Graal vs. Grail The word “grail” comes from the Old French word graal, which itself comes from the Latin gradale, meaning “in stages”; this word was applied to dishes that were used to bring various courses of food to the table. The word, therefore, at its simplest, means an expensive “dish” or “plate” without any sacred overtones. It was a common word in Old French, always meaning a dish or serving vessel.
Chrétien de Troyes The word graal took on a sacred meaning in a romance story call “Perceval: The Grail Knight” by Chrétien de Troyes, who wrote in the 12th century. Early in Chretien’s story, the word is used as a common noun, but later the dish takes on sacred overtones when, about 3000 lines of poetry later, the Communion Wafer is the only food placed on the grail.
Chrétien de Troyes The ancient king who eats the Wafer is sustained over the years by it alone, partly because the grail itself is holy and partly because he is so spiritual. No one really knows how Chretien developed the idea he applied to graal, but he may have known about ancient myths of food-producing vessels known as “cauldrons of plenty”. However it was done, Chretien provided the foundation for the Legend of the Holy Grail.
Robert de Boron Some 10 to 15 years after Chretien, Robert de Boron, another French romance writer, wrote his own version of Perceval, The Story of the Holy Grail, which he never finished. Robert was more exact than Chretien in describing what the grail was all about.
Robert de Boron For Robert de Boron, the grail was: The vessel of the Last Supper that Joseph of Arimathea used to catch the blood of Christ It was later placed at the center of an altar- like structure where a kind of religious service was held It was transported to Britain by Joseph’s family to become The Holy Grail, a type of chalice and a symbol of Christ’s real presence.
Robert de Boron The transition, therefore, was from a costly serving platter to: The vessel of a Christian cult A chalice that produces nourishment for the soul This was an obvious change that fit in with the Christian symbolism of the period
Joseph of Arimathea In the Gospels, Joseph is a rich, prominent man who obtained the body of Christ after the Crucifixion and laid it in the tomb. According to the Arthurian Legends: Joseph acquired the Grail and hid it in his house. He was imprisoned for following Jesus. Christ appeared to him, gave him the Grail, and taught him its mysteries.
Joseph of Arimathea The Grail sustained him for more than forty years until he was released by the Emperor Vespasian. He set off with companions on adventures that brought him to Britain. Subsequent keepers of the Grail are descended from Joseph
Joseph of Arimathea In another version of the tale, Joseph arrived in SE England where he founded the Christian settlement of Glastonbury The two versions of Joseph’s adventures were combined by Alfred Lord Tennyson in the 19th century, though there are Medieval references to a Christian sect without Joseph’s name attached.
Other Medieval Romances There are many other works of poetry and prose from the Medieval period that build on the creation of Chretien de Troyes and Robert de Boron’s grail in a variety of ways. One important Medieval tradition is that the Grail possesses healing powers. This tradition is used in two contemporary Grail films: Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King (1998).
Galahad vs. Perceval As you have seen, Chretien de Troyes created the character of Perceval, the Grail Knight, and Robert de Boron built on the creation. There was another, English version of the Grail Knight, who appears in Medieval Arthurian romances. In the 14th century, Sir Thomas Malory, collected many of the Arthurian stories into his book, which has come to be called Le Morte d’Arthur, The Death of Arthur.
Galahad vs. Perceval Malory drew on the French story The Quest for the Holy Grail. In this version: Sir Galahad is the son of Sir Lancelot Galahad is the preordained hero of the Quest because his is pure (virgin, a term applied to both men and women during this period) He is physically beautiful and has great prowess as a knight, which are indications of his moral purity.
Galahad vs. Perceval The details of the story vary depending on the author, but Malory’s version retains the French details intact. In a notable German Medieval version, Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, Perceval is the Grail knight, who at first knows nothing about who he really is and must travel through countless adventures to learn the truth about himself.