Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Finding the Holy Grail: Part Two, Where is the Holy Grail Now?

In my previous post, I described how evidence from the New Testament and other ancient sources allows us to conclude that the original grail was very probably a silver goblet, comparable in size to a Kiddush Cup. In this video, I will explore the evidence from ancient sources and the New Testament itself concerning what likely happened to the Grail and where it may be found today. 

Earliest References to the Grail 

The earliest witness to the veneration of an object that people believed was the original Grail comes to us from the travelogue of a man named Antoninus of Piacenza, describing Jerusalem in approximately AD 570. He writes about the Church at the site of Golgotha in this way: 

Also there is that reed and sponge concerning which it is read in the Gospel, with which sponge we drank water. And the onyx Chalice, which the Lord blessed in the dinner, and many other worthy things. 
[Etiam ibi est canna et spongia de quibus legitur in Evangelio,  cum qua Spongia aquam bibimus, et Calix onychinus quem benedixit Dominus in cena, et aliae multae virtutes.]
Antoninus of Piacenza, Itinera Hierosolymitana 20.

The problem with the testimony of Antoninus is that, by his own admission, his memory of the things he saw and experienced is hazy. And some of what he describes elsewhere is simply incorrect. 

For example, a bit later in his account he writes that at another church he saw: 

The Chalice of the Apostles (calix apostolorum), with which, after the resurrection of the Lord, they were doing masses. and I saw many other wondrous things, which I do not remember (quae non recolo).
Antoninus of Piacenza, Itinera Hierosolymitana 22.

The fact that he admits he saw things he has forgotten implies that some years have passed since his visit and the time when he was writing these things down. 

Antoninus further reports that at the Dead Sea: 

Neither sticks nor straw can float there. Nor can a human swim there (neque homo ibi natare potest). But whatever is thrown in there, sinks to the bottom.
Antoninus of Piacenza, Itinera Hierosolymitana 10.

It is common knowledge that the exact opposite of what Antoninus reports regarding the Dead Sea is true. I personally have swum there, in fact floating on my back with my arms and legs out of the water, held afloat by the extreme buoyancy produced by the high salinity of that water. What Antoninus relates here casts serious doubt on his value as a witness to anything he describes during this trip to the Holy Land. 

About a hundred years after Antoninus, around the year AD 680, a Frankish bishop named Arculf visited the Holy Land. He also described having venerated the Chalice of the Lord as follows: 

Also between that basilica of Golgotha and the Martyrium, there is a certain hall, in which is the chalice of the Lord (calix Domini)...The chalice is silver (argenteus calix).
Reported in Adamnanus, De Locis Sanctis 8

The problem with believing either of these accounts is that they are both at least 500 years after the resurrection of Jesus. And these two accounts are clearly not describing the same object at all. 

There was a nun named Egeria who wrote a detailed account of the Holy Land, describing what she saw while living there for three years around the year AD 380. She describes the Church built on the location of the crucifixion and tomb of Jesus. But she makes no mention of the Holy Grail in her account. I believe the reason she does not describe venerating the Holy Grail is that there was no Holy Grail being venerated there while she was visiting. So let’s jump back to the arrest of Jesus and examine what very likely happened to that object. 

The Grail after the Arrest of Jesus 

After the Passover meal, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. And there, Jesus was arrested. And the following day, he was crucified and died. There is no New Testament evidence that the disciples, who were now in fear for their lives, went back to that same Upper Room where they had been the previous night. In Acts 1:13 we read, in English bibles, that the Apostles were later staying in an upper room, but the word for upper room there is different from the one describing where they were on the night in which Jesus was betrayed.. 

After Jesus and the disciples left that room to go to the garden of Gethsemane, it is very likely that the table was cleared and the implements washed and put away by the people who had furnished and prepared it before they celebrated the Passover supper. 

So what became of that original chalice? It was probably a silver cup in the private collection of a man asked to prepare a Passover meal for Jesus. Even if that man himself became a Christian later, and learned that the Eucharist had been instituted at the meal he prepared that night, he did not put any thought into which of the cups in his cupboard was “the Grail.” 

Because that specific object was never believed by the early Church to hold any particular power. Rather, from the first moment the Apostles were fulfilling the charge to “Do this in memory of me,” they understood that what within their communion vessels held immeasurable value and power, not the vessels themselves. 

In fact, the evidence of the New Testament and other ancient sources teaches us that, from the very beginning, the early Church believed something even more wonderful than an original Holy Grail invested with mystical and miraculous powers. 

St. Paul tells the Corinthians that Jesus had said, “This cup, in Greek, touto to poterion, is the new covenant in my blood.” (1 Cor 11:25). Then he tells them that “for as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, to poterion touto, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:26) 

This cup! With those words, he is telling them that the cup they use to celebrate the Eucharist in Corinth, is no less important a cup than the one that Jesus held at that first Eucharist. 

He also told them, the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). The blood of Christ is of infinitely greater value than silver cups. 

The Latin Eucharist prayers of the ancient Roman Church even go so far as to say that every chalice is somehow mystically that original poterion of Jesus. As the priest lifts the chalice for the consecration of the wine he prays: 

Taking also this precious chalice (hunc praeclarum calicem) in his holy and venerable hands, again giving thanks to you, he blessed it and gave it to his disciples. 

Tridentine Mass

This cup. This chalice. It is as if Jesus, when he lifted that original poterion, was mystically lifting every chalice that would ever be used to celebrate a Eucharist in the future. 

A final word on the Holy Grail. The original cup was very probably recycled for its precious metal at some point. There’s a reason we don’t have a hundred thousand gold and silver goblets from the ancient world. Whether they knew its history or not, someone fell on hard times and sold that cup. That cup was melted down and turned into something else. But it doesn’t matter. 

Because the Holy Grail survives to this very day. In the video you can see  a picture of it. This is the cup of blessing that we bless at my little Russian Orthodox Church. This cup is the Holy Grail. And from the rising of the sun to its setting, this cup is on thousands of altars around the world.

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