The search for the Holy Grail is over—or so two Spanish historians claim. Pilgrims have been flocking to San Isidro basilica in Leon, Spain for the past week, in order to see a 2,000-year-old ebony cup that has been dubbed the original chalice of Christ. The crowds got so heavy, in fact, that the vessel was removed from display. But there are pictures of it all over the news. It looks like this:
My first thought upon seeing photos of this ancient relic was, That can’t be right. It doesn’t look like that. My second thought was, Why do I think I know what the Holy Grail looks like? And then I realized:
Recognize it? That’s the cup that Indiana Jones discovers at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If you recall the scene, Nazi ally Julian Glover and professor-with-flexible-leave-time Harrison Ford make their way to the sanctuary of an ancient temple, where they’re given a test: choose the real Grail from a collection of fancy cups. Glover chooses the fanciest one, drinks from it, and is disintegrated, like so:
Then our pal Indy selects the smallest, dustiest vessel, saying, “This is the cup of a carpenter.” He uses his cup to save Sean Connery’s life, the Nazi lady dies, and a thousand sermons are born.
The idea that Jesus would drink from a totally ordinary cup at the Last Supper always made sense to me; after all, He wasn’t dining in a palace, and none of the disciples designed fancy cups for a living. But Grail historians are still looking for jewel-encrusted goblets. Why? Because they believe in the legend, and the Biblical account of Christ’s last meal doesn’t have much to do with it.
In the Bible, the Holy Grail only appears insofar as Jesus and his disciples shared a cup of wine at Passover. No attention is drawn to it, any more than the plates they presumably ate the bread from.
The legend of the Grail can be traced back to the twelfth century poem Perceval: The Story of the Grail, by Chrétien de Troyes—better known to movie buffs as The Story of the Fisher King.
The poet doesn’t specify the origin of the Grail, but as other Medieval authors and artists picked up the theme, the cup became linked to the Holy Chalice. An elaborate legend developed around the relic, and there are now multiple contenders for the title of Actual Holy Grail. The Valencia Chalice in Spain is considered the most legit, if only because several Popes have used it in eucharistic ceremonies. However, the concept of the Holy Grail is not formally recognized by the Catholic Church—or any other church, for that matter.