Michael Hesemann, Historiker und Autor
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Michael Hesemann auf dem 1 Congreso Internacional del Santo Caliz an der UNIVERSIDAD CATOLICA DE VALENCIA im November 2008


By Michael Hesemann, CSC (Caballero del Santo Cáliz)
The most popular motive of mediaeval literature was the legendary “Quest for the Holy Grail”. It became a metaphor for men’s eternal quest for the divine, but also for the meaning of life and a mission worth to live and to die for. We find the story of the Holy Grail the first time in an Epic of the French troubadour Chretien de Troyes (ca. 1150-1190), “Perceval”. The romance, generally considered the most important work of its author, tells the story of a young man whose dream it was to become a knight. Eventually the young Perceval encountered real knights and managed to follow them to the court of the mythical king Arthur. To see if he is worthy to join the legendary Roundtable, the king sent him on several missions. One day, on one of his adventures, the young knight felt homesick. He just came through a remote forest to the bank of a river, when he saw a fisherman and greeted him. Immediately, the stranger invited him to his “house”. Following the invitation, Perceval rode up a gorge to the top of a hill and eventually found a mighty tower, a hall and a loggia. He entered and was welcomed by some servants, who brought him into the hall where he met an old king. When they talked, suddenly a door opened and a procession entered, carrying an impressive, shiny golden chalice, covered by precious stones, and a silver plate. Perceval wondered but was afraid to ask what all that meant. Next morning, he found himself alone; everyone else has already left the castle. He left too, still wondering about what he had seen that last evening. But only when he encountered a mourning maiden, he dared to speak about it. The young woman was obviously shocked when she heard the knight´s tale. The king, she told Perceval, was injured in a battle and became a helpless cripple. Only by asking “what the Grail” – the golden chalice – “served for”, the young knight would have healed the lame king and saved his kingdom.
Desperate Perceval went his way, tried to forget what happened in always new adventures, when, five years later, he returned to the remote forestland. He met a hermit, learned that it was Good Friday, went for confession. The hermit revealed him that he was the brother of the lame king who, he stated, is nurtured by the Blessed Sacrament alone, offered to him in the Grail.
Chretien de Troyes’s “Perceval” remained incomplete, and it took a German to tell the whole story. Wolfram von Eschenbachs’s (ca. 1160-1220) ”Parzival“ is, with 25.000 verses, three times as long as the Frenchman’s version, delivering a great wealth of additional information. The author got them, so he claimed, from Chretien’s original source, the work of an earlier troubadour, Guiot de Provins (ca. 1140-1210), whom he had probably met in 1184 at a festival held by Frederick I Barbarossa in Mainz/Germany. Guiot, Wolfram noted, had learned the story of the Holy Grail, originally written in Arabic, in Toledo, Spain.
This is very well possible, since Guiot was indeed in Spain for some time. In one of his few preserved works, the “Suite de la Bible”, he named all the emperors, kings and noblemen who hosted him, including Frederick I Barbarossa and Alfonso II of Aragon (1162-1196). Probably he was in Toledo in 1174, when Alfonso married Princess Sancha of Castile. Interestingly, Guiot also mentioned count Philipp of Flandres (1168-1191), in whose library, as he states, Chretien de Troyes found the source for his “Perceval” – probably the original text written by Guiot de Provins!  
Since Arabic was the “lingua franca” in Mozarabic Spain, we should not be surprised that Guiot named an Arabic text as his source. Also king Pedro I of Aragon (1094-1104) signed important documents in Arabic writing, and a cleric called Vincent translated a Codex of Canon Law into Arabic in 1049-50, because the priests of his dioceses knew this language better than Latin. Many Christian texts and inscriptions of the 11th and 12th century found on the Iberian Peninsula were written in Arabic or are bilingual.
