The Christian interpretation that Chrétien de Troyes clearly intended to place upon the grail, had he completed his poem, can be clearly seen from the two mentions made of it in his poem.
Perceval's first encounter with the Grail.
As they (Perceval and his disabled host) were conversing in this way, a squire entered by the door. He was carrying a sword hanging by straps from his neck; he handed it the noble lord, who unsheathed it halfway so that it could clearly be seen where it had been made, for it was engraved upon the blade. He also saw that it was made of such good steel that it could not be broken except in one singularly perilous circumstance known only to him who had forged and tempered it.
The squire who had brought it said: 'Sire, your neice, the beautiful maiden with the blonde tresses, sent you this gift; you can never have beheld a finer sword, in its length and weight, than this one here. You may bestow it upon whomsoever you chose; but my lady would be most pleased if it were given to someone who would use it well, for the man who forged it made only three and he will die before being able to make another sword after this one.'
Immediately, the lord invested the stranger among them with the sword by placing its straps, a great treasure in themselves, over his shoulders. The sword's pommel was of gold, the finest in Arabia or Greece; its scabbard was the work of a Venetian goldsmith. the lord gave it to him in all its splendour and said: 'Good brother, this sword was ordained and destined for you, and I am eager for you to have it. Put it on now and draw it.'
He thanked him and strapped it on loosely, then drew it shining from its scabbard; after he had held for a moment he replace it in its scabbard. I assure you it was magnificent at his side and even better in his grip, and it was obvious that in time of need he would wield it bravely. Behind him he saw squires standing around the blazing fire: he caught sight of one in charge of his armour and handed him the sword to keep. then he sat down again beside the lord, who paid him every honour. Within that hall the light from the burining candles was as bright as could be found in any castle.
As they were speaking of one thing and another, a squire came forth from a chamber carrying a white lance by the middle of its shaft, he passed between the fire and those seated upon the bed. Everyone in the hall saw the white lance with its white point from whose tip there issued a drop of blood, and this red drop flowed down to the squire's hand.14 The youth who had come there that night observed this marvel but refrained from asking how it came about, for he recalled the admonishment given by the gentleman who had knighted him, who taught and instructed him not to talk too much; he was afraid that if he asked they would consider him uncouth, and therefore he did not ask.
Then two other squires entered holding in their hands candelabra of pure gold, crafted with enamel inlays. The young men carrying the candelabra were extremely handsome. In each of the candelabra there were at least ten candles burning. A maiden accompanying the two young men was carrying a grail15 with her two hands; she was beautiful, noble and richly attired. After she entered the hall carrying the grail the room was so brightly illumined that the candles lost their brilliance like stars and the moon when the sun rises. After came another maiden, carrying a silver carving platter. The grail, which was introduced first, was of fine pure gold. Set in the grail were precious stones of many kinds, the best and costliest to be found in earth or sea: the grail's stones were finer than any others in the worlds, without any doubt. The grail passed by like the lance; they passed in front of the bed and into another chamber. The young knight watched them pass but did not dare ask who was served from the grail, for in his heart he always held the wise gentleman's advice. Yet I fear that this may be to his misfortune, for I heard it said that at times it is just as wrong to keep too silent as to talk too much. Whether for good or for ill he did not ask or inquire anything of them.
The lord of the castle ordered his squire to bring water and to prepare the tablecloths. those whose duty it was did these things as they were accustomed. The lord and his young guest washed their hands in warm water, and two squires carried in a broad ivory table: as the story relates, it was entirely made of a single piece, They held it for a moment before their lord and the youth, until two other squires came bearing two trestles. the wood of the supports had two excellent qualities: the tresles would last for ever since they were of ebony, a wood that no one need fear would ever rot or burn, for ebony will do neither. The table was placed upon these supports, with the tablecloth over it. What could I say about the cloth? No pope, cardinal or papal legate ever ate off one so white.
The first course was a haunch of venison cooked in its fat with hot pepper. They were not short of clear, strong wine, which could be drunk easily from golden goblets. Before them a squire carved the haunch of peppered venison, which he had brought within his reach upon its silver carving platter, and he placed the pieces before them on whole loaves of flat bread. Meanwhile the grail passed before again in front of them, and again the youth did not ask who was served form the grail. He held back because the gentleman had so admonished him not to talk too much, and he kept this warning constantly to heart. But he kept more silent than he should have, because with each course that was served he saw the grail pass by completely uncovered before him. But he did not learn who was served from it, though he wanted to know; he said to himself that he would be sure to ask one of the court squires before he left there, but would wait until he was taking leave of the lord and all the rest of his household in the morning. So the question was put off, and he set his mind to drinking and eating. The wine and food were delicious and agreeable, and were served at table in generous portions. The meal was excellent and good: the nobleman was served that evening with food fit for a king, count or emperor, and the young knight with him.
