By Richard Barber
Last updated 2011-02-17
This image corresponds closely to the early versions of the legend. However, there is once again a discrepancy between text and image. In the text in this manuscript, Joseph collects the holy blood when the body is taken down from the Cross, and the Grail is portrayed as a cup.
The confusion between cup and dish is very difficult to disentangle, but in the church service of the Eucharist, at about the time these romances were written, it became customary to hold the cup aloft so that the congregation could see it.
At that point, the wine in the cup was believed to have become, literally, Christ's blood. So the usual association in people’s minds was between the cup of the Last Supper and the holy blood, and this seems to have been why the Grail as cup replaced the idea of the Grail as dish.
By the time the great cycle of romances about King Arthur and his court came to be written, in the 1250s, the story of the Grail had become part of the history of Camelot, and this huge work also included an account of the biblical origins of the Grail. This image is taken from the beginning of the cycle, where Joseph of Arimathea's deeds form a prologue to the chivalric version of the Grail story.
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