The Holy Grail. A Christian Literary Theme in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"

Essay 2017 15 Pages

Literature - Comparative Literature


The Holy Grail in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code By Asst. Lect. Muhanned Ajel Hadi University of Al- Qadissiyah

The word "grail " comes from Old French "graal" or "greal", means "a cup or bowl of earth, wood, or metal". According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, after the cycle of the grail romance was well established, late medieval writers came up with a false etymology for sangrail, an alternative name for "holy grail". In old French "san grail" means "holy grail" and sang real means "royal blood". 1

The holy grail is a sacred object figuring in literature and certain Christian traditions, most often identified with the dish, plate, or cup used by Jesus at the last supper, or vessel that caught Jesus' blood during his crucifixion. 2

It was said that the grail had the power to heal all wounds and possess miraculous powers which are : ability to prolong natural life and ability to revive recently deceased. It was said that fertility, restoration, and rebirth are the key themes; they constitute the promise of the grail, its capability of saving an individual and even an entire land from calamity. 3

Many stories involved the grail exist. In one such tale, the man with the lance pierces Jesus' side on the cross is cured of blindness by the blood in the cup. Because of its association with Christ, the grail becomes one of the great relics sought after by kings and knights for centuries. That is why there were many figures who were interested in studying or writing about the holy grail. 4

Ropert de Boron was a French poet of the late 12th and early 13th centuries who was most notable as the author of the poem "Joseph d' Arimathe". He is the first author to give the holy grail myth an explicit Christian dimension. According to him, Joseph of Arimathea used the grail (the last supper vessel) to catch the last drops of blood from Jesus' s body as he was hung on the cross. Joseph is thrown in prison, where Christ visits him and explains the mysterious of the blessed cup. Upon his release Joseph gathers his in-laws and others followers and travels to the west, and found a dynasty of grail keepers that eventually includes Perceval. 5

The grail is first featured in Perceval, "Le Conte du Graal" by Chretien de Troyes, who states that while Perceval is dining in the magical abode of the Fisher King, he witnesses a wondrous procession in which youths carry magnificent objects from one chamber to another, passing before him at each course of the meal. First comes a young man carrying a bleeding lance, then two boys carrying candelabras. Finally, a beautiful young girl emerges bearing an elaborately decorated grail. 6

For Chretien the grail was a wide, somewhat deep dish or bowl, and interesting because it contained not a pike, salmon or lamprey but a single mass wafer which provided sustenance for the Fisher King's crippled father. The story of the wounded king's mystical fasting is not unique, several saints were said to have lived without food beside communion. For instance, Saint Catherine of Genoa. This may imply that Chretien intended the mass wafer to be the significant part of the ritual and the grail to be mere prop. 7

Perceval's guest, spiral though it was that of "redeeming the Spirit of God in matter, under the guidance of the self, the inner 'Christ'….to discover the form in which the essential psychic life of Christ continues to exist and what that means". This grail is concerned with carrying on Christ's effectiveness in this world as a vessel through which the divine can have its way.8

In "Sir Galahad", Alfred Lord Tennyson describes Galahad who upon reaching adulthood is reunited with his father Sir Lancelot, who knights him. Sir Galahad is then brought to king Arthur' s court at Camelot, where he is accompanied by a very old knight who immediately leads over to the Round Table and unveils his seat at the Siege Perilous , an unused chair that has been kept vacant for the sole person who will accomplish the guest of the holy grail. 9

Sir Galahad survived this test, witnessed by king Arthur who, upon realizing the greatness or this new knight, led him out to the river where a sword lied on a stone with an inscription said "never shall man take me hence but only he by whose side I ought to hang; and he shall be the best knight of the world". Galahad accomplished this test with ease, and King Arthur swiftly proclaimed him to be the greatest knight ever, that is why, he was promptly invited to become a knight of the Round Table. Galahad for the most part traveled alone, smote his enemies , rescued Sir Percival from twenty knights and saved maidens from distress, until he finally reunited with Sir Bors and Sir Perceval. 10

After that these three knights came across Sir Perceval's sister who led them to the grail ship. They crossed the sea in this ship and when they arrived on a distant shore, Perceval's sister was forced to die to save another one. That made Sir Bors departed from the company in order to take her body back to her own country for a proper burial. After many adventures Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval found themselves at the court of king Pells and Eliazar, his son. those men were very holy and they brought Galahad into a room where he was finally allowed to see the holy grail. Galahad was asked to take the vessel (the holy grail) to the holy city of Sarras. 11

Galahad's incredible prowess and fortune in the quest for the holy grail were traced back to his piety and purity. According to the legend, only pure knights may achieve the grail. While in specific sense, this purity refers to chastity; Galahad appeared to have lived generally a sinless life, like Jesus Christ and so as a result he lived and thought on a level entirely a part from him. This quality was reflected in Alfred Tennyson's poem "Sir Galahad" 12:

