There are traces in the Anglo-Norman romances of a certain fluidic sense in which Britain and its immediate connections, according to the subsurface mind of their writers, stood typically for the world. They were familiar enough with the names of other regions--with Syria, Egypt, Rome--above all, with the Holy Places in the Jerusalem which is below; but their world was the Celtic world, comprised, let us say, between Scotia and Ireland on the one side and central France on the other. This region came, I think, to signify symbolically, and so we hear that the failure to ask "one little question" involved the destruction of kingdoms, while the belated interrogation seems to have lifted the veil of enchantment from the world itself. The cloud upon the sanctuary was a cloud over that world; its lifting was a glory restored everywhere. But as the enchantment, except within very narrow limits, and then ex hypothesi, was only of the imputed order, so the combined restoration of Nature in common with Grace was but imputed also; the woe and inhibition were removed as secretly as they were imposed. So again, when the chivalry of the Round Table--in the Greater Chronicles--covenanted to go forth on the Quest of the Holy Graal, the universal and proclaimed object was to terminate the hard times of adventure, which had become intolerable: pour deliveir nôtre pais des grans mervelles et des estrainges auentures qui tant y sont auenues, lonc tans a. The whole position reminds one of that chapter in the Apocalypse which presents a
sheaf of instructions to the Seven Churches of Asia. No one knew better than the Jews not only concerning Rome, Greece and Alexandria, but of the world extended further; this notwithstanding, when the great book of the secret Christian mystery was first written, the world of Christendom was confined chiefly within narrow limits in Asia, and this was the world of the Apocalypse. It was actually all Assiah of Kabalism, though the few who have dared to institute a philological connection between the one name and the other have gone, as usual, astray. Recurring to the fact out of which this analogy arises, let me add, as a matter of justice to an hypothesis which I seek to present adequately, that within this Celtic world the first and most natural sympathies in the religious order would be indubitably with its own aspirations, and I set aside therefore for the time being all speculation as to anything rich and strange in Rite and Doctrine which may have been brought from the Eastern world by those--whoever they were--who first planted Christianity on the known confines of the Western world. The chief points of the hypothesis may be collected into a schedule as follows:
1. It is certain that the Graal Legend is of Celtic origin and making, because of the Celtic attributions of the romances and their Celtic mise-en-scène and characters; because of the Celtic names, disguised and otherwise, which are found in the romances, even in those which belong to the Teutonic cycle; and because of the undoubted derivations into the Graal Legend from Welsh folklore. This is agreed on all hands, and will therefore call of necessity for no extension or comment in this place.
2. The romance of the Holy Graal, regarding the cycles synthetically, is a glorified ecclesiastical legend of Celtic origin; there are other ecclesiastical legends, referable to the same source, which suggest the Graal atmosphere. The "Graal Church" was in its earlier stages the Celtic Church contrasted with the Saxo-Roman.
3. The nucleus is to be found in the story of St. David and his miraculous altar. The apostle of South
[paragraph continues] Wales, with some other saints, made a pilgrimage in the legend to Jerusalem, where the patriarch of the Holy City invested him as archbishop and gave him "a consecrated altar in which the body of our Lord once lay." It was transported to Wales, performed innumerable miracles, but after the death of St. David it was covered with skins and was never seen by any one. According to a variant of the legend, this altar--and possibly some other Hallows--was carried through the air to Britain, and hence was often described as e coelo veniens. Though apparently it was the rock-hewn sepulchre mentioned in the New Testament, no man could specify its shape, its colour, or of what material it was fashioned; in addition to its other wonders, it gave oracles--that is to say, a voice spoke therein, as it did, according to the romances, in the Graal itself. St. David died about 601 A.D.; he gave the Mass to Britain; he was of the lineage of Our Lady; and his birth having been foretold by the finding of a great fish, he was termed the Waterman--vir aquaticus--which recalls the Rich Fisherman of the later legends. It might be said that this title was applicable especially to him, as one who was rich in the conversion of souls to Christ and in the greater gifts of sanctity. His ancestors bore the name of Avallach, whence that of the king .of Sarras seems to be derived certainly; and he is said to have provided sacred vessels for the celebration of the Eucharist.