In many details Wolfram in his “Parzival” delivered a vivid description of the life in Mozarabic Spain, of interreligious conflicts and friendships, of Arabic sciences and European mediaeval courtliness. This, indeed, is the most obvious difference between Chretien’s and Wolfram’s versions of the same story: When the Frenchman tried to press it completely into an Arthurian framework, ignoring all anachronisms (the high mediaeval knightly ideals were projected onto a Briton warlord of the 6th century, the historical “king” Arthur), Wolfram let it happen in South Western Europe of the 12th century. Perceval/Parzival himself was Welsh in Chretien’s work, but from Anjou/France in Wolfram’s. His father Gachmuret, the German added, had visited the middle East including Morocco, Persia, Syria, Arabia, Baghdad and the Moorish “Zazamanc”, probably Sevilla, which Wolfram probably mixed up with the already Christian Salamanca. In Toledo, at the court of king “Kaylet”, Gachmuret met, among others, “the proud king of Aragon” and a knight called “Cidegast”, probably nobody else but Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, the “Cid” from Castile (“Cid de Cast”). Wolframs Parzival did not even visit king Arthur’s Britain, but met the king at Nantes in France, which indeed at that time was, like Britain, under control of the Angevine king Henry II (1154-1189), who used the Arthurian myth to justify his own claims. Before Wolfram’s Parzival found the Grail castle, which is called “Munsalwäsche”, he had to pass a “high mountain range” (the Pyrenees) and the kingdom “Brobarz”, either Ribagorza or the Sobrarbe between Catalonia - which he names as the neighbouring county – and Aragon.
Actually Wolfram blamed Chretien for misrepresenting Guiot’s original story, when he wrote:
“Ob von Troys meister Cristjan
diesem maere hat unreht getan,
daz mac wol zürnen kyot
der uns diu rehten maere enbot..“
(”Because Master Chretien de Troyes did not report this story truthfully, Guiot got angry, so he told us the true story,”)
The reason for this misrepresentation is simple. As author, Chretien was specialized in tales about knights and to a great extent was responsible for the popularisation of an entire genre, the Arthurian romances. They are all based on a work of 12th century political propaganda, the “History of the kings of Britain” (Historia Regum Britanniae) by Geoffrey of Monmouth, who used the legends about the Briton 6th century warlord “king” Arthur to justify the Norman invasion of England; he just declared the Normans the legitimate heirs of the mythical king, their rule the restoration of a former golden age. While Mark, Erec, Ivain, Lancelot and other protagonists of Chretien’s romances can all be found in Geoffrey’s “History”, the Grail cannot. Only later, two decades after Chretrien wrote his “Parceval”, Robert de Boron composed his “Romance on the history of the Grail”, claiming that St. Joseph of Arimathea once brought the holy vessel to the “valley of Avaron”, that was later “identified” with Glastonbury in Somerset/England, where indeed relics of the saint were venerated. Maybe this obvious distraction, the transfer of the Grail tradition from its origin in Spain to England, was the reason for Guiot’s dissatisfaction with Chretien’s work. Therefore he told a German, who was not interested in Norman/Angevine political propaganda, the true story.
We can be quite certain that the story of the Holy Grail had a Spanish or Pyrenean origin for a simple reason: Only in the south of France and on the Iberian peninsula the word “Grail” made sense. We find it as “grail”, “gral” and “greal” even in kitchen inventories of the 13th and 14th century. In the Provence, it was written “grazal” or “grasal”, in ancient French “graal”, “greal” or “greel”, meaning a “dish” or “bowl”. In Portugese, the word is still used for “mortar”, in Galician for “chalice”. Probably its origin is the Greek “krater”. As the German expert for mediaeval languages, Konrad Burdach, stated: “The name graal is a Provenceal word. Only someone from the Provence could have used it to describe the chalice of the Last Supper”. Only north and south of the Pyrenees stood “grail” for a mortar shaped drinking vessel.