14The bleeding lance is never directly connected with the grail in Chrétien's fragment, but very soon among Chrétien's early imitators and continuators it becomes associated with the legendary lance of Longinus, the name given to the Roman centurion who pierced Christ's side at the Crucifixion; thus, the Lance figures prominently in post-Chrétien associations of the grail with the Last Supper and with the Mass. In Chrétien's text, as it stands in fragmentary form, the bleeding lance has a far more secular __ and the grail a somewhat more secular __ function.
15Although it figures as a spectacular object in a wonderfully mysterious procession, the grail is introduced into the story by Chrétien in a singularly unpretentious was (all the more powerful because of the inverted word order in the Old French syntax): 'A grail in both her hands did a maiden hold who came in with the youths', etc. Thus Chrétien stresses the object's fundamental ordinariness as a serving dish appropriate for the table of a very rich man. Despite his unsophisticated upbringing and his ignorance generally of courtly manners, the hero instantly recognizes what 'a grail' is as is evident when his cousin later questions in detail about the procession.
Chrétien De Troyes:Arthurian Romances, trans Kibler, W. W., Carroll, C. W., Penguin, 1991, pp.419-421, 518-519.
Perceval's failure at the Grail Castle is revealed
'Brother, a sin of which you are unaware has caused much hardship: it is the sorrow your mother felt at your departure from her. She fell in a faint on the ground at the head of the bridge in front of the gate, and she died from this sorrow. On account of this sin of yours it came about that you did not ask about the lance or the grail, and many hardships have come to you in consequence. And understand that you would not have lasted until now had she not commended you to God; but her prayer was so powerful that God watched over you for her sake and kept you from death and imprisonment. Sin stopped your tounge when you saw pass in front of you the lance that bleeds unceasingly and failed to ask its purpose; and when you did not inquire who was served from the grail, you commited folly. Your mother was his sister and mine; and the rich Fisher King, I believe, is the son of the king who is served from the grail. And do not imagine he is served pike or lamprey or salmon. A single host that is brought to him in that grail sutains and brings comfort to that holy man __ such is the holiness of the grail!24 And he is so holy that his life is sustained by nothing more than the host that comes in the grail. He has lived for twelve years like this, without ever leaving the room into which you saw the grail enter.
24Here, for the first (and only) time in Chrétien's poem, the extraordinary character of the grail is revealed to be not so much what it is __ a wonderfully beautiful serving dish __ as what it contains: a life-sustaining consecrated Host. The light emanating from the grail is doubtless also to be associated with the Host. Thus the grail is 'holy' (tant sainte chose) because of what is conveyed in it, not bacause, as in Chrétien's successors, of its intrinsic value as prototype of the chalice in the Mass (the wine cup from the Last Supper).
Chrétien De Troyes:Arthurian Romances, trans Kibler, W. W., Carroll, C. W., Penguin, 1991, pp.459-60, 519-20.
The area of Holy Grail activity that most resembles the properties of Celtic vessels of plenty is the provision of food. Here follow a number of examples from the pages of Malory where where the Holy Grail fulfills this function.
