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Mythology and Folklore

Holy Grail

sacred cup, opera Parsifal, Parzival, Joseph of Arimathea, Fisher King

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>  Percival and the Grail

Holy Grail, in medieval literature, the sacred cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. In Arthurian legend, the knights of King Arthur embark on a quest for the Grail.

According to tradition, Joseph of Arimathea kept the Grail after the Last Supper and collected Jesus’ blood in it when Jesus was crucified. After being conveyed to Britain, the vessel was passed down from generation to generation in Joseph's family. The Grail supposedly possessed many miraculous properties. It could furnish food for those without sin, and it could blind the impure of heart and strike mute the irreverent who came into its presence.

Other Stories of the Grail

In later legend, the Holy Grail becomes the object of a quest in which many of King Arthur’s knights take part. In this version of the story, the knight Galahad, who is entirely free of sin, ultimately finds the Grail and completes the quest. Percival and the knight Bors accompany Galahad but are excluded from the final holy vision that appears to Galahad as he approaches the Grail.

Writings in which the Grail plays a major role include Parzival (1210?) by German epic poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, Le morte d’Arthur (The Death of Arthur, 1469-1470) by English writer Sir Thomas Malory, and the series of poems Idylls of the King (1859-1885) by English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The opera Parsifal (1882) by German composer Richard Wagner was based on Wolfram’s treatment of the legend. In his epic poem The Wasteland (1922), English writer T. S. Eliot draws on the story of the Grail, but he is most interested in the Fisher King and his realm.

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