Even some of the mediaeval authors did not recognize this. Only Chretien speaks of “a grail” in the right sense of the word. Wolfram calls the Grail a “stein”, which can mean both, a stone or a stone vessel in mediaeval German. Only when he describes how on Good Friday a dove places a Host or Eucharistic wafer on it – that resembles the presentation of both forms of the Blessed Sacrament by a priest - can we be sure that he referred to a Mass chalice of stone. On the other hand, Robert de Boron and his followers invented an adventurous etymology, claiming an origin from “agree” (“comfortable”) or “agréer” (“pleasing”). At quite a late date, in the 15th century, “San Greal” was interpreted as “sang real”, “royal blood”, that eventually inspired the wild fantasies of charlatans like the British authors Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh who claim that the Grail was indeed the symbol of a secret bloodline, beginning with Jesus and St. Mary Magdalene. Unfortunately, due to Dan Brown’s international bestseller “The Da Vinci Code”, this completely baseless nonsense received international attention.
Therefore we have to conclude that Wolfram’s claim of a Spanish origin of the Grail saga has a high degree of probability. Even if the story of Parzival, the naive young knight on a quest for his destiny, has parallels in ancient Celtic fairy tales, this does not mean too much. When the Normans claimed to be the true heirs of the Celtic Britons and their “once and future king” Arthur, they also popularised the Celtic heritage and literature all over Europe. Therefore even Guiot himself, who was hosted by both king Henry II and Richard Coeur de Lion of England, might have used the “leitmotiv” of a Celtic myth as a perfect metaphor for any knight’s search, the Quest for the Holy Grail.
The question remains: is the Grail saga completely ficticious or is it indeed based on a historical reality in 12th century Spain? And if it is, what are the true elements of “Perceval” and ”Parzival”, the two most influential works of the European mediaeval literature, which inspired classical composers like Richard Wagner (“Parsifal”) as much as modern-day director and producer Steven Spielberg (“Indiana Jones”)? Is the Holy Grail for real? And if yes, where is it today?
As we have seen, Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach described the Grail as a sacred vessel, a chalice on which the Holy Communion was placed once a year on Good Friday by a dove and brought to be consumed by the lame king “Anfortas”, as Wolfram calls him. It does not seem to be an ordinary mass chalice, due to its mystical powers; Wolfram even calls it “the symbol of paradisiac perfection, beginning and end of all human aspirations. This vessel was called the Grail. It exceeds everything a man can desire on Earth.” It is of stone “of immaculate purity … once left on Earth by a group of angels”. It is called “Lapsit exillis”, a miraculous inscription appears on its surface. It is protected by a group of the most noble knights, called the “templeises” by the author. The obvious Eucharistic symbolism and the special status of this vessel explains why, from Robert de Boron on, it was described as the relic, the chalice, of the Last Supper of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Indeed, a stone chalice was venerated as the “Calix Domini Jesu Christi” during the 12th Century in northern Spain, in the Pyrenean Region, in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña. This is confirmed by a document, dated December 14, 1134, which probably got lost during a fire in the monastery, but was quoted by the Magistrate and Canon of the Cathedral of Zaragoza, Don Juan Agustin Carreras Ramirez y Orta, in his book “Flores Lauretanas del Pensil Oscense y Vida de San Laurencio Martir”, written in 1698, stating:
“En un arca de marfil está el Caliz en que Christo Nuestro Señor consagró su Sangre el qual embió San Lorenzo a su patria Huesca.”
“In an ivory chest is the Chalice in which Christ, Our Lord, consecrated His blood and which was sent by St. Lawrence to his home town Huesca.”
The Spanish National Archive in Madrid still preserves the original of another important document, dated November 11, 1135, stating that the Abbey of San Juan de la Peña entrusted to king Ramiro II “a precious stone chalice and a similarly precious stone bowl” (“per illo calice de lapide precioso et per uno urceo similiter de lapide precioso”) as well as “a gold-decorated silver plate”. Don Juan Briz Martinez, Abbot of San Juan de la Peña and author of the 860-pages “Historia de la Fundación, y Antigüedades de San Juan de la Peña” (1620) explained that the king indeed received the Holy Chalice, but “returned it later, moved by a divine inspiration”. It took until 1399 until another king, Martin “el Humano” of Aragon (1395-1410), requested the Holy Chalice from the monks of San Juan de la Peña and transferred it to his own private Chapel in the Aljafería Palace in Zaragoza. From there, it was brought first to the royal palace in Barcelona (in 1410) and eventually to Valencia (in 1416). In 1437 it was entrusted to the Canons of the Cathedral of Valencia, where it is venerated until this day as the “Santo Cáliz”.
