St. Lawrence and the Holy Grail

On the Feast of St. Lawrence, I thought you might want to see an old post I wrote some time ago, posted on 26 June 2006, on the chalice some people think might be the Holy Grail:

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When His Holiness Pope Benedict visits Valencia in Spain, he will surely visit the Chapel where people venerate what well might be the actual Holy Grail.

I am quite interested in this topic, since I am more than hopeful that we will eventually get a good and accurate translation of pro multis in the consecration formula for the Precious Blood during Mass.  We all know it means "for many", but let’s move on.  [And.... we did get it!]

An interesting book by Janice Bennett entitled St. Laurence and the Holy Grail: the story of the Holy Chalice of Valencia (Ignatius, 2004) argues that the 1st century cup of agate, now mounted on a medieval base of gold and precious stones is the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper for the consecration of His Most Precious Blood, “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” 

Please understand that this book has big holes, uneven writing and research, and is open to serious skepticism on some aspects.  However, it also relates truly fascinating information about this amazing relic held in Valencia and gives the reader a glimpse into the story of St. Lawrence and translations of various manuscripts of interest.  Take this with a grain of salt, but it is a great read.

The cup itself is of a kind of agate, like chalcedony or sardonyx.  It is like other cups found in Egypt, Syria and Palestine at the time of Christ.  In the British Museum there are stone cups of the same style as that in Valencia dating to A.D. 1-50.  It is of an odd color, reddish, “like a live coal”, and it is hard to say exactly what the stone is.  The ancient naturalist Pliny describes that stone cups were submerged in oil until the stone absorbed some, and then boiled in acid which modified the organic material and changed the colors of the veins in the stone.  The cup was very finely and accurately crafted and lacks ornament other than a fine band around the lip.  It was broken through the middle on 3 April 1744, Good Friday, when it was dropped. [I'll bet that guy was reassigned!]  The break was repaired and only a tiny chip is missing.  The cup can hold about 10 ounces.

You are asking, “But Father!  But Father! How can anyone claim that this cup in Valencia came from the hands of Jesus in Jerusalem?”

The cup has an interesting story, traced by Bennett in her book.  Here is the super brief version. 

Some scholars argue that Christ used two different cups at the Last Supper, one of metal and the other of agate, the latter used for the first consecration.  Some argue that the Upper Room used for the Last Supper belonged to the family of John Mark.  There is some confusion about the different “John”s and “Mark”s in the New Testament.  Suffice to say that it is possible that Mark the Evangelist was the son of the women who was a prominent member of the first Christians in Jerusalem.  Peter went to her house when he was released from prison. That house was a meeting-place for the brethren, “many” of whom were praying for Peter when he was in prison: (Acts 12:12-17).  This is possible the same place where the Last Supper took place, which establishes a connection with Mark and with Peter.  It is argued that Mark gave Peter the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper for the consecration of his Precious Blood.  This would be the second cup Jesus handled that night.  St. Peter consequently took the cup with his to Rome, where the Prince of the Apostles used it for Holy Mass until his martyrdom under the Emperor Nero.  Thus, this cup became a precious object within the Christian community in Rome. 

Martydom of LawreneSixtus II ordains Deacon Lawrence Bennett relates the argument that the presence of and even use of this cup in the ancient Roman Church is proposed as a possible reason why in the Latin Rite our consecration formula speaks of “hunc praeclarum calicemthis precious chalice” whereas the non Latin rites refer to the Greek “to poterion… the cup”.  Interestingly, in the New Testament the word used is poterion, “cup”, and in Latin it is calix.  However, in Spanish the word caliz (in Italian calice) is used to distinguish this important vessel for Mass from a simple cup, or copa (Italian coppa).  “Cup” is simply not worthy of the moment and the purpose.  Where do the words involved here come from? A Greek kylix was ceramic and had a wide base, was shallow, and had handles parallel to the table along the wide open lip.  This style also came to be made from precious metals.  The Romans called this cup a calyx.  The word “grail” probably derives from old Spanish gral, grail for a drinking vessel, perhaps coming from Latin gradale or grasale a wide dish.  In Provençal, the language of many of the troubadors who spread the grail legends, we have grazal.

During the time of the Emperor Valerian there was a terrible persecution of Christians.  In A.D. 258 Pope Sixtus II was commanded to turn over the goods of the Church and, when he refused, was killed.  Sixtus, however, had entrusted to his deacon the goods of the Church for their administration.  This deacon was the famous St. Lawrence, a Spaniard from Huesca.  When the Emperor went after Lawrence and commanded that the goods of the Church be rendered up.  Lawrence asked for three days to get everything together.  But instead of giving it to the officials he gave everything away and then produced a group of poor people, saying “These are the true treasures of the Church”.  For that Lawrence was beaten and tortured horribly, even to being fried alive on an iron grate.  For his part, however, Lawrence had already given the precious stone cup to another Spaniard named Precelius, who took it to Spain.  The iron grid of Lawrence’s martydom is preserved in a Roman Church just a few minutes from where I am writing, in San Lorenzo in Lucina though he was martyred where there now stands San Lorenzo in Panisperna and buried at San Lorenzo fuori le mura, a Minor Patriarchal Basilica. 

