The Grail Code

My most recent book is The Grail Code:  Quest for the Real Presence by Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey. I have had a deep interest anything related to King Arthur since I was a little girl and saw Disney’s The Sword in the Stone.  The Grail Code didn’t disappoint, as it tells about the origins of the legends of Arthur and how his stories became so popular in Medieval times.

The story begins with nobles who wanted entertainment. Troubadours began telling stories of Arthur and his knights in halls and castles in Roman-ruled England. In reality, Arthur may or may not have existed. The recording of history wasn’t so developed then as it is now, and very little was mentioned about him. Still, Arthur stories developed and proliferated. Most of the stories initially followed the Celtic pattern of a search for someone worthy. There were many such stories, for example, the story of a pot that would only boil food for a worthy  knight. It seems that knights always needed to prove their worthiness.

Enter the Holy Grail. A “grail” was originally a dish or a cup. It wasn’t an everyday word, but, as the authors say it wasn’t so unusual that no one would know what it was, something like the word “tureen.” When the grail first appeared, people knew what a grail was, but there was little or no mention of its relation to Christ. Over the years, the grail developed into something secret, like a jewel with magical powers, or even more esoteric (which most of you have probably heard) – the bloodline of Jesus and his supposed wife, Mary Magdalene. The stories of Arthur developed as well, and were written in verse and then prose. Eventually, around the time of the Protestant Revolution, Arthur stories, especially the story of the Holy Grail, fell out of fashion. They would be revived during Victorian times, again in verse.

Why did these stories of adventure fall out of fashion with the Protestants? Perhaps it is because of the way they were recorded by Walter Map, a person or group who tied them together as a unified whole in a prose epic. Map’s focus was on Sir Lancelot, the “perfect worldly knight,” who won the heart of Queen Guinevere, and almost couldn’t repent of his adulterous ways. The Grail appeared to Lancelot, but because of his sin and unworthiness, he could not touch it.

The authors explain that any time that the story might be hard to understand, there was always a convenient hermetic priest to explain. In the case of the appearance of the Grail to Lancelot, we learn that the Grail contains the Real Presence of Christ:  The Eucharist. Only those who are prepared – the worthy – can receive the Eucharist – otherwise, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink condemnation upon themselves.

Aquilina and Bailey posit that since the Protestants do not believe in the Real Presence, they had little interest in such a papist idea.

Given my fascination with King Arthur, with the Holy Grail, and with social and religious history, The Grail Code did not disappoint. My only complaint is the shortness of each chapter. Busy person that I am, I usually only read a chapter of anything at a time, and the ten or so minutes it took to read the chapters of this book were not nearly enough time to lose myself. Consequently, it took me a few weeks to read, despite its fairly short length. My favorite time was when I was trying to bang out getting it read, and I read for a whole afternoon. That was wonderful. I’d like to read this book again, only within two or three days.

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