Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chrétien asked: Who is served by the grail? And someone followed: It was a chalice!

The last time I checked, the Western world couldn't agree on what the grail was, although 80 million people had at least contemplated the possibility that it had something to do with royal blood.

I'm making an assumption that Chrétien's grail—which was made of the purest gold, set with a manifold of gems, and such a holy thing—transformed through the years into the Holy Grail before its most recent appearance in The Da Vinci Code. As Dan Brown frequently reminded us, his book was a modern day imaginary tale, which permitted details to be presented in ways that weren't exactly in accordance with how we might expect to find them. And he spent a good portion of his novel pointing out that there was always another way to look upon words, symbols, and situations.

Consider for a moment that Robert Langdon claimed he gasped aloud when he first saw Disney's The Little Mermaid because of a portrait in Ariel's underwater home...and her flowing red hair was no coincidence. Eleanor of Aquitaine had red hair. The novel put forth a clue that the Holy Grail could be found 'neath the ancient Roslin which sent the symbologist and his accompanying cryptologist to Rosslyn Chapel and in the end lured Langdon out to the streets of Paris to follow the ARAGO markers. In reality, when considering England's royal family, the Plantagenet's are 'neath the Rose line, while ancestral history clearly identifies Eleanor of Aquitaine as part of the Merovingian bloodline.

In the opening scene of The Story of the Grail, Mother shares a little bit of the family heritage before sending her son off to become a knight:

I am descended from the best
knights of this land, and they attest
in the sea's isles, no line has shown
itself more noble than my own,
but now the best have been brought low.

When The Story of the Grail was introduced in the 12th century, the Prologue of the tale claimed it was a story that was being disseminated and initiated in such fertile soil, Chrétien could only profit for his toil. Before the Prologue was finished, a passage from the Bible had been misquoted even though it was prefaced with the comment "I've read the text in which Saint Paul has said...." As I mentioned in my previous blog, one layer of this tale captures the life and teachings of Peter Abelard. Abelard's troubles with the Church began in 1121 when he was forced to burn one of his books. In his defense, he told his persecutors that they should read the Bible for themselves, because portions were being misrepresented.

It seems that over the course of the last eight hundred years, The Story of the Grail has also been misrepresented. It never included a quest to find the grail. After Perceval became a knight, he moved from one scene to the next in hopes of finding his way back to Mother, at least until he came upon the wounded Fisher King. That evening, as the nobleman and the young knight waited for the start of dinner, a procession including a bleeding lance and a grail passed before them and entered a small room on the side. With every course of the meal, the grail passed by again.

Perceval's destiny required that he answer two questions:
  1. Why did the lance bleed?
  2. Who was served by the grail?
In his final appearance in the tale, Perceval is told by his hermit uncle that the Fisher King's father was served by the grail. Actually, the hermit provides a few additional clues when he states that nobody should consider the idea that the king took food like salmon, lamprey, or pike from the grail, because it contained a single mass wafer which sustained his life.

One way of looking at this is that the size of the fish denotes the shape and size of the grail. But from a slightly different vantage point, the clues shed light on the identity of the king. Every detail has a story behind it. Heloise was the abbess of the Paraclete and she would send questions that arose in the women's study of the Bible to Abelard to respond to. The ladies were curious about why only the beasts and the birds were described in Genesis 2:20, as being led to Adam to be named. Why not the reptiles of the land or the fish in the water? His response was that reptiles and fish are not able to raise themselves up, they are like reprobates. And for this reason, it isn't permitted to offer fish as a sacrifice to would never serve fish to God.

The mass wafer as unleavened bread is symbolic of a life free of sin and has a long history in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The description of the grail was borrowed from Ezekiel 28:13: You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. (New International Version.)

The Story of the Grail is the story of the spirit that contains a unified life free of sin. While it requires the participation of the individual, it represents the journey of a civilization. It's impossible, in reality, to find the grail and hold it in one's hands.

The key to understanding this story is that Perceval had been wandering for 5 years. In the year 1183 it would have been about 5,000 years since the story of Adam and Eve was first told. Gawain, who takes center stage in the last few scenes of the tale, is given 1 year to return with the bleeding lance in order to save his name and reputation. Then Perceval is written out of the story and Gawain is forbidden to leave the Wondrous Palace. It becomes the destiny of the audience to answer the remaining question about the bleeding lance and return to the story. When the elements of time are transposed into reality, the deadline was established for exactly 1,000 years in the future.

Picture of Eleanor of Aquitaine is from Queens of England, 1894
Source for questions between Heloise and Abelard:

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