Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail

Trista - December 9, 2018

The Holy Grail, a Christian artifact believed to have some mystical powers, has long been at the center of many stories. Cultural lore, particularly in Europe but also in the Americas and even Asia and Africa, is rife with stories about the object and stories of people who embarked on dangerous quests to find it. Perhaps the most recent of those quests was the one undertaken by the fictional characters Robert Langdon, Sophie Neveu, and Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code.

Each generation seems to bring a renewed fervor for the Holy Grail, as well as a new interpretation of what the grail is and the legends behind it. Consider Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a funny account of a grail search that preceded the more serious Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Plenty of other books, movies, and documentaries have garnered public attention as they have tried to bring to light some of the mysteries surrounding the Holy Grail.


Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
A scene from the movie Monty Python where King Arthur must find the grail. Mental Floss.

16. There’s More Than One Holy Grail

When people talk about the Holy Grail, they tend to believe that or at least speak as if, they are talking about one particular artifact. However, there are numerous ideas of what the Holy Grail even is. If you ask Dan Brown or fans of The Da Vinci Code, you will hear that the grail is not an object but the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ (a claim that has been widely debunked by scholars). Other pop culture references – notably Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as well as numerous other shows, movies, and novels- don’t second-guess the idea that the grail is a cup.

Even among those who believe that the Holy Grail is a cup, there are different ideas as to which cup exactly it is. Grail enthusiasts who want to begin their own “quests for the Holy Grail” must start their journeys by determining what exactly the grail that they are referring to even is. Only then can they begin their search by narrowing down the number of legends and learning which, if any, may have historical merit and therefore contain clues as to where the grail is if it exists at all.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
The Achievement of the Graal from the holy grail tapestries. Preraphaelitesisterhood.com.

15. There’s More Than One Holy Grail Legend

The one that most people are familiar with is undoubtedly that of King Arthur, the legendary British king who set out with his knights of the round table to fulfill a divine mission of finding the Holy Grail. Not only are there many legends about the grail, but within the Arthurian legends themselves, there are varying stories about the nature of the chalice and where it is. For people today, possibly the second-most popular grail legend is the one presented in the 1980s novel, Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which became the basis for Dan Brown’s blockbuster, The Da Vinci Code. These stories trace the grail legend back to Mary Magdalene, who was allegedly married to Jesus and gave birth to His child. She and her daughter fled to France, away from the eyes of the authorities, and the grail legends grew up around them.

These are all just legends. They may have some semblance of history, but there is little definitive proof to back any of them up. As such, there are many different ideas about where the grail might be. Some contend that it is somewhere in the British Islands – presumably in Roslin, Scotland or Glastonbury, England – based on legends surrounding the Knights Templar or Joseph of Arimathea. Others believe that it may be in the Americas and are willing to invest their own money in trying to dig it out of the Oak Island money pit.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Monty Python’s version of the holy grail. Medium.

14. Most People Believe It’s a Cup

Numerous theories persist as to what the grail really is. Maybe it is some kind of dish, possibly a bowl, that Jesus and the disciples would have used to drink wine together at the Last Supper. Perhaps it is a spice jar that was used to hold the spices that would be used to anoint Jesus’ body three days after the crucifixion. Dan Brown who penned The Da Vinci Code believes that it is not an object at all but a bloodline stemming from His alleged relationship with Mary Magdalene.

However, the consensus among historians, grail seekers, and lay grail enthusiasts is that it is not a bowl or a bloodline, but a cup. This cup was used as a vessel to transport something sacred and relevant to the life of Jesus. Many claim that as a result, today it has mystical powers that can heal anyone who drinks from it. In Indiana Jones, Indiana was able to fill the grail with water and then treat his father, who had been shot. Some legends attest that it can grant eternal youth to whoever drinks from it. However, these mysterious powers that it allegedly holds are as yet unknown because alas, the grail is missing. We don’t even know what cup is actually referred to by the term “holy grail.”

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper. historycooperative.org.

13. Exactly Which Cup It Is Remains a Point of Debate

Among those who believe that the holy grail is a cup, the most famous legend says that it is the cup that Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper, the night before He was crucified. The Last Supper was an observance of the Jewish holy day known as Passover. As the senior figure at the table, Jesus carried out much of the ritual before passing the cup around to His disciples, whom each drank from it. The wine inside symbolized the blood that would be spilled the next day when He would be crucified.

Some, however, believe that while the holy grail is a cup, it is not the cup from the Last Supper. There are grail enthusiasts who say that the holy grail was used to catch Jesus’ blood that fell as He was dying. Others believe that after His burial, the chalice was the cup that was used to carry the spices that would be used to anoint His body, according to the traditions of the day. Numerous legends are surrounding these particular cups, though they haven’t garnered the same attention and publicity as the one that says it is the cup from the Last Supper.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Artist rendition of the Holy Grail. Ribbon Farm.

