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What’s so holy about the Grail?

Who or what is the Holy Grail? How does it relate to Mary Magdalene, Galahad, the Merovingian Dynasty, and the Templar Knights?

These are some of the questions retired Massey University Religious Studies lecturer Brian Colless addressed at a series of lectures at Wesley Broadway’s Arts & Theology Centre in Palmerston North.

There has been a resurgence of interest in the Holy Grail due to Dan Brown’s best-selling novel, the Da Vinci Code. It publicises an alleged secret about Jesus Christ – that he established a bloodline through his marriage to Mary Magdalene.

Brian says Dan Brown derived his material from a 1982 book by Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln, entitled ‘The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail’, so much so that there is talk of a plagiarism lawsuit.

The lectures Brian gave focused on the Medieval romances about the Grail and the knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. He sought to answer some of the intriguing questions the subject raises:

  • What is the Grail – a cup, dish, platter, an abstract symbol?
  • Where is the Grail – in Britain, Brittany, Southern France, Spain?
  • Whence is the Grail – its origins in Celtic lore, Christian legend?
  • Whose is the Grail – Perceval’s or Galahad’s?
  • Who is the Grail – a person or persons in Christian history?

Brian interprets the search for the Holy Grail as a search for God and the sacred. The Medieval stories of the quest resemble ancient epic quests such as that of the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh and the Egyptian Sinuhe.

“Stories of the Grail (a cup or dish from the table of the Last Supper) ultimately represent a search for the grace of God imparted through Jesus Christ as saviour and through the Holy Spirit.”

“Books such as Brown’s suggest the Church has suppressed knowledge about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Whatever the truth may be, I think we should consider the possibility that Jesus was married. In his time one could not be a rabbi without being married. “Rabbis were called upon to adjudicate and it was held they couldn’t judge people unless they had the full human experience. That includes being woken up at 2 a.m. by a crying baby. If Mary of Magdala was not the wife of Jesus, she was certainly a close friend of his and a companion of his mother. They were both together at the cross and the tomb.”

In his lectures Brian also addressed some of the modern features of the Grail legend such as the Priory of Sion, described in The Da Vinci Code. These are the alleged guardians of the secret, led by famous people in history – Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, Claude Debussy, and others.

He refutes the existence of the Priory of Sion and cites the website The Da Vinci Code FAQ (found on www.cesnur.org) as one source of information about it. Brian says a key reference for those interested in these issues is the book The Holy Grail: The History of a Legend by Richard Barber (Penguin 2005).