Many researchers have connected the Templars with the origin and flourishing of the tales of the Holy Grail -
and by extension with the Grail itself.
Tales of heresy
Although modelled on earlier Celtic legends, the Grail romances were
the product of the 12th and 13th centuries, during which period their popularity swept across Europe.
The stories, of which there are many versions, are curiously heretical. Although on the surface they are
Christian tales - abounding in Christian allusions and symbolism, and concerning the spiritual quest of the
Grail-seekers - there are also many other elements: pagan (especially Celtic) and even alchemical and Hermetic.
Even the Christian aspects are of a decidedly unconventional, not to say heretical, character. Much of
this is not readily apparent to the modern reader, but to the medieval
mind many of the central features of the Grail stories would have clashed head-on with the teaching of the
Church - not simply challenging some of its fundamental precepts, but even at times directly attacking
Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince sum this up in The Templar Revelation (1997):
The Church was no doubt mortally offended by the way in which the Grail stories ignored or abnegated its
authority and that of the apostolic succession. The hero operates by himself - although occasionally with helpers -
in the quest for spiritual enlightenment and transformation. So in essence the Grail
legends are Gnostic texts, emphasizing the responsibility of the individual for the state of his own
There is, however, much more to offend the sensibilities of the Church that is implicit in every Grail story.
For the experience of the Grail is inevitably presented as being reserved for the highest initiate only, the cream
of the élite - something that goes far beyond even the transcendence of the Mass. Moreover, in every Grail story
the object itself - whatever it is deemed to be - is kept by women. But what were women doing taking such an
authoritative role in something that was effectively a higher form of the Mass?
It appears that the purpose of Grail stories was to introduce certain religious and spiritual ideas into the
medieval consciousness, in the guise of Christian allegory (without which the tales would have been condemned
and those who wrote and spread them burned at the stake). As Malcolm Godwin writes in The Holy Grail
[The writers of the Grail romances] managed to cloud a work of the deepest heresy in such pious mystery that
both legend and authors survived the fiery zeal of the Church Fathers. Even more curiously the legend remained
untainted by the fall of the heretical Cathars and even the Knights Templar who feature implicitly within the
Sometimes the Grail stories take on an almost blasphemous character. For example, in Perlesvaus, written around
1205 (some believe by a monk or monks from Glastonbury Abbey), there is a very strange episode in which the hero,
Perceval, comes across a red cross standing in a forest:
He looketh and seeth coming from the forest two priests all afoot; and the
first shouteth to him: 'Sir Knight, withdraw yourself away from the cross, for no right have you to come nigh
it': Perceval draweth him back and the priest kneeleth before the cross and adoreth it and boweth down and
kisseth it more than a score times, and manifesteth the most joy in the world. And the other priest cometh
after, and bringeth a great rod, and setteth the first priest aside by force and beateth the cross with the
rod in every part, and weepeth right passing sore.
Perceval beholdeth him with right great wonderment and saith unto him: 'Sir, herein seem you to be no
priest! Wherefore do you so great a shame?' 'Sir,' saith the priest, 'It nought concerneth you of whatsoever we may
do, nor nought shall you know thereof from us!' Had he not been a priest, Perceval would have been right wroth with
him, but he had no will to do him any hurt.
Like many episodes in the narrative, this strange scene is left unexplained. However, the beating of a cross
would have been seen, in medieval times, as the most serious desecration (and it has a curious echo with the
charges levelled against the Templars a century later, that they trampled and spat upon the cross).