4. The secret words of the Robert de Borron cycle refer to the Epiclesis of the Celtic Rite. The form of Eucharistic consecration in the Latin Rite is actually the words of Institution--that is to say, the New Testament's account of the Last Supper. In the East, however, consecration is effected by addition of the Epiclesis clause--that is, by the invocation of the Holy Spirit. In its more usual form, it is a petition for the descent of the Comforter, firstly, upon the worshippers, and, secondly, upon the Altar gifts, that the elements may be converted into the Divine Body and Blood. The liturgy of St.
[paragraph continues] John Chrysostom may be consulted on this point; indeed, from one passage it would seem to follow that what was communicated was the Holy Ghost, an idea in which all that is usually attached to the Eucharistic office seems to dissolve in a higher light. The evidence is, however, confessedly somewhat indirect, as no Gallican or other connected liturgy gives the words of institution, but they are found in full in a North Italian, perhaps a Milanese, liturgy, and elsewhere, as we shall see shortly. It has been said that between 750 and 820 A.D. certain words in the Celtic Rite vanished from the consecration of the Eucharist, which would correspond, I suppose, ex hypothesi, to the intervention of the Roman Rite. The Celtic was abolished formally about 850, but is said to have survived to the period of the Graal literature. The Welsh would have learned from the Crusades that the Liturgy of the Holy Spirit was still used in the East.
5. The hereditary Graal Keepers, so strongly emphasised in the romances, are derived from the Hereditary Relic Keepers of the Celtic Church. Mr. J. Romilly Allen, in his Monumental History of the Early British Church, has said: "The vicissitudes through which the relics passed in the course of centuries were often of a most romantic description. The story was generally the same. The book, bell or crozier belonging to the founder of the Church was supposed to have acquired peculiar sanctity and even supernatural properties by association with him; and after his death it was often enclosed in a costly metal shrine of exquisite workmanship. Each relic had its hereditary custodian, who was responsible for its safe keeping and who in return received certain privileges, such as . . . the title to inherit certain land, of which the relic constituted the tenure." The preservation of relics under hereditary guardianship seems to have been common among Celtic families--as, for example, the banner of St. Columba. So also the relics of certain saints belonging to the Scoto-Irish Church were placed in the care of families of hereditary keepers;
these were consecrated objects, not human remains, and they were regarded as of great virtue when borne in battle by a person who was free from any deadly sin. Sometimes a venerable cup was deposited in a special shrine; sometimes the book of the gospels was enclosed in triple cases--as of wood, copper and silver. The custody of such an object became an office of dignity from generation to generation in a single family. The general characteristics of the Celtic relic may be enumerated as follows, but it is not intended to say that every sacred object possessed all the qualities: (a) It came from heaven, like the Graal; (b) it was of mysterious and incomprehensible matter; (c) it was oracular; (d) like the Graal, it had the power of speech; (e) it healed the sick, as the Graal did also occasionally, though this was not its specific office; (f) like the Graal, it must not be seen by unqualified persons; (g) it had the power of miraculous self-transportation, and the Holy Cup, in certain romances, was also a wandering vessel; (h) it acted as a guide; (i) it was a palladium; (k) it executed judgment on the wicked and profane, which is the characteristic in chief of the Graal in the metrical romance of De Borron.
6. In the Panegyric of St. Columba, a document ascribed to the last years of the eleventh century, it is recorded among his other good works that--like his peer, St. David of Wales--he provided a Mass Chalice for every Church--presumably within his special sphere of influence or perhaps even in the islands generally. Readers of the prose Perceval Le Gallois will remember that chalices were so uncommon in Arthurian days that the King, during a certain quest, seems to have met with one, and that miraculously, for the first time in his life. The explanation is that wooden bowls may have been used previously for purposes of consecration. This was at the Mass of the Graal which Arthur was permitted to see in the course of his travelling. We should remember at this point that it is only at the close of the cycle
in Northern French--that is to say, in the romance which I have just mentioned, in that of Galahad and in the Book of the Holy Graal, that the Sacred Vessel--its other uses notwithstanding--is connected expressly and indubitably with the administration of the Eucharist, though it is not always the vessel of communion.
7. There are historical memorials of mystic and holy cups, possessing great virtues and preserved in old Welsh families. Among these is the Holy Cup of Tregaron, which was made of the wood of the True Cross and its healing virtues were manifested so recently as the year 1901. The curious thing in the romances is that the Holy Graal heals every one except the Keeper himself, who in the Perceval cycle can be cured only by a question, and in the Galahad legend--but here it is a former Keeper--by the magnetic touch of his last lineal descendant.