On this Chalice the royal document of 1399 seems to quote the description of 1134 when it states that it was “the very stone chalice in which Our Lord Jesus Christ during his holy Last Supper consecrated His precious blood and which the blessed Lawrence had received from St. Sixtus, the Pope of this time, whose disciple and deacon of St. Martin in Dominica he was, and had sent (to Huesca) and which was brought, together with his letter, to the monastery of San Juan de la Peña in the mountains of Jaca in the kingdom of Aragon.”

Probably St. Lawrence, deacon of Pope Sixtus II (257-58) was indeed a Spaniard; near Huesca in the north of Spain, an estate named “Loreto” is still venerated as the place of his birth and residence of his parents. Already in the 4th century, the Spanish Christian poet Prudentius mentioned St. Lawrence in his hymn on the Spanish martyrs, that seems to confirm the tradition. It is certain, according to a contemporary letter of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, that during the “Valerian persecution” of the year 258, when, first Pope Sixtus II and four of his deacons and, three days later, St. Lawrence received martyrdom, Church treasures were confiscated by the Roman Emperor. Therefore it would make sense that a responsible deacon, as St. Lawrence certainly was, would make sure that such a precious relic as the agate chalice would be sent to a safe place, far away from Rome. His parents’ estate in Huesca was at least a plausible possibility. We can furthermore assume that in 712, when the Muslim Moors invaded Spain, this precious relic was hidden in the mountains, as many other relics, to end up in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña which was under direct control of the Pope. It was the center of the Benedictine reformation of the Spanish monasticism in the 10th century and hosted the council of 1071, when the Papal delegate Hugo Cardinal Candidus celebrated the first Holy Mass according to the Roman Canon on the Iberian Peninsula, probably in the presence of the Holy Chalice.



Therefore, it is a matter of fact that a stone chalice was venerated as the Chalice of the Last Supper in Spain during the 12th century, the time when Guiot de Provins wrote the original Grail saga. And indeed we find indications that its veneration in San Juan de la Peña inspired him to the highest degree.
When we compare the descriptions of the Grail castle in Chretien’s and Wolfram’s works with the topographical situation and architectonical outlay of San Juan de la Peña, they fit perfectly.
Chretien describes the Grail castle as in the middle of a wild, mountainous, rocky, forest-covered landscape. His Perceval came to a river and rode up a gorge until “from the top (of a mountain), in a Valley, close to the river and forest”, he saw a mighty tower. To reach it he had to “turn right at the foot of that rock face”. This is exactly the old pilgrim’s path from the river Aragon to San Juan de la Peña. Wolfram adds another detail, the small lake on top of this rock, which you find on old maps only, since it is dried out today. He also states that the Grail Castle is situated not on top of a mountain, but in front of a rock face, just like San Juan de la Peña. Even his name for the Grail Castle, “Munsalwäsche”, corresponds. Above the monastery rises the 1547 metres high “Pico de San Salvador”, called “Mons Salvatoris” in Latin documents. In Occitanian, the language spoken in Aragon during the 12th century, its name must have been “Mont Sant Salvatge” or, in a short form, “Mont Salvatge”, pronounced like “Montsalvatsch”. In ancient times, the monastery was surrounded by small hermitages, just as Wolfram describes it.
When he entered the Castle, Chretien’s Perceval followed the servants into “a square room, as long as it was wide … between four pillars a large fire burned, fed by dried wood … the pillars were mighty.” Wolfram adds that “three square marble fire places” stood beneath the three arches between the four pillars. Indeed when you enter San Juan de la Peña, you come into the “Sala de los Concilios”, a mighty, dark vault with four central pillars in its center and three arches between them.