The Holy Grail at Corbin (Book XI, chap. 2)
Sir, said Launcelot, wit ye well my name is Sir Launcelot du Lake. And my name is, said the king, Pelles, king of the foreign country, and cousin nigh unto Joseph of Aramathie. And then either of them made much of other, and so they went into the castle to take their repast. And anon there came a dove at a window, and in her mouth there seemed a little censer of gold. And therewithal there was such a savour as all the spicery of the world had been there. And forthwithal there was upon the table all manner of meats and drinks that they could think upon. So came in a damosel passing fair and young, and she bare a vessel of gold betwixt her hands; and thereto the king kneeled devoutly, and said his prayers, and so did all that were there. O Jesu, said Sir Launcelot, what may this mean? This is, said the king, the richest thing that any man hath living. And when this thing goeth about, the Round Table shall be broken; and wit ye well, said the king, this is the holy Sangreal that ye have seen here.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, P.126
The Holy Grail feeds Sir Bors at Corbin (Book XI, chap. 4)
...Sir Bors rode unto King Pelles, that was within Corbin. And when the king and Elaine his daughter wist that Sir Bors was nephew unto Sir Launcelot, they amde him great cheer. Then said Dame Elaine: We marvel where Sir Launcelot is, for he never came here but once. Marvel not, said Sir Bors, for this half year he hath been in prison with Queen Morgan le Fay, King Arthur's sister. Alas, said Dame Elaine, that me repenteth. And ever Sir Bors beheld the child in her arms, and ever him it seemed it was passing like Sir Launcelot. truly, said Elaine, wit ye well this child he gat upon me. Then Sir Bors wept for joy, and he prayed to God it might prove as good a knight as his father was. And so came in a white dove, and she bare a little censer of gold in her mouth, and there was all manner of meats and drinks; and a maiden bare that Sangreal, and she said openly: Wit ye well, Sir Bors, that this child is Galahad, that shall sit in the siege perilous, and achieve the Sangreal, and he shall be much better than ever was Sir Launcelot du Lake, this is his own father. And then they kneeled down and made their devotions, and there was such a savour as all the spicery in the world had been there. And when the dove took her flight, the maiden vanished with the Sangreal as she came. Sir, said Sir Bors unot King Pelles, this castle may be named the Castle Adventurous, for here be many strange adventures.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, P.129-30
The Holy Grail appears at the Round Table (Book XIII, Chap. 7)
Then anon they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that them though the place should all to drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam more clearer by seven times than ever they saw day, and all they were alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. then began every knight behold other, and either saw other, by their seeming fairer than ever they saw afore. Not for then there was no knight might speak one word a great while, and so they looked every man on the other as they had been dumb. Then there entered into the hall the Holy Grail covered with white samite, but there was none might see it, nor who bore it. And there was all the hall fulfilled with the good odours, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world. And when the Holy Grail had been borne through the hall, then the Holy Vessel departed suddenly, that they wist not where it become: then had they all breath to speak.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte D'Arthur, vol. 2, P. 171, Dent, 1953 (1906).
So the king held him (Launcelot) there four days, and on the morrow he took his leave at King Pelles and at all the fellowship, and thanked them of their great labour. Right so as they sat at their dinner in the chief hall, then was it so that the Sangreal had fulfilled the table with all manner of meats that any heart might think. So when they sat they saw all the doors and windows of the place were shut without man's hand, whereof they were all abashed, and none wist what to do. And then it happened suddenly that a knight (Sir Ector de Maris) came to the chief door and knocked, and cried: Undo the door. But they would not. and ever he cried: Undo; but they would not. and at last it annoyed him so much that the king himself arose and came to a window where the knight called. then he said: Sir knight, ye shall not enter at this time while the Sangreal is here, and therefore go into another; for certes ye be none of the nights of the quest, but one of them which hath served the fiend, and hast left the service of Our Lord: and he was passing wroth at the king's words
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, pp.259-60
The Holy Grail sustains Galahad and his companions
when they are imprisoned in Sarras (Book XVII, Chaps. 21-22)
And when the king of the city, which was cleped Estorause, saw the fellowship he asked them whence they were, and what thing it was that they had brought upon the table of silver. And they told him the truth of the Sangreal, and the power which God had set there. Then the king was a tyrant, and was come of a line of paynims, and took them and put them in prison in a deep hole.
* * * * * * * *
BUT as soon as they were there Our Lord sent them the Sangreal, through whose grace they were alway fulfilled while that they were in prison
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, pp.267-8
Therewithal behold you the hermit that was coming, and saluteth the damsel and Messire Gawain and openeth the door of the house and setteth the two steeds within and striketh off the bridles and giveth them green-meat first and barley after, and fain would he have taken off the saddles when Messire Gawain leapeth before: 'Sir,' saith he, ' Do not so! This business is not for you!' 'Hermit though I be,' saith he, 'yet well I know how to deal withal, for at the court of King Uther Pendragon have I been squire and knight two-score years, and a score or more have I been in this hermitage.' And Messire Gawain looketh at him in wonderment. 'Sir ,' saith he, 'Meseemeth you are not more than forty years.' 'That know I well of a truth,' saith the hermit.....Now am I priest, and in this hermitage ever sithence that I came hither have I served King Fisherman by the will of Our Lord and His commandment, and all they that serve him do well partake of his reward, for the place of his most holy service is a refuge so sweet that unto him that hath been there a year, it seemeth to have been but a month for the holiness of the place and of himself, and for the sweetness of his castle wherein have I oftentimes done service in the chapel where the Holy Graal appeareth. Therefore it is that I and all that serve him are so youthful of seeming.'
