift the crown of thorns to Louis.

The saintly monarch envisioned France as a new Holy Land, and what better way to manifest that vision than with possession of the relics of the Lord’s Passion. The king earnestly believed that the offer from Baldwin was providential and agreed to provide the funds to the young emperor. King Louis sent two Dominicans (Jacques and André), one of whom had spent time in Constantinople and could verify the authenticity of the relic, with a royal letter to the imperial city. The royal messengers arrived on June 17, 1238, one day before the loan’s due date. The Venetians, disappointed that the prized relic would not permanently reside in their city, honored the king’s payment with the condition that Louis allow the crown to travel to Venice for a period of veneration by the inhabitants of the republic. Louis agreed to the request, and, in 1239, the crown was transported across the sea to Venice, where it was received with much adulation.

That same year, the relic began the overland journey to France. Miraculous occurrences were reported during its journey to Louis’s kingdom, including weather phenomena wherein no rain fell when the relic was transported by day but torrential rains when it was safely inside at night. The king planned to accompany the crown into Paris (along with his mother, brothers, several bishops, barons and knights), meeting it ninety miles away at the town of Villeneuve-l’Archevêque.

From there, the king and his entourage began a penitential procession to Sens, which welcomed the relic with great fanfare. Clerics brought out the city’s collection of saint relics to welcome the crown amid the ringing of church bells and the sound of organs. The relic’s journey of continued via the Yonne River from Sens to Vincennes over several days. As they neared Paris, Louis and his brother Robert carried the crown of thorns into the city barefoot, each wearing a single tunic. Once inside the city, the king took the crown to Notre Dame Cathedral for a brief period before its arrival at the royal palace, where it was placed in the Chapel of St. Nicholas.

Recognizing that such a holy relic should not remain in a small palace chapel, King St. Louis IX ordered the construction of a special chapel on the Île de la Cité, near Notre Dame. The Gothic style chapel, known as Sainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel), containing fifteen exquisite stained glass windows that depict 1,113 scenes from the Bible, was consecrated on April 26, 1248.

The crown of thorns remained in Sainte-Chapelle for over 500 years until the French Revolution, which saw the crown removed to the National Library for several years until the archbishop of Paris received it back with the signing of the Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII. Subsequently, the crown was placed in Notre Dame. Encased in a jeweled rock crystal reliquary and containing only a circlet of rushes and no thorns, the relic was displayed on First Fridays of the month and Fridays during Lent, including Good Friday when the faithful were allowed to venerate it.

Although the fire destroyed the spire and wooden roof of the almost 900-year-old cathedral, a courageous priest, Fr. Jean-Marc Fournier,  rescued the crown, along with other holy relics and the Blessed Sacrament, from the blaze. Let us hope and pray that the renewed interest and knowledge of Notre Dame Cathedral and the crown of thorns caused by the great fire of 2019 might bring a resurgence of faith to France—the Eldest Daughter of the Church—and the whole world.

by Steve Weidenkkopf in catholic.com

Templar Interpretation Center opens in Portugal

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In the close vicinity of the Templar city of Tomar, Portugal, one of the most evocative Templar Castles in the world can be found: Almourol. Situated in a small island in the middle of the Tagus river, overseeing both margins and guarding secret Templar routes from all enemies, Almourol is the subject of legend.

In late 2018 the Municipality of Vila Nova da Barquinha opened right in the center of the village, the new Centro de Interpretação Templária (Templar Interpretation Center), a place where the Templar Order and its continuation in the Order of Christ (of Discoveries fame) is celebrated with dedicated exhibitions, conferences, a comprehensive library and multimedia displays available to the public to explore.