According to both Chretien and Wolfram, a procession, carrying the Grail, entered from a door on the other side of the hall. In San Juan de la Peña, this is the site of a double chapel, the altar niches decorated with scenes of the Crucifixion of Christ in one and the holy physicians Cosmas and Damian in the other. In a corner, a spring comes out of the rock, which is indeed mentioned in Wolfram’s “Parzival”. The procession, he continues, passed the large room and left on the opposite site. There are, indeed, stairs leading into the first floor with a large Basilica, the “Upper Church”. Here, it seems, was the Grail exposed for the veneration of the faithful before it was again returned to one of the small chapels. Even the silver plate for its presentation, which was listed in the 1135 document, was mentioned by Chretien de Troyes.
Not only is it possible to identify the Grail as the Santo Cáliz, today in Valencia, and the mythical Grail Castle “Munsalwäsche” as the fortified monastery of San Juan de la Peña at the foot of the Mons San Salvatoris: we also find parallels between the protagonists of Wolfram’s and Chretien’s romances and historical figures involved with the precious relic.
According to Don Brit Martinez, Abbot of San Juan de la Peña, there was one king of the 12th century who was especially devoted to the Holy Chalice, Alfonso I of Aragon (1104-1134), called “el Batallador” (the battle leader) by his contemporaries. Alfonso was an archetypal Crusader king, fighting against the infidels who had occupied Spain, in many victorious campaigns. “No other king of Aragon was so deeply filled by an authentic religious spirit and the ideals of the Crusaders”, the Spanish historian José María Lacarra stated. Nearly every year during Lent, he and his entourage came to San Juan de la Peña for a retreat, to prepare for Holy Easter. From these exercises, from his practise of religion, he gained the inner strength for his campaigns. In his “History of San Juan de la Peña”, on five pages, Don Brit Martinez lists all the donations made by the king in favour of the monastery “and its relics”, obviously the Holy Chalice; most of them during Lent and “as a penance for his sins”. Alfonso I called the monastery “his own” and placed it under his personal protection.
When Hugo de Payns in 1118-9 founded the Knight Templars as a “Militia of Christ”, they soon were supported by Alfonso. The combination of knightly and monastic ideals, of bravery and piety, was in his mind. Already in 1128, when the new order was presented at the Council of Troyes, he made them rich donations; eventually, in his testament, he left them a third of his kingdom. The “Knights of St. John”, who were, according to Briz Martínez, founded in the 9th century in San Juan de la Peña with the purpose of fighting against the infidels, and the Belchite Brotherhood founded by Alfonso himself, were soon integrated into the new order. Therefore it does not surprise us that Wolfram calls the knights who protected the Grail “templeise”. “Templés” was the name used for the Templars in Occitania and Aragon: another word from a Pyrenean language which we find in his “Parzival”.
Alfonso himself was called “Anforts” in the Occitanian language of his kingdom, or, Latinised, “Anfortius”. He obviously was the historic Grail king, named “Anfortas” by Wolfram von Eschenbach.
At his side fought a young French knight, the “Conde de Valperche”, also called “Alperche”, Rotrou II de Perche, whose father died early, followed by his brothers during the first Crusade, and who was raised alone by his mother. Like the young Perceval learned that he was the cousin of the Grail king, “Valperche” was Alfonso’s cousin. When Wolfram’s Parzival was born in Anjou, Rotrou was count of the neighboring Perche. Parzival was the “red knight” (“red”, in German, is “rot”), Rotrou had red in his arms. The parallels are obvious. Did I mention that Guiot de Provins was hosted by two nephews of Rotrou (who never had children), Thibaut V le Bon, Count of Chartres, and Rotrou III, Count of Perche?
