The Holy Grail: Behind the Most Famous King Arthur Quest

August 24, 2019

The Holy Grail. What is it? Today, you can call something the Holy Grail of fill-in-the-blank. You can fill in any field here, and the Holy Grail of it means something that is very hard to find but is highly valuable in that field. Red diamonds are the rarest and may be called the Holy Grail of jewels or diamonds. The “Carolina Reaper” is now considered the hottest pepper in the world. It is relatively difficult to grow and hard to find, so we might call it the Holy Grail of peppers.

But what is the Holy Grail itself? Based on legend, it is the cup that Jesus Christ drank from during the famous Last Supper, the night before the day he was arrested and killed. It is the same Last Supper that was made into a painting by Leonardo da Vinci and has become one of the most cherished paintings in the world.

According to the legend, this same cup was used to catch the blood of Jesus while he was hanging on the cross the next day. After Jesus’s death, one of his twelve disciples, named Joseph of Arimathea, brought the Holy Grail to England, where it was lost.

Not counting recent Holy Grail-related books and movies, such as those featuring Indiana Jones or the writings of Dan Brown, the Holy Grail really gained its place in the popular imagination through the half-mythical King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, who are believed to have lived about 1,500 years ago. They were renowned for their bravery, their chivalry, and their many great adventures.

The quest for the Holy Grail has become their greatest and most well-known quest. But why?

The Legend

The legend begins with King Arthur and his knights sitting together at the Round Table in Camelot when they suddenly hear a crash of thunder, according to Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur.”

Then they see an incredibly bright light that leaves everyone speechless, for it is so bright that they can see each other as they have never seen each other before. A wonderful fragrance also fills the hall, and an image of the Grail appears as if covered in a silky, white cloth, which they can’t touch.

After it disappears, Sir Gawain initiates the quest to obtain the Holy Grail. King Arthur opposes the quest, knowing it will bring much suffering to his knights. He says to Gawain, “For when they depart from here I am sure they all shall never meet again in this world, for many shall die in the quest.”

However, perilous quests are what knights undertake by their nature, so King Arthur is helpless in stopping them from going.

Before the knights leave, a mysterious old knight clothed like a monk shows up and says, “I warn you plainly, he that is not clean of his sins shall not see the mysteries of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Here, it becomes clear that the quest for the Holy Grail is not an ordinary sort of quest to prove one’s fighting abilities or fight for the king’s honor. Rather, it is a spiritual quest meant for cultivating oneself.

The Knights of the Round Table go separate ways in search of the Grail. One of the first adventures that some of the knights have is to defeat seven evil knights who have a castle full of women whom they have captured and keep imprisoned. Sir Gawain says that these seven knights represent the “seven deadly sins,” which are, in the Christian tradition, anger, laziness, overeating, greed, lust, arrogance, and jealousy.

In searching for the Grail, the knights must resist such sins and look inside themselves for impurities. As often as they engage in fights, they pray to God, confess their sins, and promise to do better.

Knights Battle Within

On the quest, the knight known as the greatest warrior, Sir Lancelot, encounters the Holy Grail in a half-awake and half-dream state. He tries to lift it but cannot. His failure, he realizes, is because his heart is not pure. Afterward, Lancelot confesses to a hermit that he has had inappropriate thoughts about King Arthur’s queen, Guinevere.

He confesses, “All my great deeds in battle that I have done, I did for the most part for the queen’s sake, and for her sake would go into battle whether it was right or wrong, and never did I battle only for God’s sake.” He earnestly promises to mend his ways.

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