The Re-Emergence of the Grail in the Industrial World
By Mary Jones
One of the most enduring elements of the Arthurian legend is that of the Holy Grail, that mysterious vessel found at the court of the Fisher King. Cup or cauldron, dish or stone, it plays a significant role in the Arthur of Romance, even before Chretien de Troyes composed Perceval, or, the Story of the Grail; prior to that, it was an important part of Celtic myth, with prototypes found in various Welsh and Irish texts, which likely indirectly influenced Chrètien’s writing. The influence of the Grail continued through the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach (which would later inspire Richard Wagner’s Parsifal), to Le Roman du Graal of Robert de Boron, and then to the Vulgate Cycle, which introduced us to Galahad. The Vulgate Cycle had an immense impact on Sir Thomas Malory’s 1475 opus Le Morte d’Arthur, wherein the quest signifies not the restoration of fertility, but the beginning of the end for Arthur’s kingdom. With this landmark work, the Grail myth was forever changed.
This pagan relic is constantly returning to Western consciousness in new forms, always reflecting the society which grapples with it. But why? What is it about this particular myth which seems to resonate with people? And more importantly, why did it suddenly become prominent in the nineteenth century, a prominence which lasts to this day, when we are still producing movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Fisher King, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? Why do people flock to books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, which argues that the Grail is really the bloodline of Christ?