12. Grail Stories Did Not Surface Until Well Into the Middle Ages

Medieval Roman Catholicism, particularly during the Dark Ages (the first few hundred years of the Middle Ages, from approximately the collapse of Rome until the beginning of the Crusades), placed a high value on relics that were connected to an aspect of biblical history. For example, a swindler might travel from village to village with a few splinters of wood, claiming that they were from the cross upon which Jesus died, and earn money showing them to people. Undoubtedly, some people peddled what they claimed to be the cup that is now referred to as the Holy Grail. However, no large-scale legends were surrounding it, at least none of which modern scholars are aware.

During the Crusades, European Christians traveled en masse to Jerusalem for the first time in history, where they walked in the exact places where Jesus walked. The crusading fervor, coupled with the reality of being in the Holy Land, created an atmosphere in which finding the relics from the life of Jesus took on an unprecedented importance. They believed that touching with their own hands the items that had been used by Jesus would impart to them grace. Of particular interest was the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, which they believed possessed a mystical, healing property.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Depiction of King Arthur’s knights seeing a vision of the Holy Grail gathered at the Round Table. Evrard d’Espinques/Public Domain.

11. Telling Stories About the Grail Led to the Development of Medieval Literature

Stories of the Holy Grail, the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper that came to be associated with mystical, healing powers, have a precedent that predates Christianity: Celtic lore in the British Isles. Celtic beliefs mostly revolved around the things that give life, namely, the seasons, agriculture, plants and animals, and the family hearth. Of particular importance were cauldrons, which were used to prepare food, and dishes in which food was served. These cauldrons and platters became associated with communal rituals that celebrated life and fertility (which is why they became associated with witchcraft and devil worship).

Europe’s pre-Christian lore was suppressed mainly and censored by the Catholic Church. However, these pagan stories never entirely went away, and they often reappeared in different forms, containing Christian elements. One example is the Holy Grail legends, which may actually be retellings of Celtic myths in which things like cauldrons have mystical powers. This use of the Holy Grail brought about the beginnings of what we would call Medieval literature. It began to appear in the 12th century, during the time of the Crusades and developed into things like the Arthurian legends. Whereas writing about pagan cauldrons would not have been permitted by the church, retelling them by using the grail was acceptable because the grail was a sacred relic from the life of Jesus.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
14th-century painting of Joseph of Arimathea and Jesus on the cross, which accompanies the Grail story ‘L’Estoire du Graal’ from the early 14th century. bbc.co.uk.

10. One Legend Says Joseph of Arimathea Held the Grail

According to the New Testament gospels, particularly Matthew chapter 27, Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy Jewish leader who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus. When Jesus died, Joseph offered his family’s tomb for the burial of the body. Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who had supervised the crucifixion, ordered the body be given to Joseph, who then had the body prepared for burial. According to the Jewish law and traditions, he laid the body inside his tomb and had the tomb sealed with a heavy stone.

One legend regarding the holy grail says that Joseph of Arimathea had in his possession the cup from the Last Supper, which he used to collect the blood of Jesus as He was dying. There are numerous paintings from the Middle Ages that depict this supposed scene, which is not recorded in the Bible or other literature from the time. For an unknown reason, he allegedly took the cup with him to land at the far reaches of the Roman Empire: the British Isles. This legend is pure speculation, as there are no references to it until hundreds of years after he lived. However, this legend helped to fan the “grail fervor” that gripped Medieval Europe, particularly the legends surrounding England’s “once and future king,” King Arthur.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
King Arthur faces the dreaded Black Knight in the Monty Python. independent.co.uk.

9. The Ultimate Quest of King Arthur Was to Find the Holy Grail

In the late 1100s, a French writer named Chrétien de Troyes penned what is possibly the first of the Arthurian legends concerning the Holy Grail. In his story, Perceval, one of the knights of the round table, is in the palace of the Fisher King, a figure who is surrounded by much mystery, mainly because de Troyes never finished the poem. In the castle, Perceval witnesses a mysterious procession in which a cup – the Holy Grail – is brought to the king. Also in the march is the Spear of Destiny, the spear used to pierce Jesus’ side. In the story, it bleeds perpetually from the tip.

Perceval’s experience led to the quest by King Arthur to find the Holy Grail, both out of religious duty and out of a desire to lay hold of its mystical, healing powers that the legend claims. The Arthurian legends tell of the king and his knights going on dangerous and noble exploits, slaying dragons and fighting monsters, including, of course, a man-eating bunny rabbit. Ultimately, all of these adventures are part of his ultimate quest of finding the Holy Grail. His stories about the grail are what has sparked so much attention by scholars and commoners regarding the mystical cup and the powers that some believe it to possess.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Spamalot inside the Holy Grail. Blogspot.

