The Holy Grail is a dish, plate, stone, or cup that is part of an important theme of Arthurian literature. A grail, wondrous but not explicitly "holy," first appears in Perceval le Gallois, an unfinished romance by Chrétien de Troyes: it is a processional salver used to serve at a feast. Chrétien's story attracted many continuators, translators and interpreters in the later 12th and early 13th centuries, including Wolfram von Eschenbach, who makes the grail a great precious stone that fell from the sky. The Grail legend became interwoven with legends of the Holy Chalice. The connection with Joseph of Arimathea and with vessels associated with the Last Supper and crucifixion of Jesus, dates from Robert de Boron's Joseph d'Arimathie (late 12th century) in which Joseph receives the Grail from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Great Britain. Building upon this theme, later writers recounted how Joseph used the Grail to catch Christ's blood while interring him and how he founded a line of guardians to keep it safe in Britain. The legend may combine Christian lore with a Celtic myth of a cauldron endowed with special powers.
Chrétien de TroyesEdit
The Grail is first featured in Perceval, le Conte du Graal by Chrétien de Troyes. In this incomplete poem, dated sometime between 1180 and 1191, the object has not yet acquired the implications of holiness it would have in later works. While dining in the magical abode of the Fisher King, Perceval witnesses a wondrous procession in which youths carry magnificent objects from one chamber to another, passing before him at each course of the meal. First comes a young man carrying a bleeding lance, then two boys carrying candelabras. Finally, a beautiful young girl emerges bearing an elaborately decorated graal, or "grail." Chrétien refers to his object not as "The Grail" but as "a grail" (un graal), showing the word was used, in its earliest literary context, as a common noun. For Chrétien a grail was a wide, somewhat deep dish or bowl, interesting because it contained not a pike, salmon or lamprey, as the audience may have expected for such a container, but a single Mass wafer which provided sustenance for the Fisher King’s crippled father. Perceval later learns that if he had asked the appropriate questions about what he saw, he would have healed his maimed host, much to his honour. The story of the Wounded King's mystical fasting is not unique; several saints were said to have lived without food besides communion, for instance Saint Catherine of Genoa.
Robert de BoronEdit
Though Chrétien’s account is the earliest and most influential of all Grail texts, it was in the work of Robert de Boron that the Grail truly became the "Holy Grail" and assumed the form most familiar to modern readers. In his verse romance Joseph d’Arimathie, composed between 1191 and 1202, Robert tells the story of Joseph of Arimathea acquiring the chalice of the Last Supper to collect Christ’s blood upon his removal from the cross. Joseph is thrown in prison, where Christ visits him and explains the mysteries of the blessed cup. Upon his release Joseph gathers his in-laws and other followers and travels to the west, and founds a dynasty of Grail keepers that eventually includes Perceval.