The High History of the Holy Grail (Perlesvaus), Evans, S., trans., James Clarke and Co.: Cambridge, no date, PP.33-5.
Though the cauldron owned by Brân restores the dead completely to life, apart from the fact they are dumb, the Holy Grail does not do this. The closest function that it performs is curing the sick, whether they have been wounded in a fight or suffer from some other illness. Perhaps, the restoring of people to life raised a theological difficulty for the mediaeval mind? For presumably this action was a miracle that was reserved for God and Christ, rather than for an inamimate object which had its origins in pagan Celtic myth, to perform.
(Sir Ector de Maris and Sir Percivale de Galis have fought and have seriously wounded each other) THEN they made great dole out of measure. This will not avail, said Sir Percivale. And then hi kneeled down and made his prayer devoutly unto Almighty Jesu, for he was one of the best knights in the world that at that time was, in whom the very faith stood most in. Right so there came by the holy vessel the Sangreal withall manner of sweetness and savour; but they could not readily see who bare that vessel, but sir Percivale had a glimmering of the vessel and of the maiden that bare it, for she was a perfect clene maiden; and forthwithal they both were as whole of hide and limb as ever they were in their life days: then they gave thankings to God with great mildness. O Jesu, said Sir Percivale, what may this mean, that we be thus healed, and right now we were on the point of dying? I wot full well, said Sir Ector, what it is; it is an holy vessel that is borne by a maiden, and therein is part of the holy blood of our Lord Jesu Christ, blessed mote be he. But it may not be seen, said Sir Ector, but if it be by a perfect man. So God help me,said Sir Percivale, I saw a damosel as me thought, all in white, with a vessel in both her hands, and forthwith I was whole.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, P.144
The Sangreal cures Sir Launcelot of the madness he suffered
after being rejected by Queen Guenever (Book XII, Chap. 4)
So it befell that King Pelles had a nephew, his name was Castor; and so he desired of the king to be made knight, and so at the request of this Castor the king made him knight at the feast of Candlemas. And when Sir Castor was made knight, that same day he gave many gowns. And then Sir Castor sent for the fool__that was Sir Launcelot. And when he was come afore Sir Castor, he gave Sir Launcelot a robe of scarlet and all that longed unto him. And when Sir Launcelot was so arrayed like a knight, he was the seemliest man in all the court, and none so well made. So when he saw his time he went into the garden, and there Sir Launcelot laid him down by a well and slept. And so at after noon Dame Elaine and her maidens came into the garden to play them; and as they roamed up and down one of Dame Elaine's maidens espied where lay a goodly man by the well sleeping, and anon showed him to Dame Elaine. Peace, said Dame Elaine, and say no word: and then she brought Dame Elaine where he lay. And when that she beheld him, anon she fell in remembrance of him, and knew him verily for Sir Launcelot; and therewithal she fell on weeping so heartily that she sank even to the earth; and when she had thus wept a great while, then she arose and called her maidens and said she was sick. And so she yede out of the garden, and she went straight to her father, and there she took him apart by herself; and then she said: O father, now have I need of your help, and but if that you help me farewell my good days for ever. What is that, daughter? said King Pelles. Sir, she said, thus is it: in your garden I went for to sport, and there by the well I found Sir Launcelot du Lake sleeping. I may not believe that, said King Pelles. sir, she said, truly he is there, and meseemeth he should be distract out of his wit. Then hold you still, said the king, and let me deal. Then the king called to him such as he most trusted, a four persons, and Dame Elaine, his daughter. And when they came to the well and beheld Sir Launcelot, anon Dame Brisen knew him. Sir, said Dame Brisen, we must be wise how we deal with him, for this knight is out of his mind, and if we wake him rudely what he will do we all know not; but ye shall abide, and I shall throw such an enchantment upon him that he shall not waken within the space of an hour; and so she did. then within a little while after, the king commanded that all people should avoid that none should be in that way there as the king would come. Ans so when this was done, these four men and these ladies laid hand on Sir Launcelot, and so they bare him into a tower, and so into a chamber where ther was the holy vessel of the Sangreal, an by force Sir Launcelot was laid by that holy vessel; and there came an holy man and unhylled that vessel, and so by miracle and by virtue of that holy vessel Sir Launcelot was healed and recovered. and when that he was awaked he groaned and sighed and complained greatly that he was passing sore.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, pp.149-50
When Sir Percivale came to the recluse she knew him well enought, and Sir Launcelot both. But Sir Launcelot rode overthwart and endlong in a wild forest, and held no path but as wild adventure led him. And at last he came to a stony cross which departed two ways in waste land; and by the cross was a stone that was of marble, but it was so dark that Sir Launcelot might not wit what it was. Then Sir Launcelot looked by him, and saw an old chapel, and there he weened to have found people; and Sir Launcelot tied his horse till a tree, and there he did off his shield and hung it upon a tree. And then he went to the chapel door, and found it waste and broken. And within he found a fair altar, full richly arrayed with cloth of clene silk, and there stood a fair clean candlestick which bare six great candles, and the candlestick was of silver. And when Sir Launcelot saw this light he had great will for to enter into the chapel, but he could find no place where he might enter; then was he passing heavy and dismayed. Then he returned and came to his horse and did off his saddle and bridle, and let him pasture, and unlaced his helm, and ungirt his sword, and laid him down to sleep tofore the cross.
