The Holy Grail


A legendary sacred vessel, identified with the chalice of the Eucharist or the dish of the Paschal Lamb, and the theme of a medieval cycle of romance. These romances may be styled “Quest versions” when concerned with the quest of the Grail; and “Early History versions,” when tracing the history of the vessel, itself. To the first class belong: the poetic “Conte del Graal” of Chrestien de Troyes (1180-1240) in which the Grail (not explained) has no religious character and the hero is Percival; “Parzival” by Wolfram von Eschenbach (1205-1215), based on the work of the French Guiot (Kyot), which conceives of the Grail as guarded in a castle by a special order of knights, Templeisen, who are nourished by its miraculous food-giving power; the Welsh folk-tales or the “Mabinogion” (13th century); and the English poem “Sir Percyvelle” (15th century). To the Early History class belong: “Joseph d’Arimathie” and “Merlin” by Robert de Boron (1170); the “Grand Saint Graal” (13th century); and the French prose romance, “Queste del Saint Graal,” which was embodied in Malory’s “Morte d’Arthur.” In all of these the quest assumes a sacred character. The Grail is said to have been the dish used by Christ at the Paschal supper, to have been used by Joseph of Arimathea to gather the Precious Blood of Christ, and to have been brought to England. Galahad (in “Queste” and “Grand Saint Graal“) achieves the quest, in which the other knights of the Round Table participate. The origin of the legend is obscure; it may be traced to the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (popular in Britain in the 12th century); the Arthurian legend and the Percival story are probably of Celtic origin. Walter Map, who probably wrote a Grail-Launcelot cycle, perhaps got his information from the Abbey of Glastonbury, the center of many Arthurian legends. Robert de Boron, an English knight, used this work as a basis. The legend was connected later with that of Lohengrin, the swan knight, of Prester John, and also of Klinschor, the magician. The most famous modern versions are Tennyson’s “Holy Grail” in the “Idylls of the King” (1869), and Wagner’s “Parsifal” (1882). As the early legend claimed for the Church of Britain an origin as illustrious as that of Rome and independent of Rome, it was in the opinion of the Church calculated to encourage separatist tendencies in Britain, and therefore was ignored. Edwin Abbey has beautifully represented the “Quest of the Holy Grail” in 15 mural paintings in the Boston Public Library.

MLA Citation

  • “The Holy Grail”. New Catholic Dictionary. 25 April 2012. Web. 21 April 2014. <>