Lawrence is obviously the patron saint of cooks as well as several other groups. [cooks!]

This is where the history firms up a bit.  Various manuscripts indicated that the stone cup was kept in several places.   By 533 it was in the Cathedral of Huesca, which was built in that year.  Huesca was where St. Lawrence was from and perhaps where the Spaniard Precelius took it.  After the 711 invasion by the Moslems it was hidden in the Pyrenees in various caves.  After Charlemagne’s journey to the area in 777, the location of the cup, which was hidden, roused up many of the “grail legends” that come down to us in many forms today.  In 830 the cup is at the Monastery of San Pedro de Siresa.  In 1071 it was taken to the monastery of San Juan de la Peña.  In 1190 Cretien de Troyes wrote a 9324 line poem Perceval about the “Holy Grail”.  In 1209 Wolfram von Eschenbach wrote Parcival, based on Spanish legends, which centuries later inspired Richard Wagner’s opera.  In 1322 a Sultan sells a gold cup from Jerusalem, which he claims is the cup of the Last Supper, to Jaime II, King of Valencia and Aragon.  This is perhaps the cup which is converted to become the base for the ancient stone cup. In 1399 the stone cup was given to King Martin the Humane and taken to Barcelona.  King Alfonso V of Aragon sends the cup to Valencia.  In 1744, the cup is broken, repaired and fixed to its base.  In 1936, to save it from the Marxists, a woman named Maria Sabina Suey smuggled the cup out of the Cathedral wrapped in newspaper.  She hid it in various places to keep it from desecration and destruction.  The cup returns to the Cathedral of Valencia in 1939 with the end of the war where it remains to this day.

Even if this is not the very cup Jesus used at the Last Supper, and it might well be, it is hard to dismiss that this is the cup that inspired all the Holy Grail legends which branch into the stories of the Knights of the Round Table, an Indian Jones movie, and another recent piece of rubbish not worth our time to name.

The ancient stone cup, on its golden medieval base, is now in a beautiful chapel in Valencia.  When Pope John Paul II visited Valencia on 8 November 1982, he kissed the cup and then used it to celebrate Holy Mass.  It might have been the first time, 1724 after Pope Sixtus II, that “Peter” had held the cup again.

I will be watching Pope Benedict’s journey to Valencia carefully to see if he uses the “Holy Grail”.

It could really be it, after all.

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The Pope did indeed visit Valencia.

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14 Responses to St. Lawrence and the Holy Grail

  1. doanli says:

    Wow!

    So this may very well the real Holy Grail! I feel so happy and we should feel blessed to still have it.

    Call Tom Hanks! LOL

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Glastonbury, Tor, Chalice Well

    Sorry, that English site has my vote for the Holy Grail, perhaps the First Chalice, as opposed to the Second Chalice, or the opposite. And a Sultan selling a cup to the King of Valencia and Aragon-that seems a weak link at best? As beautiful and as long as the pedigree is of this magnificent cup, I go for the missing cup brought to England by St. Joseph of Arimathea as the Holy Grail. But, then, I am prejudice…

    The New Agers and some of the French, and probably Sr. Kane, think that St. Mary Magdalene brought the Holy Grail to France.

    Britain has my vote for at least one of the two chalices.

  3. Legisperitus says:

    As for the metal chalice used by Our Lord, it has been suggested that this was a silver chalice which had once belonged to Melchisedech. The Cenacle was built not only over the tombs of the Davidic kings, but also over that of Melchisedech… whom some ancient Jewish traditions identify with Sem, the last survivor from before the Flood. It’s a neat bit of typology.

  4. Ttony says:

    I have always thought that any relic in Spain which has a history which includes what happened to it at the time of the Moorish occupation is worthy of note for purely practical reasons. If the community most valued the relics of Jesus and the Saints, these would have been hand carried before the invading hordes and protected. Indeed, relics such as the Holy Sudarium and St Peter’s slipper, which are currently housed in Oviedo, would have been carried across North Africa and then across Spain precisely to keep them out of the hands of the Moors. This isn’t academic proof that they are what they say they are, but the “legend” becomes a lot more believable.

  5. TrueLiturgy says:

    You know, Pope Benedict looks kinda frail in this picture. All off a sudden, soon after Joseph Ratzinger became Pope, who many believed would only live a few more years, his health suddenly gets really good. I’ll let the other readers make the connections…. :-)

  6. ecclesiae says:

    Would this cup meet the current requirements for use at Mass?

  7. mibethda says:

    Well, according to Revelations, this semi-precious stone ‘meets the requirements’ to form two of the courses in the foundation for the New Jerusalem.

  8. The Cobbler says:

    “But Father! But Father! How can anyone claim that this cup in Valencia came from the hands of Jesus in Jerusalem?”
    As has been mentioned here already, other legends say Joseph of Arimathea took it to England, so I’m not sure what’s implausible about Lawrence sending it off to Spain.

