Having thus indicated after what manner the Graal legend and its literature is tinged with mystery and symbolism à parte ante et à parte post, the next matter of our inquiry is concerned with the Institution of the Hallows. In all its forms indifferently, the Legend of the Holy Graal depends upon powers and offices ascribed to certain sacred objects. Those texts which it has become customary to term the Early Histories, equally with those which present the various versions of the Quest, revolve about these Hallows, showing how they were instituted, how they came into Britain, in whose hands they were preserved at first, to whom
they were transmitted successively, why and by whom they were sought, and what, in fine, became of them.
Among the general characteristics of the French cycle we shall find that there is the passage of these Hallows from East to West. They are in hereditary keeping, and in the end, according to certain versions, they are again taken East. There are, however, numerous phases of the legend, important variations in the Hallows, while claims which are manifest in certain texts are in others non-existent. The cycle in Germany took over the legend of the Swan Knight and imported the Templar interest expressly; on the other hand, the introduction of certain highly ascetic elements is thought to be characterised by the coming of Galahad into the Graal Quest. The peculiar ecclesiastical claims which are the subsurface warrant of the cycle written in Northern French were never put forward ostensibly, and in the Galahad legend there remains only the shadow of those earlier designs which might be constructed as in dissonance with the Latin rite.
The Quest of the Holy Graal and of the other Hallows which were from time to time connected therewith is followed by many knightly heroes, most of whom are unsuccessful; the preliminary conditions of attainment are purity and sanctity, but there is nothing to show that these were sufficient in themselves, and as there were other qualifications, so in some signal instances a partial success was not impossible in the absence, or at least comparatively, of those warrants which in given cases were claimed as essential. Once more, therefore, the cycle of Northern France may be regarded as falling into four divisions:--
(b) The circumstances under which the Hallows were carried into Britain, or alternatively were found therein, and the later circumstances of their partial manifestation.
(d) The occasion of their final departure.
The texts, therefore, purport to provide the complete History of the Graal, including whence it came, where it abode for a while, and whither it has gone. This is not to say that there are express books treating of each section only. The metrical romance of De Borron does, however, stand simply for the first part, and the same applies to its prose rendering in the Lesser Holy Graal. The second part is found in the Book of the Holy Graal, and the third in the Didot Perceval, the Conte del Graal, the Parsifal of Wolfram, the Longer Prose Perceval and the Great Quest of Galahad. The German Perceval excepted, all these stories of research give an account of the withdrawal--some at considerable length, and some briefly.
Again, the later romances may be divided into two sections: (a) those which speak of an enchantment fallen on Britain, and (b) those which are concerned with the termination of certain adventurous times. If the literature follows any set purpose, a definable importance must be attributed to the meaning of that enchantment and those adventures. In this manner, the chief questions may be summarised alternatively as follows:--
(b) The qualifications for the Quest.
(c) The Hereditary Keepers of the Graal.
(d) The King's Wounding and the King's Healing.
(e) The enchantments of Britain in connection with the Wounded Keeper.
(f) The removal of the Graal and the close those times which the texts term adventurous, since when there has been silence on earth in respect of the Holy Graal.
The sacramental claim is introduced, among other documents, in (a) the De Borron poem; (b) the Lesser
[paragraph continues] Holy Graal; while its shadow is projected as a secret which cannot be told in (c) the proem to the Conte del Graal. It seems to be found by a vague and remote inference in the Longer Prose Perceval, and it may be gathered by brief allusions in the early prose Merlin. In the Great Quest it has been expunged, while it is outside the tradition as represented by Wolfram. The Quest qualifications are vague in Chrétien and exceed reason. They are perhaps what might be termed ethical--but in the high degree--in Wolfram, who presents the marriage of Perceval. The so-called ascetic element appears fully in the Book of the Holy Graal, in the Longer Prose Perceval, and in the Quest of Galahad. The King's Wounding is accounted for differently in every romance; the withdrawal of the Graal is also told differently; sometimes it passes simply into deeper concealment; sometimes it seems taken away utterly; in one version there is another keeper appointed, but of the realm apart from the Hallows; it is carried to the far East in another; in two texts it remains where it was.
If there is a secret intention permeating the bulk of the literature, again it must partly reside in those epochs into which the literature falls; their consideration should manifest it and should enable us to deal, at the close of the whole research, with the final problem, being that which is signified by the departure of the Sacred Vessel.
Each of the Hallows has its implied enigma, besides that which appears openly in its express nature, and as we know that the mysteries of God are mysteries of patience and compassion, we shall be prepared to find in their reflections through the Graal Legend that even some offices of judgment are formularies of concealed mercy. They are therefore both declared and undeclared--that is to say, understood; and as there are certain Hallows which only appear occasionally, so there are suggestions and inferences concerning others which do not appear at all. That which was always in evidence is that to which the distinctive name of Graal is applied in
every text, but enough has been said concerning it till we come to its exhaustive consideration in the next section. The second and third Hallows are the Lance and the Sword. The Lance is that which was used by the Roman soldier Longinus to pierce the side of Christ at the Crucifixion, or it is this at least according to the more general tradition. Of the Sword there are various stories, and it is this which in some cases serves to inflict the wound from which the Enchantments of Britain follow. It is (a) that which served to behead St. John the Baptist, in which connection we can understand its position as a sacred object; (b) that of the King and Prophet David, committed by Solomon to a wonderful ship, which went voyaging, voyaging throughout the ages till it should be seen by Galahad, the last scion of the royal house of Israel; or (c) it is simply an instrument preserved as a token belonging to a legend of vengeance, in which relation it was brought over from folk-lore and is nothing to the purpose of the Graal.
The Dish, which is the fourth and final object included among the authorised Hallows, is more difficult to specify, because its almost invariable appearance in the pageant of the high processions is accompanied by no intelligible explanation respecting it; and although it has also its antecedents in folk-lore, its mystic explanation, if any, must be sought very far away. Like the rest of the Hallows, it is described with many variations in the different books. It may be a salver of gold and precious stones, set on a silver cloth and carried by two maidens; it may be a goodly plate of silver, or a little golden vessel, and this simply, except in the Longer Prose Perceval, which as it multiplies the Hallows so it divides their ministry; but here, as elsewhere, the Dish does not embody apparently the feeding properties which are one aspect of the mystery.
In summary therefore: subject to characteristic variations which are particular to each text, it will be found that the several romances follow or forecast one general
process, exhibiting a general secret intention, manifested though not declared, and it is for this intention that my study has to account.