Like Anfortas in Wolframs “Parzival”, king Alfonso/Anforts had a mysterious end. On July 17, 1134, when the Almoravid Moors attacked him near Fraga, he was injured by a spear (probably poisoned). A few days later he signed his testament. According to the “Chronica de Alfonso el Emperador” (Chronicle of the Emperor Alfonse), written in 1152, he was brought to San Juan de la Peña, where he died seven weeks later, on September 7, 1134, unnoticed by most of his contemporaries, who wondered about his whereabouts. Many did not want to believe that he ever died. According to the “Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña”, some claimed that he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem while others hoped he would one day return to Aragon. Alfonso became the king who never died and would one day return to liberate his people, just like the mythical king Arthur, whose legend was probably inspired by Alfonso’s fate. Still in 1175, a smith could claim and convinced many that he was the returned Alfonso, before he was hanged in 1181 by king Alfonso II. This climate of uncertainty, between mourning and hope, is reflected in the Grail saga. Here the ailing king Anfortas waits for a worthy successor to bring salvation to himself and his country: “Anfortas spends his life in his armchair; he can neither ride nor walk, neither lie down nor stand up. He still is the lord of Munsalwäsche, but God’s anger had hid him”, Wolfram wrote. Also the “Chronicle of San Juan de la Peña” calls his defeat God’s punishment “for the sacrilege he performed in Leon and Castile”: the usually pious king had confiscated property from Churches and Monasteries to pay his troops!
Like the mythical Grail king, Alfonso was infertile, probably because of a battle injury, and did not leave an heir to the throne. So it took a year before a successor was found. Eventually his brother Ramiro “el monje” (“the monk”), who had entered a French monastery as a boy and became a bishop, had to exchange the Miter for the Crown at least for some years. With a special permission from the Pope he married Agnes of Poitiers, daughter of a French count, and received dispense from his celibacy just until his wife gave birth to a daughter, named Petronilla like the legendary daughter of St. Peter. At the age of 3, she was married to Ramon Berenguer IV, Count of Barcelona and Duke of Catalonia, whose son would become the new king of Aragon, named Alfonso II, after his granduncle. After only four years on the throne, Ramiro “the monk” resigned and found retreat in the monastery San Pedro el Viejo in Huesca, to do penance for his short encounter with worldly power.
It reflects the historical truth when Wolfram von Eschenbach described a virgin as the true keeper of the Grail and let her marry a duke “Kyot of Katelangen”, the neighbouring Catalonia. But here ends the historical core of the saga. The “Parzival” is not a history book, but a “roman a clef”, a novel based on historical events and personalities and, at the same time, an instrument of political propaganda.
When his father died and he became the new king of Aragon, Alfonso II was only seven years old. No wonder that his people prayed for the return of his strong granduncle, the Spanish crusader king, the battle-leader. In this climate of hopes and worries, the myth of the Holy Grail was created, most probably on the occasion of Alfonso’s wedding, when Guiot de Provins came to his court; an epic work, glorifying the dynasty’s heritage and mission, the Reconquista and re-christianizing of Spain, a call for a new crusade. 
Alfonso’s wedding was a signal to the world. The young king was an adult man now, about 18 or 19 years of age. That he married a Castilian princess was politically wise; the rivalry between the two Christian kingdoms had distracted them for too long from the real enemy, the Muslim moors. His name was an obligation to continue his Grand-uncle’s campaigns, especially the liberation of Valencia which, after the death of the Cid, was conquered by the “infidels”. He knew that he alone was not strong enough for such an enterprise: he needed the support of other European rulers. Therefore Alfonso, who loved poetry and always hosted troubadours, ordered the most famous one of them, Guiot de Provins, to develop an efficient propaganda for a new crusade.
When the European knights went on a crusade to the Holy Land, they followed a spiritual ideal, the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the Lord’s resurrection. Therefore, it was necessary to present them an even more noble ideal, worth to live and to die for: the Holy Grail. The tomb of Christ is empty, but Christ lives, is among us, in the Blessed Sacrament. What is a better symbol for the Holy Eucharist than the very chalice in which Christ, during the Last Supper, offered His precious blood, the Holy Grail, venerated in Aragon? This mysterious relic was described with all the powers usually attributed to the Holy Eucharist, including the promise of eternal life, which Christ gave in the Synagogue of Capernaum: “This is that bread which came down from heaven … he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever” (Joh 6:58) Only one who serves the Holy Grail, only one who fights bravely against the infidels who threaten it, was called worthy to receive its blessing.
Guiot combined the history of the Holy Grail with the Arthurian legends: the Knights of the Roundtable were the great role models of the mediaeval knights. The European princes were expected to follow their example and recognize the Grail as the highest reachable good.