The Center had the major backing, apart from the Municipality and the Portuguese Army that currently has jurisdiction over the Almourol castle, of researcher, philosopher and historian Prof. Manuel J. Gandra, the most respected authority in Templar studies in Portugal – not only because of his strong academic background, but also because he has been the most prolific and consistent author on the theme in the last 25 years. The Center and Prof. Gandra’s work have been fully endorsed by the OSMTHU, that plans to promote a few cultural events in 2019 and 2020 and associate the Order to this beacon of Templar history that merits the attention and collaboration of the Templar world.

The Templar Globe is preparing an interview with Prof. Gandra about the TIC. Meanwhile, please take a look at a video about this remarkable place.

Order of Santiago: The Knights of Spain and Their ‘Holy War’

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The Order of Santiago is a Christian religious-military order of knights that was founded in Spain during the Middle Ages. Like the Templars and Hospitallers, the order was established to protect pilgrims and to fight against the Muslims. Instead of the Holy Land, however, the Order of Santiago carried out their duties in Spain. The order continues to exist today though as a civil association.

One of Four Spanish Military Orders

The Order of Santiago (known also as the Order of Saint James of the Sword) is one of the four Spanish military orders, the other three being the Orders of Calatrava, Alcántara, and Montesa. According to legend the order was founded by Ramiro I, the king of Asturias, during the 9 th century. The king had won a great victory over the Moors during the Battle of Clavijo in 844 AD. This battle had a great impact on Spain’s national identity. For instance, the triumph of the outnumbered Christians was attributed to the apparition of Saint James, thus contributing to his adoption as the patron saint of Spain. Additionally, the site of Santiago de Compostela developed into an important pilgrimage center and the pilgrims were protected by cavalry.

When Was the Order of Santiago Founded?

The Battle of Clavijo, however, is considered by historians to be fictional and therefore the Order of Santiago is very unlikely to have been founded during the 9 th century. Instead, it is generally accepted that the order was established around the middle of the 12 th century. The exact details surrounding the founding of the order, however, are obscure as there are two rival claimants for the honor.

According to one account, the order had been founded by Ferdinand II, the king of León, in 1171. While on his way back to León from Badajoz, the king took control of the city of Cáceres. It was there that he, the bishop of Salamanca, and 13 knights established the Order of the Fratres of Cáceres. In the same year, the order received its first rule from Cardinal Jacinto, the legate of Pope Alexander III in Spain. Pedro Fernández de Castro served as its first grandmaster. De Castro was a veteran warrior who had gone on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he encountered the Templars and was inspired to establish a similar order in his homeland.

Why Was the Order of Santiago Founded?

In 1173, the Almohads launched an attack on Cáceres to retake the city. Although the city was captured, the knights refused to surrender and continued to fight. After the battle, the knights were decapitated, and their heads displayed as trophies as a warning to the Christians. The remaining members of the order formed an alliance with the regular canons of Saint Augustine (as the knights themselves followed the Rule of Saint Augustine) and were now responsible for protecting the Sepulchre of Saint James at Santiago de Compostela and the pilgrims who journeyed there.

Who Was the Founder of the Order of Santiago?

In the meantime, the knights had lost their patron, as they had been expelled from Cáceres and were not on good terms with Ferdinand II. As a consequence, they began looking for a new patron and found one in Alfonso III, the king of Castille. In 1174 Alfonso III granted the knights the castle and village of Uclés (in Cuenca) which would serve as their new headquarters. Moreover, using his influence, Alfonso III had the pope, Alexander III, issue a bill recognizing the Order of Santiago as a religious order. Therefore, Alfonso III sometimes considered to be the founder of the order, as opposed to Ferdinand II.

The Growth of the Order of Santiago

The Order of Santiago grew rapidly and at its height had more possessions than the two older orders of Calatrava and Alcántara combined. An important turning point in the history of the order occurred in 1499. The Reconquista had been completed by then and Spain was unified under the rule of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. In order to strengthen their own position, the rulers obtained permission from the pope to assign to them the administration of the three major Spanish orders – Santiago, Calatrava, and Alcántara.

