"The Holy Grail is a symbol most sacred amongst the elements of European spirituality. This powerful image resonates vibrantly within the Western soul, with cultural roots dating back into obscured history. Through the years, vibrant debates have centered around the physical reality of the object. To literary scholars, the Grail is a pure symbol device with variants evidenced in several branches of legend and mythology. For traditional Christians, there are no doubts, the Grail is the 'Cup of Christ,' the selfsame receptacle of the Savior's blood which fell at his sacrifice upon the cross.
The earliest written account of the Grail (late twelfth century) is accepted as the French verse of Chrétien de Troyes, entitled 'Conte del Graal', translated literally as: 'The Story of the Grail'. Over the next several decades variations of the original tale appeared throughout the region. The most prominent of these is the German 'Parzifal' by Wolfram von Eschenbach, completed around 1220. More than two centuries later Sir Thomas Malory's 'Morte d'Arthur,' 'The Death of Arthur,' focused upon the deeds of the Arthurian knights. This vivid collection of tales would serve as the primary source of later nineteenth century writers. Original elements from Welsh and Irish lore blended with French and German motifs, while later Christian aspects transformed nearly all obvious pagan references.
Despite the naturally diverse interpretations of its aspect and nature, what remains constant is the power of renewal inherent within the Grail. In the early texts, the 'greal' (as a platter) is a provider of food and nourishment in appropriate need to each individual. To those who reside within its presence, the grail traditionally provides healing and sustenance. The constant allure is its promise of renewal, a transformative renewal, often perceived as a means of attaining immortality. Equally constant in the tales is the question of worthiness. Even the finest and most courageous of Arthur's knights proved unworthy and were denied communion. A valuable literary lesson for contemporary seekers."
This depiction of the Grail, as the cup Christ used during the Last Supper, is from a stained glass window (detail) at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Nutley, NJ. The pastor allowed me to take photographs of all 10 windows, and decided to use them on the church website. They were originally installed in July of 1950 at a cost of $4,300, a major expense for a small parish at the time.
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