8. In England during the Middle Ages--but this is a side-issue which is mentioned only for its possible greater antiquity and origin in Celtic times--the Eucharist was reserved, as we have seen otherwise, in a Columbarium, or Dove-House, being a vessel shaped like a dove. This was the Tabernacle of its period, and it recalls (a) some archaic pictures of a Cup over which a dove broods; (b) the descent of a dove on the Graal stone in Wolfram's poem; (c) the passage of symbolic doves in connection with the Graal procession as told by several romances, but especially in the Quest of Galahad; and (d) the office of the Holy Spirit in the Graal legend. But it is also suggested--and this, I believe, is by Huysman--that the Tabernacle was frequently in the form of an ivory tower to symbolise Christ in the womb of the Virgin, who is herself called Turris eburnea.
9. The vanishing of the Graal refers (a) to the actual disappearance of St. David's altar after the death of its custodian; (b) to the disappearance of the Celtic Church before the Roman; and (c) to the subjugation of the British by the Saxons. The Welsh Church was preeminently
a monastic church, and, in spite of the existence of bishops, its government was in the hands of monks. The claim of the ancient British Church generally, including its legend that the first Church of Glastonbury was consecrated by our Lord Himself, may help us to explain the undertone of dissent from Rome which has been noted here and there in the subsurface of the Graal literature, but especially, as it has been thought, in the Longer Prose Perceval. To appreciate the position fully, we have to remember that the Latin rite gained ground and influence with the Norman Conquest, though independently of that rite there were monasteries in remote valleys where the old liturgy and the ancient form of consecration may have been still used and where also the ancient wisdom of the Druids was preserved, though--in spite of certain testimonies--it could have been scarcely considered consistent for a man to be a mystic Druid and also a Christian. The Druidic secret was symbolised by the term Afalon, which means the Apple Orchard. The last Welsh Archbishop of St. David's died in 1115, and was succeeded by a Norman, that is to say, by a Roman prelate.
10. Cadwaladr is Galahad. Galahad took away the Holy Graal, because, according to the Welsh Quest, the world was not worthy. His prototype, in despair of his country, removed certain relics, and, by the testimony of one tradition, he died in the Holy Land, as if he also had departed to Sarras, with the intention of proceeding further. Another story says that he projected the reconquest of Britain in a fleet furnished by his kinsman Alain of Brittany, where he was then in exile; but an angel warned him to desist. He was to seek the Pope and confess, and he would be canonised after his death--which, according to this legend, occurred at Rome. This chieftain, who loomed so largely in the Welsh imagination, who, like Bran of pre-Christian legend, was termed the Blessed, was regarded as of the royal line of David; he is thought to have been the custodian of holy
relics belonging to his family before him, and when he died, in reality, as it seems, of the Yellow Sickness, in 664, his return was confidently expected. So many legends grew up around him that he appears to have gathered up in himself all the aspirations of Celtdom. His return is associated with the second manifestation of his relics and with the final felicity of the Celts. Awaiting that event, the entire British Church, for some reason not otherwise explicable, began to droop and decay. But I may note here that a great Welsh revival was inaugurated in the year 1077 A.D. by the return of Rhys-ap-Tewdwr from Brittany. Bards and Druids were at white heat, and Rhys himself was a descendant traditionally of Cadwaladr the Blessed, who was to restore all things. He even claimed identity with that departed hero.
11. When the particular set of claims connected with Glastonbury began to be manufactured about 1150, to centralise a wide field of interests at a defined point, Joseph of Arimathæa was substituted for St. David. There was the supposed body of Joseph, there the phial which he brought containing the Precious Blood, there also the body of King Arthur, and by imputation the Sapphirus, the lost altar of the Welsh apostle, the last of these recalling rather plausibly, and accounting for, the Lapsit exillis, or exilix, of Wolfram. From this point of view it is worthy of close attention (a) for its sacramental connection; (b) for its association with the body of our Lord; and (c) for the mystery attaching to its form, with which we may compare the vagueness which characterises nearly all the descriptions of the Graal vessel.
12. The descent of the Graal prima materia from folk-lore no more explains the Christian legend of the Graal than the words vir and virtus explain the particular significance attaching to the term virtuoso. The mythological Salmon of Wisdom as a prototype of the Fish in De Borron's poem is a case in point. The real approximate progenitor is the primitive Christian symbol, which was familiar to Celtic Christianity, and seeing that
the latter was much like the Church at large of several centuries earlier, so it may have preserved things which elsewhere had passed out of memory--the Ichthus symbol among them. This signified Christ, and especially the Eucharistic species. It also symbolised the Disciplina Arcani and was the most general of Christian emblems; it passed into a specific form of expression for the concealment of the more interior mysteries, and to partake of the Fish was an evasion for the reception of the sacrament.