The Continuation of the Order of Santiago

The power of the Spanish military orders came to an end during the reign of the Holy Roman emperor Charles V (who ruled the Spanish Empire as Charles I) when the orders were incorporated into the Spanish Crown. Although the orders were united under one government, they still had the right to hold their possessions, titles, and functions separately. Additionally, a Council of Orders was formed to oversee the administration of the orders. Nevertheless, the orders retained their prestige and many figures involved in the conquest and governance of Spain’s possessions in the New World hailed from these orders.

As the Order of Santiago was part of the Spanish Crown it was suppressed in 1873 when Spain declared itself a republic for the first time. After the fall of this republic, the order was re-established though as a nobiliary institute. The order was once more suppressed following the proclamation of the second republic in 1931, which was followed by the Spanish Civil War and the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Democracy was restored in 1976 and with it the monarchy and the Order of Santiago. The order continues to exist till this day.

By Wu Mingren in ancient-origins.net

Abre al público el edificio islámico más completo de Toledo, el Museo Casa del Temple

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El próximo 30 de agosto abrirá al público el Museo Casa del Temple en Toledo, una nueva oferta turística que sumará riqueza patrimonial y que permitirá conocer un Bien de Interés Cultural considerado la casa islámica más completa que existe hoy en día en la ciudad.

Tal y como publica en su cuenta de Facebook el Museo Casa del Temple, el objetivo es convertir este espacio en un centro cultural, en sala de exposiciones, gastrobar y en lugar de eventos. Además, allí se expondrán un conjunto de piezas arqueológicas aparecidas en la casa, otras piezas de colecciones privadas, así como un 3D con el que entender la edificación en su origen.

La actividad expositiva comenzará con una muestra del artista chileno afincado en España Guillermo Muñoz Vera.

La Casa del Temple en Toledo data de los siglos XI-XII, perteneciendo a esta época la estructura general, típicamente andalusí, sustentada por las bóvedas del sótano y organizada en torno al patio. Diversas fuentes coinciden en señalar que el inmueble fue, en tiempos, propiedad de la Orden de los Templarios, a los que probablemente les donase el edificio Alfonso VIII para recabar su apoyo a las diversas campañas militares del monarca.

Enclavada en pleno Casco Histórico, justo al lado de San Miguel el Alto, sus alfarjes fueron restaurados en 2017 por el Consorcio de la ciudad, entrando a formar parte de las rutas del patrimonio desconocido.

Bien de Interés Cultural con la categoría de monumento desde 2002, el patio interior de la planta baja comunica con las cuatro crujías que definen el inmueble. Lo que vemos a nuestro alrededor son un arco de medio punto decorado con yeserías mudéjares y, ojo, el forjado del techo primitivo, que se supone que es anterior a 1109 y con canes labrados en el interior del patio. Y en uno de sus laterales conserva el alfarje con las tabicas originales. A cada lado de esta entrada, dos arcos de herradura apuntados y decorado con finas yeserías.

Ya en el sótano se encuentra un salón con un zócalo decorado con pinturas y que representan arcos entrecruzados, temas vegetales y una cenefa, todo supuestamente anterior a 1109. A lo que hay su añadir la planta primera y el ático.

in encastillalamancha.es

What exactly is the Holy Grail – and why has its meaning eluded us for centuries?

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Type “Holy Grail” into Google and … well, you probably don’t need me to finish that sentence. The sheer multiplicity of what any search engine throws up demonstrates that there is no clear consensus as to what the Grail is or was. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people out there claiming to know its history, true meaning and even where to find it.

Modern authors, perhaps most (in)famously Dan Brown, offer new interpretations and, even when these are clearly and explicitly rooted in little more than imaginative fiction, they get picked up and bandied about as if a new scientific and irrefutable truth has been discovered. The Grail, though, will perhaps always eschew definition. But why?