But Alfonso II failed in his endeavours. First Count Raymond of Toulouse disturbed his plans, then king Alfonso VIII of Castile, who formed an alliance with Frederick I Barbarossa. Alfonso II reacted and built up a coalition against Castile. Eventually the Pope intervened and appealed to the Christian kings to end the wars against each other, to unite their forces against the moors. The king of Aragon was the first who enthusiastically followed this call. As an act of penance, he went onto a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and planned to start a major campaign for the following year. But then, in April 1196, he suddenly died, only about 42 years of age.
But is the Santo Cáliz, venerated in Valencia today, indeed the legendary Holy Grail, described in the mediaeval myths and romances? It obviously combines details from Chretien’s and Wolfram’s descriptions, being a stone vessel with a two-handled gold frame, covered by pearls and precious stones. Chretien also mentions the “shiny brightness, a glance brighter than candles, like the sun is brighter than the moon when it rises”, the reddish-yellow pattern of the translucent Agate which gives, when backlit, the impression of flames.
The most important evidence for our identification of the Holy Grail is a small Kufic inscription on the foot of the Chalice, only about 3.5 centimetres in length, which can be dated to the 7th-10th century. Since the document of 1135 mentions “a precious stone chalice and a similarly precious stone bowl”, obviously both parts were venerated at that time, maybe as the chalice and the paten of the first Eucharist. Probably it was king Ramiro II the one who, when he borrowed the relics from the Monastery, ordered their inclusion into one single Chalice in the style of his time.
Indeed Wolfram von Eschenbach mentions a mysterious inscription on the Grail:
“Ze ende an des steines drum
con karacten ein epitafum
sagt sinen namen und sinen art“
(”At the upper side of the stone an inscription of letters says its name and character”).
There were several attempts to read the inscription on the upper side of the foot of the Holy Chalice:
-          Prof. Beltran read it as “li-Izahirati” or “lilzahira”, that might mean “the blossoming one”. He believed that the bowl was originally a vessel for incense used in the “Medina Azahara”, the “Flower City” of the Moorish Caliph near Cordoba, used later by the Christians as a base for the Chalice. This hypothesis is controversial, since no other vessels used in this or another palace ever bore its name.
-          Juan Angel Oñate consulted several Arabists. One of them, Dr. Youssef Al-Farkh, translated the inscription as “Al-magd Limariam”, “Honour to Mary” or “Honour to Mary’s son”.
-          Father Lemoine, an expert in Semitic Languages at L’Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, believed it could mean “Al-rahim”, “the Merciful”, one of the Arabic names for God.
-          The most interesting interpretation comes from the German Arabist Prof. Hans-Wilhelm Schäfer, who reads it as
1 Alif …………… ………… A
2 Lam …………… …………L
3 Be ………………………...B
4 Ze …………………….…..S
5 Te ………………………...T
6 Sad …………………………S
7 Lam ......................L
8 Je ........................J (Halbvokal)
9 Sad .......................S
Since short vocals are not written in Arabic, Schäfer reconstructs it as
ALABSIT SILLIS or, adding an article, AL-LABSIT AS-SILIS.
This interpretation is indeed relevant, since Wolfram wrote about the Grail: “er heizet LAPSIT EXILLIS” – “his name is LAPSIT EXILLIS”.
As Wolfram stresses, the inscription, which can indeed “appear” and “disappear” depending on the light conditions, can be interpreted in different ways that might have given it the character of an oracle. We can’t be sure if the Kufic letters represent an Arabic word or a transcription of a Latin word. At least Wolfram (or his source Guiot) obviously understood it as the Latin “lapis ex stellis”, “Stone from the Stars”, inventing the legend that the stone from which the chalice was cut was once brought to Earth by angels. But whatever it once meant, its sheer existence is the final evidence that the Santo Cáliz is indeed the Holy Grail described in the medieval literature.
This makes the Santo Cáliz of Valencia an object of the greatest importance. Thanks to Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, the Holy Grail became a metaphor for the highest ideals and aspirations of Christian Europe. To search for the Holy Grail means to get to the bottom of the mystery of the holy Eucharist.