8. King Arthur Believed the Grail Was In England, Not the Holy Lands

One might at first expect that King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail might take place mainly in the Holy Lands, seeing as that was the place where Jesus Himself lived, died, was buried, and rose from the dead. However, in virtually all of the stories about Arthur, the knights of the round table, and the grail, he is searching for it in England. There is almost an unspoken precondition that the grail is hidden somewhere in England, not in the Holy Lands. There is, of course, the legend about Joseph of Arimathea bringing the grail to England, but that legend probably emerged after the grail quests became a part of the Arthurian legends.

What is surprising is that the Joseph of Arimathea legend says that he landed at Glastonbury, where he became a missionary and built the first Christian church in England. Arthurian legends maintain that King Arthur was buried at Avon, a site that was later identified as Glastonbury. One possible explanation is that the grail quests served as a means of legitimizing the divine kingship of Arthur, showing that his reign came from God. Another possible answer is that these legends drew heavily from Celtic stories that already existed in the area. There is no historical reason to believe that the grail may have arrived on the shores of England, at least not until later in the Middle Ages.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade revamped the stories of the Knights Templar and the grail. earnthis.net.

7. The Knights Templar May Have Searched for the Holy Grail

The Knights Templar were a Medieval military order that existed during the Crusades and for a while after the end of the Crusading period. They protected the Kingdom of Jerusalem and had as their headquarters the Temple of Solomon. Many believe that while they were at the temple, particularly in the first few years of their existence, they conducted archeological excavations looking for holy relics, including the grail. When they allegedly found it, they returned to Europe and became immensely wealthy and powerful. It became a part of their mysterious treasure, which was kept secret from even the church.

Some legends suggest that the Knights Templar may have brought the grail to the British Isles, if not to England then to Scotland, following the order’s extermination in 1307. There are several sites throughout the United Kingdom where people believe that the grail is hidden. The most popular of those sites is probably Rosslyn Chapel, a few miles south of Edinburgh, Scotland. Some think that descendants of the Knights Templar designed the chapel as a holding place for the Holy Grail, which is buried either under the Apprentice Pillar or in the crypt. Because the Knights Templar existed after the grail legends associated with King Arthur began, it is doubtful that the inspiration for the Arthurian legends came from the military order.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
A drawing of the holy grail. earlybritishkingdoms.com.

6. Some Believe Adolf Hitler was Obsessed with Finding the Holy Grail

Indiana Jones may have been onto something. If the creators missed much of the grail lore and Templar legends from the Middle Ages, one thing they did pick up on was the fact that Adolf Hitler, the leader of Germany during World War II, was intent on finding the Holy Grail. Nazism was officially nonreligious, but its leaders were preoccupied with the occult, particularly with rituals and objects that were believed to have mystical powers that they could use on their quest for world domination. The Holy Grail was one of those objects.

In fact, some claim that both Hitler and his right-hand man, Himmler, believed that Jesus Christ was an Aryan, of the same pedigree from which they thought (falsely) that the German peoples were descended. Their archeological programs included searches for holy relics; as evidence, some look to the increased number of archeological professorships in Germany that occurred under Hitler, as well as the virtually limitless budget supplied to the effort. After all, if you believe that the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper will help you achieve world domination, you might as well pour all of your resources into finding it. Despite its best efforts, the Nazi regime never claimed to have seen it.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Some believe that the grail is at Fort Knox. fortwiki.com.

5. Others Think the Holy Grail is in the United States

In Accokeek, a small town in Maryland, there is a local story that a priest of the Jesuit order smuggled himself onto the ship captained by John Smith in the early seventeenth century. He had descended from the Knights Templar and had in his possession the Holy Grail. He believed that it was his mission to take the grail away from power-seekers in Europe, to a land where it would be safe. That land is now Accokeek, Maryland. Few aside from Accokeek are familiar with this legend, and the fact that the name of the priest is not even known makes the story dubious. Nobody knows where in Accokeek the grail is supposed to be.

Another story assumes the chalice is contained within the most secure facility in the world: Fort Knox. The legend has at least part of its basis in the fact that the degree of security implemented at Fort Knox is quite extensive for a few billion dollars worth of gold. Theorists contend that there is something much more valuable being held there, and that thing of value may very well be the Holy Grail. Along with the grail is the Ark of the Covenant and some of the wood from the cross of Jesus, whose DNA has been analyzed as having a triple helix rather than a double helix. Little is told of how the grail may have gotten to Fort Knox.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Aerial view of the Oak Island money pit. mysticablog.

