Saturday, April 21, 2012

Holy Grail And The Dollar Sign

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me about the Holy Grail. I told him it is no more than a religious relic, a cup supposedly used by Jesus during the Last Supper. It does not have anything to do with the Christian's belief or tradition. It is just a legend circulated among the Christians.

Then he asked me to write about it in my blog.

Now, grail is simply Old French for a cup or bowl of earth, wood or metal. Sometimes it is called chalice. Since it is associated with Jesus Christ, either the one he used during the Last Supper, or the one used by one of his disciples, Joseph Arimathea, to scoop the blood from the body of Jesus during crucifixion, it is therefore considered sacred. Hence the name Holy Grail. If it is not associated with Jesus, then it is just a cup or utensil like the one you and I used to sip a coffee or tea .

The Grail legend is first featured about 800 years ago, in a poem by Chrétien de Troyes, telling a story about a certain young knight, whose name is Perceval, witnessing a wondrous procession in which youths carried magnificent objects from one chamber to another. First came a young man carrying a bleeding lance, then two boys carrying candelabras. Finally, a beautiful young girl emerged bearing an elaborately decorated graal, or "grail." In other word, an elaborated cup or chalice. At that time, this grail had yet to assume its sacred nature. So says Wikipedia.

From thereon, many more tales were told about the grail, and it became holier and holier.

Now, two things need to be understood here. One, by the thirteen century, the first time the Grail legend came into the picture, the crux of the Christian's faith, such as the godhood of Jesus Christ, had been settled. Two, the story was told in the form of legend, not religious tradition. For that reason, the Holy Grail does not constitute part of the Christian's faith.

That said, since the cup itself is associated with Jesus Christ, it is therefore considered as a religious relic. The existence of the cup itself, however, remain legendary. It has never been proven that such a cup does exist, and the Christian authority never make any absolute claim that they have it in their keeping, or in anyone's keeping for that matter.

Furthermore, in the popular folklore, as in the story by Chretien, the grail is depicted as a beautifully decorated object. This in itself suggests that the story is a mere legend, for Jesus was poor and would have used only common cup normally used by ordinary people.

In this regards, I would venture to say that the importance of the legend lies in the fact that such a cup does not exist in the first place. Hunting for the non-existence thing is always fascinating, unlike hunting for the real thing. When something does not exist, it captures people's mind, and they would search and hunt for it forever, as more and more stories about the Holy Grail suggest. As for the real thing, once found, its mystery is lost.

The Christian authority, on their part, do not consider this Holy Grail tale something bad. Any religious relic, a holy one to boot, after all, cannot be a bad thing. Therefore, they do not make an effort to ban such a legend, or to take actions against those perpetuating the tales.

Until quite recently, that is.

In 1982, a non-fiction bestseller was published with the title, The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. Based on this non-fiction bestseller, a fiction was written by Dan Brown under the title Da Vinci Code. The novel became a runaway success and was later turned into a movie.

The Church authority have problem with this version of the legend. This version is considered as the conspiracy theory, because the Holy Grail is no more depicted as a cup or bowl that Jesus had used during the Last Supper, or the one Joseph Arimathea used to scoop the blood of Jesus during crucifixion, but rather the "Holy Blood" that carried Jesus' offspring.

How does this conspiracy theory come into the picture?  Well, through clever wordplay if you care to know.

You see,  Holy Grail in English is sangréal in French. In Old French, san graal or san gréal means "Holy Grail" or "Holy Cup," since san means holy and graal means cup. With a clever twisting of word, it is written as sang réal means "royal blood", since sang means blood and réal means royal.

Building from there, the "royal blood" is no longer associated with the blood dripping from Jesus body when he was pierced with the spear by the Roman soldier, to check whether Jesus was really dead on the Cross. But rather the blood means the "offspring" or children, pretty much like your children are your flesh and blood.

This Royal Blood, or the "new" Holy Grail in this theory, is Mary Magdalena, purported to be the wife of Jesus Christ, through whom the descendants of Jesus Christ were perpetuated. In other word, this theory depicts Jesus Christ or Isa al Masih as simply human. Great though he was, he was therefore not God. As you can see, this can be very problematic to the Church authority, for Jesus had been declared as the Son of God in literal instead of metaphorical sense.

As the Son of God, the purpose of Jesus coming to this world is not to get married and have children. He comes to erase the Original Sin so that mankind can be redeemed. If he is merely human, then his purported death on the Cross would not be able to erase the Original Sin, because that Sin can only be redeemed by God sacrificing Himself, as we have briefly narrated in the Good Friday and the Need for Crucifixion.

By making Jesus as merely human who gets married and has children, therefore, the whole Christian's faith is put at risk. It is for this reason that the conspiracy theory version of the Holy Grail is so controversial. What more when these authors claim that the Church authority have been suppressing this information from the public for centuries.

Personally, I would say that Dan Brown has hit the "Holy Grail" big time with his creatively entertaining fiction. It seems that his novel has sold in excess of 84 million copies by 2009. He has become among the rich and famous with that fictional work. Other people have been hunting for the Holy Grail for centuries, but Dan Brown has found it, if you ask me.

As I said earlier, once found, the mystery of anything mysterious would be broken, for things are mysterious only because they are not known.  Once known, they become knowledge rather than mystery.  Likewise with the mystery of Holy Grail. 

Well, it turns out that the Holy Grail has a very big Dollar sign attached to it.


  1. An entertaining arcticle. I would like to point out though, that you have the meanings of "sang" and "real" backwards. "Sang" means blood as in "sanguine" and "real" means royal as in "Real Madrid" and "real estate".