The true legitimacies are for the most part in exile, or otherwise with their rights in abeyance. The real canons of literature can be uttered only behind doors or in the secrecy of taverns. The secrets of the great orthodoxies are very seldom communicated, even to epopts on their advancement. The highest claims of all are not so much wanting in warrant as wanting those spokesmen who are willing to utter them. We shall not be surprised, therefore, to find that the custodians of the Holy Graal, which was a mystery of all secrecy, "there where no sinner can be," despite the kingly titles ascribed to them, sometimes abode in the utmost seclusion.
Let us seek in the first instance to realise the nature and the place of that Castle or Temple which, according to the legend, was for a period of centuries the sanctuary of the Sacred Vessel and of the other hallowed objects connected therewith. It is in the several locations of the Hallows that we shall come at a later time into a fuller understanding of their offices and of the meanings which may lie behind them. They are not to be regarded exactly as part of the mystery of the Castle; but at least this is more than a casket, and between the container and the things contained, distinct though their significance may be, there are points of correlation, so that the one throws light on the other.
We have seen that the Vessel itself was brought from Salem to Britain, and it follows from the historical texts that the transit had a special purpose, one explanation of which will be found ready to our hands when the time comes for its consideration. The Castle is described after several manners, the later romances being naturally the more specific, and we get in fine a geographical settlement and boundary. In the Chrétien portion of the
[paragraph continues] Conte del Graal, Perceval discovers the Castle in a valley, wherein it is well and beautifully situated, having a four-square tower, with a principal hall and a bridge leading up to the chief entrance. In some of the other legends the asylum is so withdrawn that it is neither named nor described. The Early History of Merlin speaks of it not less simply as the place where they had the Holy Vessel in keeping. According to the Didot Perceval, it is the house of the Rich King Fisherman; it is situated in a valley; it has a tower, and is approached by a bridge. It might be a tower merely, for the description is not less vague than many accounts of the Cup. One of the late Merlin texts says merely that the Holy Vessel is in the West--that is, in the Land of Vortigern, or that it abides in Northumbria. Another says that the Castle is Corbenic; but though we hear a good deal concerning it, there is no description whatever.
The section of the Conte del Graal which is referable to Gautier de Doulens says that it is situated on a causeway tormented by the sea. The building is of vast extent and is inhabited by a great folk. We hear of its ceiling, emblazoned with gold and embroidered with silver stars, of its tables of precious metal, its images and the rich gems which enlighten it. In a word, we are already in the region of imaginative development and adornment, but it is all mere decoration which carries with it no meaning beyond the heavy tokens of splendour. Manessier furnishes no special account, and Gerbert, who has other affairs at heart than solicitude about a material building or desire to exalt it into allegory, leaves it unsketched entirely.
The Book of the Holy Graal is the only French text which contains in a methodical account the building of the Holy House. The first wardens have passed from the land of the living, and Alain le Gros is the keeper of the Blessed Vessel. The actual builder is a certain converted king of Terre Foraine, and there is a covenant between him and Alain, one condition of which
is that the Graal shall remain in his kingdom. The Castle on its completion is given the mystic name of Corbenic, in obedience to an inscription which is found blazoned on one of the entrance gates. The name is said to signify the Treasury of the Holy Vessel. The Graal is placed in a fair chamber of the Castle, as if on an altar of repose, but, all his munificence notwithstanding and all the sacramental visions which he sees in the Holy Place, beating of birds' wings and chanting of innumerable voices, the king is visited speedily for his mere presence and receives his death-wound at the very altar: it is the judgment of the sanctuary on those who desecrate the sanctuary by carrying, however unwittingly, an unhallowed past therein, and it recalls the traditional conclusion of the Cabiric Mysteries, wherein the candidate was destroyed by the gods. Setting aside an analogy on which I am by no means insisting, the event was the beginning of those wonders which earned for Castle Corbenic the name of the Palace Adventurous, because no one could enter therein, and no one could sleep, its lawful people excepted, without death overtaking them, or some other grievous penalty.