4. A Group of People Think the Holy Grail Is In Canada

There is another legend that suggests that the Holy Grail is in Canada, and for this legend, there may actually be some historical evidence. The idea is that when the order was given for the Knights Templar to be rounded up, tortured, and executed on Friday the thirteenth in 1307, some of them escaped by boat and carried their secret treasure with them. As descendants of the Vikings, they were able to navigate the waters to Iceland, which was settled by Vikings, on to Greenland, and finally to Nova Scotia. Some believe that it was buried at a place called Oak Island.

Oak Island contains some symbols that seem to bear a connection to the Knights Templar. In 1795, some teenagers who were playing discovered a shaft that led to a platform of wooden logs. Every 10 feet down was another platform of wooden logs, indicating to would-be treasure hunters that the pole had been meticulously engineered with the intention of hiding something. Booby traps were also placed at different points of the shaft. So many excavations have been performed, and so much money has been poured into trying to uncover the treasure that must lay within that the place has been nicknamed “the money pit.” Many believe that it was in this very pit that the Knights Templar buried the Holy Grail.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
Glastonbury Mound. Wikimedia Commons.

3. Many Grail Hunters Think the Chalice is in Glastonbury

Glastonbury, now widely believed to be the legendary site of Avon where King Arthur was buried, was also where the Joseph of Arimathea legend says that the pre-eminent Jew arrived in England. One long-held belief is that when Joseph came there, he set his staff on the ground. It immediately budded into the tree that is now known as the Glastonbury Thorn; the descendants of this original tree bloom every year at Christmas, and a bough from the tree is given to the queen as part of the Christmas celebration. One favorite Medieval story suggested that Joseph had been buried there, as well.

As such, many grail enthusiasts believe that it the grail buried somewhere in Glastonbury, possibly at the site of the church that Joseph of Arimathea allegedly built. Others think that it is somewhere else in the mound associated with Glastonbury – the Celtic Glastonbury Tor – where King Arthur and Lady Guinevere were believed to be buried (stories surfaced in the 12th century that their coffins had been found). Many feel that it was brought to Glastonbury by the Knights Templar, who hid their treasures (biblical relics) throughout the British Isles. It was only fitting that it should be protected at Glastonbury.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Wikimedia Commons.

2. Some Believe the Holy Grail Is Still In Jerusalem

Other people believe that the Holy Grail never left Jerusalem, the site of the Last Supper, as well as the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The Knights Templar never removed it, nor was it brought to England by Joseph of Arimathea. One version of the Jerusalem grail legend suggests that it is buried somewhere on the Temple Mount, probably under the Dome of the Rock. As a site sacred to both Christianity and Judaism, and considering its association with the death of Jesus, it is possibly one of the most likely places where it was buried. The Knights Templar did not discover it, or if they did, they did not remove it.

Another version of the Jerusalem grail legend holds that it was buried at the site of the cross. This legend suggests that the grail in question is the one that was used to catch the blood of Jesus. It is believed to have been laid between two rocks, one of which has eroded. Still another version suggests that it was covered at the tomb of Jesus. Several sites have been identified as the potential tomb where Jesus was buried, so if it were there, it probably would have been discovered by now. However, Jerusalem has many archeological secrets which it has yet to give up.

Legends Behind the Search for the Coveted Christian Grail
A scene from the Monty Python: the farting Frenchman probably does not have the grail. quoteslovepedia.com.

1. There Are as Many Holy Grail Legends as There Are Hunters

The exact number of grail legends is yet to be ascertained. Many who endeavor on their own grail quest come up with their version of not only what precisely the grail is – the cup from the Last Supper, another cup associated with the Passion, or something else entirely – but what the story is surrounding it. Some suggest a story that predates even Christianity, such as the connection between the Arthurian grail legends and Celtic stories about cooking utensils that were believed to have magical powers. Others are primarily concerned with what happened to the grail following the resurrection.

We may never truly know with any forensic degree of certainty where any of these relics are or how they got to their current location. The Oak Island money pit is yet to divulge any of its secrets, and if the grail is indeed being kept somewhere like Fort Knox, there is no reason to believe that that secret will be given up any time soon. What may be ultimately concluded is that they are nothing more than stories that sprang up in different cultures as a means of connecting a pre-Christian past with the people’s contemporary religious beliefs. Still, one has to wonder what Jesus’ disciples did with the cup that He drank from on His last night on earth.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“In Search of History: The Holy Grail.” Documentary by The History Channel.

“The Legend of the Holy Grail Gallery,” by Richard Barber. BBC. February 17, 2011.

“King Arthur, Once and Future King,” by Michael Wood. BBC. February 17, 2011.

“The Secret History Of The Knights Templar”. The History Channel.

“The Real Da Vinci Code with Tony Robinson.” Documentary Video.

“The Real Last Crusade: Nazi search for the Holy Grail which inspired Indiana Jones,” by Allan Hall. Mail Online. March 25, 2013.

“10 Possible Resting Places of the Holy Grail,” by Listverse staff. Listverse. February 8, 2010.