* * * * * * * *
AND so he fell on sleep; and half waking and sleeping he saw come by him two palfreys all fair and white, the which bore a litter, therein lying a sick knight. And when he was nigh the cross he abode there still. All this Sir Launcelot saw and beheld, for he slept not verily; and he heard him say: O sweet Lord, when shall this sorrow leave me? and when shall the holy vessel come by me, wherethrough I shall be blessed? For I haver endured thus long, for little trespass. A full great while complained the knight thus, and always Sir Launcelot heard it. With that Sir Launcelot saw the candlestick with the six tapers come before the cross, and he saw nobody that brought it. also there came a table of silver, and the holy vessel of the Sangreal, which Launcelot had seen aforetime in King Pescheour's house. And therewith the sick knight set him up, and held up both his hands, and said: Fair sweet Lord, which is here within this holy vessel; take heed unto me that I may be whole of this malady. And therewith on his hands and on his knees he went so nigh that he touched the holy vessel and kissed it, and anon he was whole; and then he said: Lord God, I thank thee, for I am healed of this sickness. So when the holy vessel had been there a great while it went into the chapel with the chandelier and the light, so that Launcelot wist not where it was become; for he was overtaken with sin that he had no power to rise ageyne the holy vessel; wherefore after that many men said of him shame, but he took repentance after that. Then the sick knight dressed him up and kissed the cross; anon his squire brought him his arms, and asked his lord how he did. Certes, said he, I thank God right well, through the holy vessel I am healed. But I have marvel of this sleeping knight that had no power to awake when this holy vessel was brought hither. I dare right well say, said the squire, that he dwelleth in some deadly sin whereof he was never confessed. By my faith, said the knight, whatsomever he be he is unhappy, for as I deem he is of the fellowship of the Round Table, the which is entered into the quest of the Sangreal. Sir, said the squire, here I have brought you all your arms save your helm and your sword, and therefore by mine assent now may ye take this knight's helm and his sword: and so he did. And when he was clene armed he took Sir Launcelot's horse, for he was better than his; and so departed they form the Cross.
* * * * * * * *
THEN anon Sir Launcelot waked, and set him up, and bethought him what he had seen there, and whether it were dreams or not. Right so heard he a voice that said; Sir Launcelot, more harder than is the stone, and more bitter than is the wood, and more naked and barer than is the leaf of the fig tree; therefore go thou from hence, and withdraw thee from this holy place. And when Sir Launcelot heard this he was passing heavy and wist not what to do, and so departed sore weeping, and cursed the time that he was born. For then he deemed never to have had worship more. For those words went to his heart, till that he knew whereofre he was called so. Then Sir Launcelot went to the cross and found his helm, his sword, and his horse taken away. And then he called himself a very wretch, and most unhappy of all knights; and there he said: My sin and my wickedness have brought me unto great dishonour. For when I sought worldly adventures for worldly desires, I ever achieved them and had the better in every place , and never was I discomfit in no quarrel, were it right or wrong. And now I take upon me the adventures of holy things, and now I see and understand that mine old sin hindereth me and shameth me, so that I had no power to stir nor speak when the holy blood appeared afore me. So thus he sorrowed till it was day, and heard the fowls sing: then somewhat he was comforted. But when Sir Launcelot missed his horse and his harness then he wist well God was displeased with him.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, pp.187-9
The Holy Grail cures an elderly cripple at Sarras (Book XVII, Chap. 21)
Then they took out of the ship the table of silver (that carries the Holy Grail), and he took it to Percivale and to Bors, to go tofore, and galahad came behind. And right so they went to the city, and at the gate of the city they saw old man crooked. Then Galahad called him and bad him help to bear this heavy thing. Truly. said the old man, it is ten year ago that I might not go but with crutches. Care thou not, said Galahad, and arise up and show thy good will. And so he essayed, and found himself as whole as ever he was. Then ran he to the table, and took one part against Galahad. And anon arose there great noise in the city, that a cripple was made whole by knights marvellous that entered into the city.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, P. 267
Celtic vessels of plenty can refuse to cook the food of a coward. Loomis interprets this property as demonstrating that the vessels had the power to discriminate character. In the examples given below the Holy Grail discriminates 'character' by rejecting those who have committed a sin of some sort. For Sir Lancelot it is his relationship with Queen Guinevere, which he refused to discontinue or regret, that causes him to be 'blasted' by the Holy Grail. In the case of Sir Gawain it is for his lustful gazing at the maiden carrying the Holy Grail, rather than adoring the Holy Grail itself.