    That said, I find it interesting that some of the legends would have arisen through this cup and Charlemagne; I suppose that’s why some say that King Arthur is originally a French legend? (I’m not overly familiar with the claim myself, which is exactly why I’m curious about it.)

    Two things I am wondering, though.

    First off, what’s this about two chalices? How would the second one have worked into the consecration?

    Second, if the priest really offers Christ’s sacrifice in persona Christi, shouldn’t we be attaching the same importance to every chalice used in Mass? Or almost as much importance? Or is that also blurring as is discussed in the other post today about Communion?

  9. Father, do you know of any other saintly patrons of cooks beside St. Lawrence? St. Martha, perhaps? I’ve even heard of a St. Ferdinand but haven’t been able to verify.

  10. Supertradmum says:

    RomeontheRange,

    I think St. Zita is a patron of cooks as well as housekeepers.

  11. Supertradmum says:

    The Cobbler

    The earliest mention of Arthur is in Nennius, who was a Welsh historian. There are other tales of such in Welsh, such as the Mabinogion. These tales have nothing to do with the French tales, which come much later. When I taught Malory, I did a history of the Grail stories as well as the Arthurian tales. The Gawain tales are partly Celtic. The French may claim the earliest tales, but this is not so. In all the earliest stories, there is only one chalice mentioned.

    Both Tolkien and Lewis as well as the great poet David Jones, knew these works. Tolkien did his own translation of Gawain and the Green Knight.

  12. irishgirl says:

    I watched an episode of a very interesting EWTN series, ‘Forgotten Heritage: Europe and the Eucharist’, hosted by two young Irish priests (one from Northern Ireland, the other from the Republic). It was on the Chalice of Valencia. Quite interesting. They did mention the incident during the Civil War when the lady smuggled it out of the Cathedral to keep it from being destroyed by the Communists. And I think there were also pictures of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI using the Chalice in the Masses they offered in Valencia.

    And yep, St. Lawrence IS the patron of cooks….he’s famous for saying, ‘You can turn me over now-I’m cooked on this side!’ So he’s your patron saint in the kitchen, Father Z!

  13. The Cobbler says:

    “Nay, I am a Welshman.” ~Shakespeare’s Henry V

    Thanks, Supertradmum; I’ll have to file that away for future reference. I believe I read Tolkien’s translation of Gawain at some point; marvelous book, I’m surprised it slipped my mind — although, had I remembered it, I would still not have known whether Arthur or the Grail in Great Britain were there earliest or not.

    So, where did the second chalice come from and how did it supposedly fit into the Last Supper? Was it not actually used there, but a surmisation rather that the two general Grail legends (St. Lawrence, Joseph of A.) were one about the chalice of the Last Supper and the other a different cup that caught Christ’s blood during the Crucifixion, whereas previously it had been believed those were one and the same cup?

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Dear Father, Thank you for posting this: the version you posted last year made me aware of the ‘Santo Caliz’ of Valencia for the first time.

    I have since learned, in addition to Mrs. Bennett’s book, of Michael Hesemann, CSC (Caballero del Santo Caliz), ‘Die Entdeckung des Heiligen Grals: das Ende einer Suche’ (Pattloch, 2003): this is available (e.g., via Amazon.de), but has unfortunately not (yet) been translated into English. It sounds fascinating (but I have not got it in German, yet, myself)!

    A Zenit article refers to Professor Dr. Salvador Antuñano Alea, of the University of Francisco de Vitoria in Madrid, and his work published in Spanish, by EDICEP in 1999: the article gives its title in English as “The Mystery of the Holy Grail: Tradition and Legend of the Holy Chalice”, but I cannot find anything about it being available at the EDICEP site and the book itself seems never (yet) to have been translated into English.

    In a Zenit interview, Mrs. Bennett says “that St. Jerome mentions that there were two cups on the table of the Last Supper, a silver cup that held the wine for the meal, and one of stone that was used for the institution of the Eucharist. Only the Holy Chalice of Valencia, with its upper cup of agate stone, fits St. Jerome’s description of the cup used by Christ for the consecration.” (“Only” in the context of other ‘contenders’ for being The Cup/Grail. One ‘contender’ for the ‘silver’ is the Antioch one, which Mrs. Bennett notes would have been too big to pass around: but both could have been present!)

    I am pleased to be able to report that at the moment Wikipedia has a reasonable article (last revised 28 July) on ‘The Holy Chalice’ (also try clicking the versions in other language Wikipedia eds.).

    By the way, the Cathedral of Valencia has a nice site (in English).

    Supertradmum mentions the wonderful works of David Jones: not a ‘quick read’ but wonderfully worth chewing over! Do try him! In ‘The Anathémata’ he has a passage about the earliest archeological evidence of the use of pottery, “Without which, how the Calix? Without which how The Recalling?” (I quote from memory). For extra help, his friend Rene Hague wrote a commentary to that book. Faber brought out an ‘Introducing David Jones’ selection volume, too.