By Richard Barber
Last updated 2011-02-17
The Grail itself is carried by the second of these smaller figures on the left, who holds it on a precious cloth. It is neither a cup nor a dish, but a strange and magical stone. As usual, there are minor changes from the text. Where the cloth is specified as green, the artist has clearly made it gold.
Wolfram von Eschenbach used Chrétien de Troyes' work as the basis for a very original version of the Grail story in the early 13th century. The Grail stone is of heavenly origin, and its history goes back to the rebellion of Lucifer against God. In other words, the Grail belongs to Christian mythology rather than the story told in the New Testament.
Each Good Friday a dove brings a small white wafer from heaven and places it on the stone: 'By this the stone receives everything good that bears scent on this earth by way of food and drink, as if it were the perfection of paradise.' The Grail has magical powers, and can provide food, but these powers are conferred on it by a divine providence.
The symbol of the Grail knights is the turtle-dove, and this was an accepted symbol for the Holy Ghost, taken from the biblical account of Christ’s baptism when ‘he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove’. It is the Holy Ghost which descends to the Grail each Good Friday in the form of a dove, and the white wafer which it bears can only be intended as the wafer taken at Mass.
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