The prose Lancelot is in near correspondence with Chrétien, representing the Castle as situated at the far end of a great valley, with water encircling it. On another occasion it is named rather than described, and visited but not expounded, but we learn that it is situated in a town which has many dwellers therein. In the Quest of Galahad it is a rich and fair building, with a postern opening towards the sea, and this was guarded by lions, between which a man might pass only if he carried the arms of faith, since the sword availed nothing and there was no protection in harness. For the visitor who was expected or tolerated, it would seem that all doors stood open, except the door of the sanctuary. But this would unclose of itself; the light would issue from within; the silver table would be seen; and thereon the Holy Vessel, covered with drapery of samite. There also on a day
might be celebrated, with becoming solemnity, the Great Mass of the Supersanctified, and this even in the presence of those who were not clean in their past, so only that they had put away their sin when they entered on the Quest. It was thus beheld by Lancelot, though he lay as one dead afterwards, because of his intrusion. So also the welcome guest had reason to know that the court of King Pelles held a great fellowship in the town of Corbenic. But there were other visitors at times and seasons who saw little of all this royalty, like Hector de Marys, who--brother as he was to my lord Sir Lancelot--found the doors all barred against him and no warden to open, long as he hailed thereat.
The most decorative of all the accounts is, however, in the Longer Prose Perceval, where the Castle is reached by means of three bridges, which are horrible to cross. Three great waters run below them, the first bridge being a bow-shot in length and not more than a foot in width. This is the Bridge of the Eel; but it proves wide and a fair thorough-way in the act of crossing. The second bridge is of ice, feeble and thin, and it is arched high above the water. This is transformed on passing into the richest and strangest ever seen, and its abutments are full of images. The third and last bridge stands on columns of marble. Beyond it there is a sculptured gate, giving upon a flight of steps, which leads to a spacious hall painted with figures in gold. When Perceval visited the Castle a second time he found it encompassed by a river, which came from the Earthly Paradise and proceeded through the forest beyond as far as the hold of a hermit, where it found peace in the earth. To the Castle itself there were three names attributed: the Castle of Eden, the Castle of Joy and the Castle of Souls. In conclusion as to this matter, the location, in fine, is Corbenic--not as the unvaried name, but as that which may be called the accepted, representing the Temple at its highest, and corresponding in French romance to Montsalvatch, in
[paragraph continues] German--which our late redaction of the Book of the Holy Graal mentions specifically, and which, all doubtful clouds of mystic adventure notwithstanding, looms almost as a landmark in the Lancelot and the Quest of Galahad.
I must speak very lightly of the German cycle, because, through all these branches, it is understood that I shall deal with it again. In the Parsifal and Titurel the Temple is completely spiritualised, so that it has ceased almost to be a house made with hands, though the descriptions on the external side are here and there almost severe in their simplicity. On that side it has the strength of a feudal fortress, turret by turret rising. In the master-hall of the palace there is something of Oriental splendour--carpets and couches and cushions, marble hearths burning strange fragrant woods, and a great blazing of lights. So far the Parsifal of Wolfram, but we must turn to other texts for the building of the Temple--which is after another manner than anything told of Corbenic in the Northern French cycle. The building was the work of Titurel, the first King of the Graal, and in answer to his prayers the High Powers of Heaven prepared the ground-plan of the Holy Place and furnished the raw material. Over the construction itself the powers of earth toiled by day and the Powers of Heaven by night. The floor was of pure onyx; at the summit of the tower there was a ruby surmounted by a cross of crystal, and carbuncles shone at the meeting-points of the great arches within. The roof was of sapphire, and a pictured starry heaven moved therein in true order.
We are on a different level when we have recourse to the poem of Heinrich, which presents several anomalies in respect of the literature as a whole. The road leading to the Graal Castle was one of harsh and hazardous enterprise--world without end; but it brought the questing hero at some far point into a plenteous and gracious land, where rose the Palace of Desire, looking
beautiful exceedingly, with a meadow before it which was set apart for joust and tournament. A great concourse of knights and gentlewomen abode in the burg, and for the Castle itself we are told that there was none so fair. Though it will be seen that there is nothing distinctive in this account, as it is here reduced into summary, the design is among many things strange, for if it is not the Castle of Souls it is that of a Living Tomb, as the story concerning it will show at the proper time.
So did the place of the mysteries, from a dim and vague allusion, become
[paragraph continues] We can scarcely say whether that which had begun on earth was assumed into the spiritual place, or whether the powers and virtues from above descended to brood thereon.
I have left over from this consideration all reference to another spiritual place, in Sarras on the confines of Egypt, where the Graal, upon its outward journey, dwelt for a period, and whither, after generations and centuries, it also returned for a period. As this was not the point of its origin, so it was not that of its rest; it was a stage in the passage from Salem and a stage in the transit to heaven. What was meant by this infidel city, which was yet so strangely consecrated, is hard to determine, but its consideration belongs to a later stage. It is too early again to ask what are the implicits of the great prose Perceval when it identifies the Castle of the Graal with the Earthly Paradise and the Place of Souls; but we may note it as a sign of intention, and we shall meet with it in another connection where no one has thought to look for it.