The Quest of the Holy Grail

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Last Updated on July 15, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 475

The Quest of the Holy Grail is a book which was presumably written in 1210, in Old French, by an unknown author; in 1969, medieval historian, scholar, and translator Pauline Matarasso translated the story into English. The book is the fourth volume of the Vulgate Cycle (also known as the Lancelot-Grail or Pseudo-Map Cycle), which consists of five books about the legend of King Arthur. Thus, The Quest of the Holy Grail is a story that follows the Knights of the Round Table as they search for the Holy Grail; the main plot, however, focuses on Sir Galahad.

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The book opens with Sir Lancelot, who is asked to knight Galahad. Unbeknownst to both of them, Lancelot is, in fact, Galahad's father. Now a knight, Galahad is seated on the Siege Perilous, which is a throne reserved for the bravest of knights. After that, Galahad manages to draw the sword from the stone and defeats all of the knights in a sword-fighting tournament, except for Lancelot and Perceval. Thus, the knights organize a feast and everyone eats and drinks from the Holy Grail. However, under mysterious circumstances, the Grail suddenly disappears, and the knights go on a quest to find it.

Galahad gets a special shield which was, apparently, destined for him, and he goes on his own quest for the Grail. On the way, he manages to defeat the seven brothers and free the Castle of Maidens. He also defeats Lancelot and acquires a special sword. Meanwhile, Lancelot has visions of the Grail; however, he cannot do anything, as he is not pure and honorable. He acknowledges his sins and vows to change his ways.

We then learn from Perceval's aunt about the prophecy of the Grail, which says that three men will be able to find it—two virgins and one chaste man. The virgins are Galahad and Perceval, and Perceval almost gets tricked by a demon; the chaste man is Bors. Lancelot is also tested, but unlike Perceval, he fails, as he is blinded by lust and greed, and thus he is sent home. It seems that all the knights had to do to pass these tests on their quest for the Holy Grail was to remain pure-hearted and not lose their faith in God.

Galahad, Perceval, and Bors manage to get to the Grail castle, where Galahad meets Jesus. The three of them are given a vision of the Holy Grail, and they take the Grail to the city of Sarras, away from Britain, where Galahad is crowned king. A year later he is allowed to look into the Grail and asks for permission to die. God grants his wish and takes him to heaven, along with the Holy Grail. Bors returns to Britain to tell the story to King Arthur, and the knights' quest for the Holy Grail officially comes to an end.

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 883

Joseph of Arimathea is a disciple of Christ who, along with his colleague Nicodemus, attends the tomb of Christ. While washing the body of Christ, Joseph accidently opens a wound. To prevent Christ’s blood from spilling, Joseph takes the Grail, the goblet from which Christ drank during the Last Supper, and collects the blood therein. He then hides the Grail in his house. The Jews, incensed upon hearing that he has taken the cup, imprison Joseph in a dark cell, but Nicodemus escapes. In the cell, Christ appears to Joseph with the vessel Joseph thought he had hidden. Christ gives Joseph the goblet with strict orders that only three persons are ever to gain possession of it. He does not, however, tell Joseph who those three persons are to be.

Hundreds of years later, the wizard Merlin, after choosing Arthur to become king of the Britons, arrives at the court of Britain and reveals the story of the Holy Grail. He explains the story of the three tables: one made by the Lord for the Last Supper, one by Joseph of Arimathea, and the last by his own hands. He states that the Grail was passed by Joseph to the rich Fisher King, an old, frail man whose mission was to await the coming of the purest knight in the world. To this knight he would pass the Grail and tell of its mighty power and secrets. Only then would the Fisher King’s ailments and age be lifted. After his revelations, Merlin vanishes to faraway lands to await the reign of Arthur. Meanwhile, Alein le Gros is dying and is visited by the Holy Ghost, who tells him that his own father, Brons, lives in the islands of Ireland and possesses the Holy Grail. Alein is told that he will not be allowed to die until his son, Perceval, finds Brons and is taught the secrets of the Grail. First, however, Perceval has to go to the court of King Arthur and be taught the ways of chivalry and honor. He goes willingly and joyously.

One Easter, King Arthur decides to hold a tournament to honor the Round Table. Perceval, learning the ways of knighthood, wants no part of the tournament, but for the love of a woman, Aleine, niece of Sir Gawain, he agrees to fight. Aleine sends him a suit of red armor, and he enters the contest as an unknown, anonymous knight. He defeats all opponents and claims his right to sit at the Round Table. Arthur protests, but at the urging of others he gives in to the new knight. Before long, Perceval vows never to lie, to be pure, and to seek the Grail. Sir Gawain, Sagremors, Beduers, Hurgains, and Erec take the same vow, and all set forth on their quests.

Two days after beginning his quest for the Holy Grail, Perceval finds the body of the knight Hurganet, with a damsel weeping over it. Hurganet, she says, had saved her from a giant and had ridden with her into a tent. They were warned to run and not await the tent’s master, who would surely kill them. The lord of the tent, Orgoillow Delandes, soon appeared, wearing red armor, and slew Hurganet. Upon hearing this story, Sir Perceval vows revenge for Hurganet’s death and rides forth to the tent, where he also is warned about its master. Soon he is face-to-face with the knight of the tent; Perceval overcomes the knight and sends him to Arthur’s court with the damsel.

Continuing his quest, Perceval comes to a fine castle. He enters but finds the castle uninhabited, with only a chess board for decoration. He makes an opening move on the chess board, and the opponent pieces begin to play against him. Three times he is checkmated. Angry at his defeat, he attempts to toss the chess pieces into the castle moat, but he is stopped by the entrance of a beautiful damsel. Overcome by her beauty, Perceval asks her for her love. She agrees to love him if he will capture the white stag of the wood. To this end, she lends him one hound and warns him to take care of the beast; he agrees. Perceval then chases and captures the stag, cuts off its head, and starts back to the castle. An old hag makes off with the hound, however, and vows not to return it to him until he goes to a certain grave and says, “Felon, he that put you there.” After Perceval heeds the old lady’s words, a knight in black armor appears on a black horse and challenges Perceval. Perceval soon overcomes the black knight, but while he is fighting a second man takes both the stag’s head and the hound. Perceval follows the man but is unable to catch him.

Many feats follow. Perceval eventually arrives at his home and, with his niece, rides to the home of his uncle, a hermit, who tells him of the table, the Grail, and his destiny. He continues to wander for seven years, sending more than one hundred knights to King Arthur as prisoners. Finally, Perceval finds the Fisher King and is told the secrets of the Holy Grail, and all is well in Britain.

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