Monday, November 28, 2016

Treasure: The Holy Grail

In 1910, workmen digging a well in Antioch, Syria, spotted the gleam of shining metal in the sunlight.  Scrapping away the dirt, they unearthed a curious object, a set of two cups, one set within the other.  The outer cup was made of silver.  The inner cup was made of plain clay, and was the type from which a humble artisan might have drunk.  Excitement pulsated throughout the Middle East as the possible discovery of the Holy Grail electrified the world.            

Today, this artifact can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  It is called the "Antioch Chalice", and after extensive testing has been found not to be the Holy Grail.  Experts list the age of the Antioch Chalice as being fourth or fifth century, very early but not the Holy Grail.         

Just what is the Holy Grail?   The Holy Grail is the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper.   Besides being an archaeological artifact of unbelievable importance,  the cup is said to have certain powers, including:  (1)healing and restorative ability; (2) conveys knowledge of God; (3) invisible to unworthy eyes; (4)ability to feed those present (e.g. the miracle of the loaves and fishes);  and (5) it bestows immortality  on the possessor.        

What happened to the Grail?  The Grail supposedly passed into the hands of Joseph of Arimathea.   Joseph appears briefly in the Gospels as a wealthy member of the Jewish council in Jerusalem and secret disciple of Christ, who obtained the body of Christ after the Crucifixion and laid it in the tomb.

In the twelfth century,  non-scriptural writings began to appear telling how the hallowed vessel of the Last Supper came into Joseph's possession and had been conveyed to Britain.  Why Britain?  Some suggest that the wealthy Joseph made his money in the tin trade with Cornwall and had made frequent voyages to Britain in the past.
According to legend Joseph of Arimethea brought the Grail to England in 37 A.D. and founded an abbey upon the Island of Glass (present day Glastonbury).

Where is the Holy Grail now?  A great hill (tor) towers over the peaceful village of Glastonbury.   Atop the hill are the remains of St. Michael's church.  Legend says that the hill is hollow and is the secret entrance of the underworld.  There are numerous tales of disappearances into the Tor; usually in the form of people entering and returning mad.  In one of these stories thirty monks, engaged in chanting in the Abbey, found a tunnel opening up before them.  The monks bravely went inside.   Some great disaster befell them.  The full story could never be recovered from the survivors, two of whom were insane and one of whom had been struck dumb.  There are, in fact, large caves beneath the hill and at least one theory holds that the Holy Grail rests in one of these caves.    

Whatever the truth of the legends surrounding Glastonbury, it is, undoubtedly, the jumping off place for a search for King Arthur.  The historic Arthur was a Roman-British warlord who resisted the barbarian invasions as the Roman Empire collapsed.  The dates usually attributed to King Arthur lie between 460 -540 A.D.     

Cadbury Castle is thought to be the actual site of mythic Camelot.  In 1966 archaeologists found artifacts linking this site with the historic Arthur.  Excavations revealed a rich and powerful settlement.  A castle in name only, Cadbury has no moats or turrets.  It was an earthen hill fortress. Curiously enough, Cadbury (Camelot) is now privately owned.  The man who owns Camelot possesses what may be the most beautiful spot in England, where sheep graze sleepily upon rich green hills under an English sun and the only sound is the wind rushing through fields of wildflowers.         

It is possible that the historic Arthur could have been familiar with the legend of Joseph of Aramethea's presence in Britain, and sent followers in search of relics, the whole story being picked up and embellished by later Medieval storytellers into the now well known Quest for the Holy Grail.
Cadbury Castle is a thirty minute drive from Glastonbury.  It was to Glastonbury ("the isle of Avalon") that the wounded and dying Arthur was brought.  Legend says that Arthur sleeps inside Glastonbury Tor, until that time England shall need him most.  In 1191, a log coffin was found buried between two stone crosses in the burial ground beside St. Mary's chapel at the foot of Glastonbury Tor.  In the coffin, the monks found the bodies of a tall man and a delicate woman.  A leaden cross beneath the lid told them who there lay buried, "Here lies buried/The famous King/Arthur in the/Isle of Avalon."  Today the tumbled down walls of the abbey evoke thoughts of ruined Camelot.  Eyeless windows look out over Arthur's burial site, which is crossed reverently with red and white carnations.          

There are other possible Grail sites, including Roslin Chapel in Scotland.  The 3rd Earl of Orkeny built Roslin Castle during the 14th century.  Roslin Chapel, founded in 1446, was dissolved in 151l, and left in disrepair until restored in 1842.  The chapel is noted for a superabundance of ornament, and the famous Prentice Pillar, a beautiful, ornately carved work of art that graces the chapel.  In 1962, the famous Grail scholar Trevor Ravenscroft announced that he had finished a twenty year quest in search of the Grail and proclaimed Roslin Chapel to be its resting place.  Ravenscroft claimed that the Grail was inside the Prentice Pillar.   Metal detectors have been used on the pillar and an object of appropriate size is said to be buried in the middle of the ornate pillar.       

There are several alternate theories concerning the whereabouts of the Grail.  In the Caucasus Mountains of Russia there lives a small group of people who have stories of a magical cauldron called the Amonga.  This chalice has properties similar to those attributed to the Grail, serving food, giving knowledge and being able to choose those worthy to serve it.

Another theory argues that the physical cup of the Last Supper is gone forever but that it is an important metaphor for powerful universal energies that we can all tap into if we dare.  The "Silver Chalice", as disciples of this theory refer to the Grail, is the set of blood vessels in the neck and the base of the skull which feed the brain.  The "silver energy" can be used to increase the usefulness of the brain thus giving people able to tap into this energy almost superhuman powers.

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