Few objects have generated their own mythology and dimensions as colossal as the Holy Grail, the cup that Christ used at the Last Supper and in which Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood that flowed from his side. Think of Steven Spielberg’s ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ and you’ll find that, even today, More than 2,000 years later, it remains legendary and shrouded in mystery.
The cup, according to Christian tradition, was preserved by the Virgin Mary, as were the Holy Shroud, the crown of thorns, the nails of the crucifixion or the spear of Longinus. These primitive relics were distributed among the apostles and the chalice belonged to Saint Peter, who took it to Antioch and then to Rome, where it was used by the first Popes in their ceremonies. At one point he lost track, and from then on…
All. The legend of the Holy Grail was woven thanks to the works and stories of authors such as Chrétien de Troyes, Robert de Boron or Wolfram von Eschenbach, who developed a double plot line. On the one hand, the legend of the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur, in search of the holy cup; on the other, the tracking or the hypotheses about the movements that he made from José de Arimatea. For some the Grail is an object with healing properties; for others it can raise the dead and feed thousands of soldiers. There are those who believe that it is a cup and others who speak of a fountain.
And to all this we must also add a legend with great power of seduction, that the Grail was secretly guarded by the Templars and, when they disappeared, by the Cathars. And another theory, in which the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon appear, according to which the Grail would not be a cup, but the Ark of the Covenant, where the tables of the law were kept.
So when the 20th century arrived, cups or objects that were candidates to be the Holy Grail were kept in many churches around the world.
For example, the Hawkstone Park Cup, owned by Victoria Palmer, which is said to have been brought to the UK after the Visigoths sacked Rome. Or the Achatschale, the Agate Bowl that is among the most outstanding pieces of the Habsburg treasure in Vienna.
The Metropolitan Museum of New York preserves among its funds the so-called Chalice of Antioch, found at the beginning of the 20th century in Syria and that has also been identified with the Holy Cup, although some authors are clear that it is a forgery. In Wales, and apparently from the old Glastonbury Abbey, there is a bowl that has the peculiarity of being made of wood. It was once considered the Grail, although some authors have dated it to the 14th or 15th centuries. Weaker candidates, hardly ever thought of, are the Sacro Catino from Genoa or the Ardagh Chalice, held in the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.
And, already in Spanish territory, there are several ‘grails’ or aspiring to be. Like the Holy Grail of the monastery of Santa María de O’Cebreiro, in Lugo, in the middle of the Camino de Santiago route. Or the Chalice of Doña Urraca, in León. Or the ‘Aragonese’, which is preserved in the cathedral of Valencia.
It is not surprising, then, that Heinrich Himmler, number three of the Nazi regime, founder of the feared SS and an occult society, also sought the Grail in his day and ended up traveling in 1940 to the Montserrat monastery to see if it was there.
San Lorenzo brought it to Aragon
He did not find it. Perhaps because the piece that seems to attract the most support from specialists is that of the Valencia Cathedral. It is a cup carved from a chalcedony stone, only seven centimeters high and 9.5 in diameter.
The historian Antonio Beltrán studied it in 1960 and dated it to the first century of our era. Centuries ago, a foot with snake-shaped handles was added to give it greater poise.
The chalice arrived in the province of Huesca around the year 258 because Pope Sixtus II entrusted it to his deacon, Saint Lawrence, to protect it. Apparently, he was first in a cave near Yebra; from there it went to the monastery of San Pedro de Siresa and then to that of Santa María de Sasabe, to later arrive at the cathedral of Jaca, whose majesty has been seen as confirmation that the piece was the Holy Grail and a temple according to its importance to preserve it.
Martín I el Humano had it transferred to the Aljafería de Zaragoza in 1399. And in the Aragonese capital it would have remained until today if it were not for in 1437 Alfonso V had it taken to Valencia.
The Aragonese Holy Grail is a case of emigrated heritage… by royal mandate.