My good blade carves the casques of men

My tough lance thrusteth sure

My strength is as the strength of ten

Because my heart is pure 13

T. S. Eliot, in his poem "The Waste Land," told the archetypal version of a story in which a king fell ill and became impotent. As a result, his kingdom turned to be desolate. The ravaged land wasted away and it was in need for remedy. So a brave knight headed off on a quest to obtain the holy grail which will bring life and fruitfulness back to the kingdom. The knight must face numerous obstacles but when he finally found the grail, it restored the king and his kingdom. 14

Although Eliot spoke greatly about the grail in his poem "The Waste Land", some critics stated that there was little in the way of specific reference to the holy grail itself in this poem. Instead Eliot referred to those elements and figures that surrounded the holy chalice in the various tales, for example, the impotent king, the waste land, the perilous chapel and cemetery, the rejoicing of the restored kingdom, but rarely to the cup as an object. The grail did not magically appear in the final stanzas, came to rescue us all; instead Eliot suggested it is up to mankind to construct our own salvation. 15

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail is a controversial book by Michael Baignent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. In this book, the authors put forward a hypothesis that the historical Jesus married Mary Magdalene, had one or more children and that those children or their descendents emigrated to what is now Southern France. Once there, they intermarried noble families that would eventually become the Merovingian dynasty, whose special claim to the throne of France is championed today by a secret society called the Priory of Sino. They concluded that the legendry holy grail is simultaneously the womb of Saint Mary Magdalene and the sacred royal bloodline she gave birth to which is supposed to be found nowadays. 16

The fate of the holy grail is unknown. Ownership has been attributed to various groups (including the knight Templar). There are cups claimed to be the grail in several churches like the Valencia Cathedral. The emerald chalice at Genoa, which was obtained during the crusades at Aleppo at great cost, has been less championed as the holy grail since an accident on the road while it was being returned from Paris after the fall of Napoleon revealed that the emerald was green glass. Other stories state that the grail is buried beneath Rosslyn Chapel or is to be found deep in the spring at Glastonbury Tor. Still other stories state that the grail was moved variously to either Nova Scottia or to Accokeek. 17

Dan Brown, best-selling author of The Da Vinci Code, was born on June 22, 1964. Brown grew up as the eldest of three children in Exeter New Hampshire and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, a decidedly up-market school where his father was employed as a math teacher in 1982. His mother, Constance, was a professional musician principally involved in performing sacred music. Brown then attended Amherst college, graduating with a degree in English and Spanish in 1986 and spent several subsequent years attempting to establish himself as a singer-songwriter and pianist with only marginal success. He employed as Artistic Director of the National Academy of Songwriters. He met with Blythe Newlon. This lady, twelve years his senior, was then after their relationship developed used her influence in attempts to further Dan Brown' musical careers.18


1 Diez Friedrich, An Etymological Dictionary of the Romance Languages,(London: Harvard University Press, 1864), 236.

2 Roger Sherman, Grail from Celtic Myth to Christian Symbol, (Princeton: Yale University Press, 1991), 12

3 http:// en. Wikiquote. Org/ wiki / Holy Grail, Arthur Rackham, 1917, Paris. Date of Access: 27/ 11 / 2011.

4 http: // WWW. Gradesaver. Com, the Waste Land and the Holy Grail, Harvard University Press.

5 Pierre Le Gentil, The Work of Robert de Boron and The Didot Perceval (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), 14

6 Richard Barber, The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief (London: Harvard University Press, 2004), 29.

7 Ibid ,p.31

8 http:// WWW. Jungatlanta. Com, The Grail Lgend, Emma Jung and Marrie Louise, Princeton University Press, 1998, P. 116 – 7. Date of

9 George Frederick Watts, Arthurian Tradition Essays in Convergence tuscaloos (Alabama: Alabama University Press, 1988), 26.

10 Ibid, p.34

11 Ibid, p.37

12 http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/galahad html, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sir Galahad. Date of Access: 7/4/2012.

13 Ibid

14 http:// WWW. Gradesaver. Com, The waste Land and the Holy Grail, Harvard University Press, 1999. Date of Access: 8 / 12 / 2012.

15 Ibid

16 Henry Lincoln, The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, Corgi. ISBN 0 - 552 – 12138 – X, 1982,

17 http:// WWW. Myspace. Com / holy grail, 2011. Date of Access: 27/ 12 / 2011.

18 http://WWW. Age of the sage. Org/ the Da Vinci Code index, Dan Brown- Biography. Date of Access: 3 / 1 / 2012.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
403 KB
Catalog Number
dan brown holy grail christian mythology last supper



Title: The Holy Grail. A Christian Literary Theme in Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code"