13. His connection with the Quest of the Graal not only enabled King Arthur to furnish chalices for churches but bells also, which seem to have been unknown previously in Logres. In the Celtic veneration for relics they bear, however, a conspicuous part, the examples being far too numerous for recitation in this place. I can say only that their cultus, their care, the keeperships instituted in connection and the wonders ascribed to them are common to ancient Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
14. Reverting once more to St. David, it is reported traditionally that the first church which he built was situated at Glastonbury, and in connection with this ascription, it is said to have been consecrated by Christ Himself; so that in more senses than in one sense merely the place was a source and fountain of all religion in the Kingdom of Britain, as affirmed by William of Malmesbury. It was therefore among ecclesiastical structures what the second Joseph was among the bishops of Christendom. If ever there was an arch-natural Mass celebrated and a noumenal Eucharist administered at a specific place in Logres, assuredly with these warrants it would have been only at Glastonbury, the connection of which with St. David raises one further point. The Celtic Church held that the Roman Pontiff was the successor of St. Peter, but the patriarch of Jerusalem--who ordained the Apostle of Wales--was the successor of Christ. The subsurface intention which created this legend seems to have been nearly identical with that which put forward the super-apostolical succession of Joseph
[paragraph continues] II., and it follows that Celtic imagination at work in the field of hagiology furnished the makers of romance--and the author in particular of the Book of the Holy Graal--with an ample groundwork. The substitution of the man of Arimathæa for the original patron of Wales was the appropriation of an independent legend, which served the ecclesiastical side of Angevin ambition without affording a handle to the troublesome principality on the western side of the vast dominions of Anjou.
15. There are "distinct traces of something 'queer' in the Masses of the earliest Celtic Church--before the coming of St. David in Wales or of St. Columba in Scotland and Ireland." An allusion to the "queerness" in question may be found in the following passage of the Lesser Holy Graal, forming part of the discourse of Christ to Joseph of Arimathæa when He brought the Holy Graal to console the prisoner in his tower: "Et ensinc con ge lou dis à la table, seront pluseurs tables establies à moi sacrefier, qui sénéfiera la croiz, et lov vaissel là où l’an sacrefiera et saintefiera, la pierre où tu méis mon cors, que li caalices sénéfiera où mes cors sera sacrez, en samblance d’une oïste, et la platainne qui sera dessus mises sénéfiera lou couvercle de coi tu me covris," &c. Alternatively, seeing that there is no mention of the Blood, it may be "a manifesto of the party who wished the chalice to be denied the laity," or, finally, the utterance of some obscure party or sect. "The latter view finds some support in the Hermit's story"--referring here to the Prologue of the Book of the Holy Graal--"of his meeting with a knight who had seen him in a place that he named."
16. And now as regards the summary of the whole matter, the position may be expressed as follows: (a) The Graal legend is demonstrably of Celtic stuff--in part of Celtic folk-lore which has turned good Christian, but more largely of ecclesiastical legend; (b) it derives from the story of St. David and his altar; (c) the original Graal book was probably a legend following a special and peculiar Liturgy; (d) the legend told of
the Christianising of Britain by St. David, the celebration of the Christian Mysteries on the saints' miraculous altar, which was actually the sepulchre of our Lord, of the wonders wrought by this altar, of the coming of the heathens, the ruin of Britain, the flight of its King--who was St. David's last descendant--bearing with him the altar relic to the East. There he died, thence he shall yet return, again bearing the relic; the Britons shall triumph, the Saxons shall suffer expulsion, and the mystic words shall be uttered once more over the Thaumaturgic Altar. It is obvious that, according to this hypothesis, the book, which was far older than any Graal literature, remained in concealment in Wales and perhaps was unearthed at the Norman Conquest of Glamorganshire, when it was modified, varied, exalted, transformed and allegorised by successive makers of romance, being adapted specifically as an aid to the House of Anjou, in its struggle with the Pope, by the author of the Book of the Holy Graal--whether Walter Map or another. But Rome proved more than one part too strong and by more than one interest too many for the ambition of Henry II., while as regards Wales, it had long and long already succumbed to the Latin Rite.