The Templars & The Holy Grail

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

The Knights Templar have long been associated with the mystical quest for the GrailAlthough 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 Illustrations from a medieval manuscript of the quest for the Grailthis 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 them.

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 The Grail Bearer by Arthur Rackham (1917)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 soul.

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 Glastonbury Abbeywas 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 (1994):

[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 various texts.


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:

Page from a 14th-century manuscript of PerlesvausHe 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).

The Mandaens - Part 2 of 2
by Steve Wilson
Click here for The Mandaens Part 1 of 2

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