What is the Holy Grail?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Holy Grail is a legendary vessel that is believed to have been present at the Last Supper or the Crucifixion, or possibly both. Quests in search of it have been included in many works of fiction since the 12th century, when legends about this mythical object began to proliferate in England and France. Unlike very real Christian artifacts that have been successfully traced and discovered, the Holy Grail is generally regarded as an entirely mythical object, which exists in the mind rather than in reality.

The holy grail has an association with Christ and communion.
The holy grail has an association with Christ and communion.

There are several different versions of the story about the Grail. It is said to be a plate, dish, or cup, and it may be made from ceramic, metal, glass, or crystal, depending on which legend one believes. According to some stories, it was a cup used to serve wine at the Last Supper, so it has an association with Christ and the practice of Communion. In other stories, the Grail was used to capture the blood that flowed from Christ's wounds, while other stories say that the same vessel was used for both purposes.

The holy grail was believed to have been present at the last supper.
The holy grail was believed to have been present at the last supper.

Supposedly, Joseph of Arimathea took the Grail with him to England, where it was eventually lost. Many legends state that the vessel is still in England, perhaps hidden by supernatural means. In most stories, it is said that someone who is remarkably pure and noble will be able to see the Grail, and quests for it are usually equated with proving nobility and righteousness.

Stories about the Holy Grail began appearing 1,200 years after the birth of Christ, which strongly suggests that these legends were invented after the fact. In the case of real Christian artifacts, stories and legends are present from the time that these artifacts were said to have been used or revealed, providing strong evidence for their actual existence, along with information that can be used to trace the fate of these objects. The Grail stories appear to have been invented by medieval society, with the vessel standing in as a metaphor for purity and the value of questing for a goal.

Some historians have suggested that the legends may have evolved from the sacred cauldron or chalice that is present in the Celtic tradition. According to these historians, early Christians either absorbed the myth and repurposed it, or actively adapted the myth so that reluctant converts would associate Christianity with their beliefs. Christianity certainly has a history of adapting the festivals and beliefs of other religions to make converts more comfortable, so this theory is not entirely implausible.

Many legends state that the Holy Grail is still in England.
Many legends state that the Holy Grail is still in England.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@burcidi-- Yes, I've heard that as well. Some say that "holy grail" comes from "sangreal" meaning "royal blood." They say it refers to the lineage of Jesus Christ.

But there is a lot of controversy about this theory because we don't know for sure whether Jesus had any children.

I've even heard that Kate Middleton is a descendant of Jesus and that she could be the Holy Grail. That's a bit far-fetched I think.


Can the Holy Grail be a person?

Some say that the Holy Grail is the descendant of Jesus. But if that's the case, what does it mean for Christians?


Yeah, GigaGold gets it right. All you folks who report that the Grail is not "real" clearly are lost. The Holy Grail is whatever you are longing for, aspiring to. It is not something material that can be proven by science. It is the reward that keeps you on your quest - life's journey. It is elusive but it is so good that it keeps you committed to finding it. I recommend the search. It is why we are here on this earth.


In Monty Python's "Holy Grail," the whole point of the movie is for King Arthur to find a relic, being charged by God with this duty. Ultimately, it is shown that these men are simply in modern Britain and are chasing random fancies. Sadly, they slay a prominent historian in the process, and are charged with manslaughter.


The "holy grail" of any topic is a doctrine or method which is said to be the best possible solution to a common problem. Holy grails abound: they could be a weapon which ends all wars, they could be a method of hand to hand combat which gives a person automatic advantages to win. Holy grails can result in a strong power play in which all "gaps," or advantages, result in strong competition and bloodshed, like in the cold war.


The Holy Grail is also a deep symbolic mechanism in the mind, which is used as an archetype, or image, of what people truly desire and can use for their greatest benefit. Everyone is looking for an elegant and powerful solution to problems, and these are their personal holy grails.

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