The first known mention of a Grail (“un graal”) is made in a narrative spun by a 12th century writer of French romance, Chrétien de Troyes, who might reasonably be referred to as the Dan Brown of his day – though some scholars would argue that the quality of Chrétien’s writing far exceeds anything Brown has so far produced.

Chrétien’s Grail is mystical indeed – it is a dish, big and wide enough to take a salmon, that seems capable to delivering food and sustenance. To obtain the Grail requires asking a particular question at the Grail Castle. Unfortunately, the exact question (“Whom does the Grail serve?”) is only revealed after the Grail quester, the hapless Perceval, has missed the opportunity to ask it. It seems he is not quite ready, not quite mature enough, for the Grail.

But if this dish is the “first” Grail, then why do we now have so many possible Grails? Indeed, it is, at turns, depicted as the chalice of the Last Supper or of the Crucifixion or both, or as a stone containing the elixir of life, or even as the bloodline of Christ. And this list is hardly exhaustive. The reason most likely has to do with the fact that Chrétien appears to have died before completing his story, leaving the crucial questions as to what the Grail is and means tantalisingly unanswered. And it did not take long for others to try to answer them for him.

Robert de Boron, a poet writing within 20 or so years of Chrétien (circa 1190-1200), seems to have been the first to have associated the Grail with the cup of the Last Supper. In Robert’s prehistory of the object, Joseph of Arimathea took the Grail to the Crucifixion and used it to catch Christ’s blood. In the years that followed (1200-1230), anonymous writers of prose romances fixated upon the Last Supper’s Holy Chalice and made the Grail the subject of a quest by various knights of King Arthur’s court. In Germany, by contrast, the knight and poet Wolfram von Eschenbach reimagined the Grail as “Lapsit exillis” – an item more commonly referred to these days as the “Philosopher’s Stone”.

None of these is anything like Chrétien’s Grail, of course, so we can fairly ask: did medieval audiences have any more of a clue about the nature of the Holy Grail than we do today?

Publishing the Grail

My recent book delves into the medieval publishing history of the French romances that contain references to the Grail legend, asking questions about the narratives’ compilation into manuscript books. Sometimes, a given text will be bound alongside other types of texts, some of which seemingly have nothing to do with the Grail whatsoever. So, what sorts of texts do we find accompanying Grail narratives in medieval books? Can this tell us anything about what medieval audiences knew or understood of the Grail?

The picture is varied, but a broad chronological trend is possible to spot. Some of the few earliest manuscript books we still have see Grail narratives compiled alone, but a pattern quickly appears for including them into collected volumes. In these cases, Grail narratives can be found alongside historical, religious or other narrative (or fictional) texts. A picture emerges, therefore, of a Grail just as lacking in clear definition as that of today.

Perhaps the Grail served as a useful tool that could be deployed in all manner of contexts to help communicate the required message, whatever that message may have been. We still see this today, of course, such as when we use the phrase “The Holy Grail of…” to describe the practically unobtainable, but highly desirable prize in just about any area you can think of. There is even a guitar effect-pedal named “holy grail”.

Once the prose romances of the 13th century started to appear, though, the Grail took on a proper life of its own. Like a modern soap opera, these romances comprised vast reams of narrative threads, riddled with independent episodes and inconsistencies. They occupied entire books, often enormous and lavishly illustrated, and today these offer evidence that literature about the Grail evaded straightforward understanding and needed to be set apart – physically and figuratively. In other words, Grail literature had a distinctive quality – it was, as we might call it today, a genre in its own right.

In the absence of clear definition, it is human nature to impose meaning. This is what happens with the Grail today and, according to the evidence of medieval book compilation, it is almost certainly what happened in the Middle Ages, too. Just as modern guitarists use their “holy grail” to experiment with all kinds of sounds, so medieval writers and publishers of romance used the Grail as an adaptable and creative instrument for conveying a particular message to their audience, the nature of which could be very different from one book to the next.

Whether the audience always understood that message, of course, is another matter entirely.

in theconversation.com by Leah Tether