Holy Grail
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For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: the Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’

1COR11:23-25 NIV

Basic Information

According to legend, the Holy Grail is the cup used by Christ at the last supper, both as His own drinking vessel and in the first performance of the Eucharist (as per the flavour text). Further elaboration finds it being used for some reason to catch droplets of His blood during The Crucifixion and thereafter disappearing in all sorts of directions - including stories of it being brought to Cornwall1. Thereafter it becomes a central objective of questing in the King Arthur and Charlemagne legends (often taking on aspects of pre-Christian cauldron quest legends) and all sorts of things attach to it. Supposedly, such was the sacred power of The Grail that only a knight of the truest virtue could find it without it being snatched up into heaven before his eyes2. There is at least a suggestion that the quest for The Grail, like the alchemist's search for the Philosopher's Stone is actually a metaphor or coded myth dealing with seeking spiritual perfection3.

The powers of the Grail are generally not specified, but common consensus holds them to be powerfully related to healing, possibly even to the degree of restoring life to the dead.

Assuming, for a moment, that such a thing exists and has some kind of meaningful power as a holy relic, what should an aspirant grail knight actually be looking for in his quest? This has been thoroughly subverted in modern media (and therefore brought back in line with what would actually be realistic), but it should be borne in mind that a medieval knight would be looking for a cup suitable for the King of the Universe - a royal chalice of a magnificence equal to its importance. As we are quick to note these days, what you should actually be after is a bit of catering grade tableware from the first century AD4, probably a relatively modest cup made of clay or wood. Of course this can always be "counter-subverted" … just because the cup itself is relatively modest, that doesn't mean that some well meaning keeper won't have made a dirty great bejewelled over-chalice into which it fits like some kind of disposable liner5 - or, indeed, that the medieval personages might not have been right and the Grail might have been transfigured (or might appear different to every viewer).

There is one other suggestion - that the Sacred Grail is actually a corruption of the term sange real (Royal Blood) and that "the Grail" was actually a code for a holy bloodline descended from mortal children of Christ (allegedly from a marriage to Mary Magdalene which was somehow omitted from the authenticated Gospels). This is something of a fringe theory, even by low standards required amongst legends, and the great majority of Grail narratives remain fixated on tableware.

Speaking of which, for those who wish to expand on the portfolio of public domain artifacts, there are a few other pieces of tableware from the Last Supper that might be made significant: the plate from which the bread of the first Eucharist was served (which if nothing else would make an excellent relic for a medieval campaign, even if fake) and the bowl from which Christ fed the sop to Judas Iscariot (which depending on your theology might have some very interesting properties indeed).

Sources

Bibliography
1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Definitely the stuff of epic quests - and epic subversions.
  • Sadly the "pick the true grail out from the fakes" has already been done. Unless, of course, you hide it in a pile of low end tableware.
  • The "stole the over-chalice reliquary and left the grail behind" plot may also have legs.
  • As does the "stole the grail and no-one noticed" plot.
  • Some fiction - especially vampire related stuff - has the Grail (or an evil twin thereof) used to catch the blood of Christ from the Cross which is then consumed by someone, usually to no good effect.

And … oh yes … beware of python:

Bridgekeeper: Stop. Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see.
Sir Lancelot: Ask me the questions, bridgekeeper. I am not afraid.
Bridgekeeper: What… is your name?
Sir Lancelot: My name is Sir Lancelot of Camelot.
Bridgekeeper: What… is your quest?
Sir Lancelot: To seek the Holy Grail.
Bridgekeeper: What… is your favourite colour?
Sir Lancelot: Blue.
Bridgekeeper: Right. Off you go.
Sir Lancelot: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much. [Crosses the bridge]

(from) Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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