The Last Supper (c.1515-20) by Attributed to Giampietrino and Giovanni Antonio BoltraffioRoyal Academy of Arts
What is the Holy Grail?
The Holy Grail is thought to be the cup from which Jesus Christ drank at the Last Supper. In the bible it was also used by Joseph of Arimathea to collect Jesus's blood at his crucifixion. From ancient legends to movie classics, the Holy Grail has fascinated and intrigued for centuries but how much do we really know about this mysterious vessel? Does it really exist and where could it be?
Chalice (1222) by Brother BertinusThe Metropolitan Museum of Art
Has it ever been found?
The search for the vessel was one of the principal aims of the knights of King Arthur, as some believed it to have been brought to Britain by Joseph of Arimathea himself. The Grail was believed to have magic properties, although this idea was likely based on vessels from Celtic mythology that supposedly could satisfy the needs and wishes of anyone who drank from them.
Piety: The Knights of the Round Table about to Depart in Quest of the Holy Grail (1849) by William DyceNational Galleries Scotland: National
When did the legend of the Grail begin?
The Holy Grail first appears in Chrétien de Troyes's Old French poem Perceval, le Conte del Graal, or the 'Story of the Grail', from around 1180. Over the next 50 years a number of other literary works featured the Grail as a principal objective. This culminated in a cycle of five prose stories telling the history of the Grail from the crucifixion to the death of Arthur, published in France and translated into other languages.
The Blood of the Redeemer (about 1465) by Giovanni BelliniThe National Gallery, London
Was the Grail popular in the 20th century?
With the coming of the cinematic age, interest in the Grail was again renewed. Movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Da Vinci Code have further extended the Grail mythology and brought its mystery to new generations. Monty Python and the Holy Grail even poked some lighthearted fun at Grail mythology, and spawned a hit stage musical.
Lit Lege King ArthurLIFE Photo Collection
Will the Holy Grail ever be found?
Several locations around the world claim to already possess the original Grail. Historians Margarita Torres and José Miguel Ortega del Rio claim the Holy Grail resides inside the Basilica of San Isidoro in the northern Spanish city of León. Others claim the Grail can be found in Valencia Cathedral. But with more than 200 claimants in Europe alone, and no proof to back up any of these, its final resting place looks likely to remain a mystery.
Saint Francis Collecting the Blood of Christ (1490 - 1500) by Carlo CrivelliMuseo Poldi Pezzoli
Whether the Holy Grail is a real relic of incredible religious significance or an exciting literary myth perpetuated over a thousand years may never be fully known. But the sheer promise of what it might be is enough to keep millions around the world fascinated and intrigued for another millennia, at least.
Want to know more?
We hoped you learned a little more about the Holy Grail and its enigmatic appeal. Discover more about King Arthur and his knights and their search for the Grail here.