Go inside the mysterious history of the Holy Grail, from its ancient Celtic roots to its place in medieval Christian legend to its alleged location.
In Arthurian legend, knights scour the English countryside in search of the Holy Grail, a precious object that once touched the lips of Jesus Christ and that could allegedly bestow eternal youth on its owner. But what is the Holy Grail, exactly? Is the Holy Grail real? And if so, where is it?
These questions have fascinated historians, scholars, and writers for years. The Holy Grail appears in the legends of King Arthur, medieval poetry, the bestselling books of Dan Brown, the Indiana Jones franchise, and, of course, the British comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Most recently, the relic appears in the 2023 Netflix docuseries Mysteries of the Faith.
But the object’s true history is just as curious as its location. Passing references to “cups” in the Bible have been tied to the Holy Grail, but it’s become much more than a simple chalice in the last 2,000 years.
What Is The Holy Grail?
Today, the Holy Grail is considered to be an important Christian relic, which, according to some legends, can grant eternal youth and happiness. But the Bible only makes passing references to cups that might be the grail.
As Christianity.com explains, there is no Biblical verse that specifically describes the Holy Grail or its powers. But there are certain lines in scripture that could potentially reference the object. In Luke 22:20, for example, which describes the Last Supper, Jesus takes a cup and tells his disciples: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
There is also mention of how Jesus is offered bitter wine while on the cross in Mark 15:23: “Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it.” However, there is no direct reference to the Holy Grail there either.
So how did it come to be regarded as a powerful Christian relic?
Though the idea of a Holy Grail may come from pagan Celtic and ancient Roman traditions, it was incorporated into Christian legend during the Middle Ages. HISTORY reports that Chrétien de Troyes’ unfinished Conte del Graal (Story of the Grail), or Perceval, first presented the grail as a divine object in 1180. Two decades later, Robert de Boron linked the Holy Grail, the Last Supper, and Jesus Christ’s crucifixion in his poem Joseph d’Arimathie.
These works and others folded the Holy Grail into the King Arthur legend. They describe how knights like Perceval and Sir Galahad sought the divine object, which is described as a vessel with miraculous powers.
From this point, the Holy Grail — and the quest to find it — became a cornerstone of Western literature. It also elevated the object from something of an aside in the Bible to an important Christian relic.
So if the Holy Grail is real, then where is it?
Where Is The Holy Grail?
Fictional stories place the Holy Grail in different locations. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the grail is found in the “Canyon of the Crescent Moon” in Petra, Jordan. In The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, the Holy Grail is not an object at all but a reference to the womb of Mary Magdalene.
Other myths place the Holy Grail elsewhere. Certain Arthurian legends claim that Joseph of Arimathea brought the object to Glastonbury, England, and buried it there. Believers of this legend claim that this is why waters in the area run red — because they’re moving through Christ’s blood — though scientists say it’s just because of red iron oxide in the ground.
Otherwise, theories about where the Holy Grail can be found vary widely. Some believe it’s lost in the sewers of Jerusalem, while others believe it’s hidden in the Americas. The Holy Grail has also been “found” in the ancient city of Antioch, in Toledo, Ohio, and in 200 other places across Europe.
In 2014, a book called Kings of the Grail suggested that a goblet held at the Basilica of San Isidoro in León, Spain, could be the divine object. Its authors claimed to have found evidence in ancient Egyptian manuscripts that the Holy Grail was taken from Jerusalem to Cairo, where it fell into the hands of an emir who ruled in Spain. The emir allegedly gave the chalice to King Ferdinand, and then it found its way into the basilica in the 11th century.
Dating of the chalice does indeed suggest that it was made between 200 B.C.E. and 100 C.E. This and the historical documentation, the authors wrote, suggests that the chalice was in fact a cup that was used at the Last Supper (though it’s impossible to determine if Jesus drank from it).
But the Basilica of San Isidoro isn’t the only Spanish church that claims to house the Holy Grail. The Valencia Cathedral in Valencia also professes to have it. Like the basilica in León, they say they have evidence to prove it.
“I always say [the evidence] is like twigs from a tree,” José Verdeguer, Valencia Cathedral’s Historical-Artistic Heritage Curator, explained in an interview with the BBC. “If you only have one stick, it breaks easily. But if you join 50 together, you can no longer break them. Here, there are many arguments together and it is no longer easy to break them.”
The Valencia Cathedral says that the Holy Grail was taken by St. Mark, a disciple of St. Peter, from Jerusalem to Rome. When it was in Rome, it was used by early popes (including St. Peter, whom Roman Catholic tradition defines as the very first pope) in order to conduct the Eucharist.
“St. Peter, the first pope, took the cup to Rome,” a church attendant explained to a BBC journalist in 2018. “The popes were the only people who could give mass, so St. Peter and the rest of popes used the grail for the Eucharist, considering it the one Christ used. Then, when the Emperor Valerian began to persecute the Christians [from 257 C.E.], it was sent to Huesca, Spain, because it was no longer safe in Rome.”
The object was reportedly moved around Spain until the 15th century, when it was brought to Valencia. It’s been there pretty much ever since.
And like the chalice in León, there is physical evidence which could support Valencia’s claim. A study in the 1960s found that the cup is made of a certain kind of agate stone which was only found between ancient Palestine and Egypt. It also dated back to the first or second century B.C.E., and scholars say that the cup resembles a Jewish kiddush cup, or blessing cup, which is what Jesus would have probably used at the Last Supper.
Of course, with dueling claims like these it’s difficult to determine which Holy Grail is the actual Holy Grail. But that assumes that this sacred object exists at all. So, is the Holy Grail real? It depends on who you ask.
Is The Holy Grail Real?
Though the Holy Grail is regarded today as an important Christian relic, many Christians will be the first to tell you that the elusive chalice isn’t that important in terms of understanding the Bible or worshipping Jesus Christ.
“As Christians, we know eternal life only comes from the Lord, not from relics,” Christianity.com writes. “If we spend our lives questing after supposed relics with supernatural powers, we miss the point of true Christianity and our purpose here on earth to spread the Gospel. Healing comes from God alone, not from objects Jesus or some saint supposedly touched.”
This source puts little weight on the importance of the Holy Grail, and derides the idea that it’s some kind of magical object that could bestow powers on its owner. But other religious sources would argue that the chalice is important because it was supposedly touched by Jesus Christ.
That said, the legend of the Holy Grail is more complex than just a cup. Its passing mention in the Bible has been embellished over the centuries, from a chalice used at the Last Supper, to a powerful object sought by Arthurian knights, to a real-life goblet claimed by churches around the globe.
The hundreds of alleged grails that exist, the cup’s murky history, and even murkier Biblical existence, makes it difficult to know if the Holy Grail is real. In that way, maybe Monty Python and the Holy Grail got it right in its depiction of the search for the chalice as a fruitless quest.
“The Grail legend is a literary invention of the 12th century with no historical basis,” Carlos de Ayala, a medieval historian based in Madrid, said, according to HISTORY. “You cannot search for something that does not exist.”