Lancelot is knocked unconscious in the
presence of the Sangreal (Book XVII, Chaps. 14-16)
Then took he again his sword and put it in his sheath, and made a cross in his forehead, and came to the lions, and they made semblant to do him harm. Notwithstanding he passed by them without hurt, and entered into the castle (of Carbonek) to the chief fortress, and there were they all at rest. Then Launcelot entered in so armed, for he found no gate nor door but was open. And at the last he found a chamber whereof the door was shut, and he set his hand thereto to have opened it, but he might not.
* * * * * * * *
THEN he enforced him mickle to undo the door. Then he listened and heard a voice which sang so sweetly that it seemed no earthly thing; and him thought the voice said: Joy and honour be to the Father of Heaven. Then Launcelot kneeled down tofore the chamber, for well wist he there was the Sangreal within that chamber. Then said he: Fair sweet Father, Jesu Christ, if ever I did thing that pleased Thee, Lord for Thy pity never have me not in despite for my sins done afortime, and that Thou show me something of that I seek. And with that he saw the chamber door open, and there came out a great clereness, that the house was as bright as all the torches of the world had been there. So came he to the chamber door and would have entered. And anon a voice said to him, Flee, Launcelot, and enter not, for thou oughtest not to do it; and if thou enter thou shalt forethink it. Then he withdrew him aback right heavy. Then he looked up in the middes of the chamber, and saw a table of silver, and the holy vessel, covered with red samite, and many angels about it, whereof one held a candle of wax burning, and other held a cross, and the ornaments of the altar. And before the holy vessel he saw a good man clothed as a priest. And it seemed that he was at the sacring of the mass. And it seemed to Launcelot that above the priest's hands were three man, whereof the two put the youngest by likeness between the priest's hands; and so he lift it up right high, and it seemed to show so to the people. And then Launcelot marvelled not a little, for him thought that the priest was so greatly charged of the figure that him seemed that he should fall to earth. And then he saw none about him that would help him, then he came to the door a great pace, and said: Fair Father Jesu Christ, ne take it for no sin though I help the good man which hath great need of help. Right so entered he into the chamber, and came toward the table of silver; and when he came nigh he felt a breath, that him thought it was intermeddled with fire, which smote him so sore in the visage that him thought it brent his visage; and therewith he fell to the earth, and had no power to arise, as that he was so araged, that had lost the power of his body, and his hearing and his seeing. Then he felt many hands about him, which took him up and bare him out of the chamber door, without any amending of his swoon, and left him there seeming dead to all people. So upon the morrow when it was fair day they within were arisen, and found Launcelot lying afore the chamber door. All they marvelled how that he came in, and so they looked upon him, and felt his pulse to wit whether there were any life in him; and so they found life in him, but he might not stand nor stir no member that he had. And so they took him by every part of the body, and vbare him into a chamber, and laid him in a rich bed, far form all folk; and so he lay four days. then the one said he was on live, and the other said, Nay. In the name of God, said an old man, for I do you verily to wit he is not dead, but he is so full of life as the mightiest of you all; and therefore I counsel you that he be well kept till God send him life again.
* * * * * * * *
IN such manner they kept Launcelot four and twenty days and all so many nights, that ever he lay still as a dead man; and at the twenty-fifth day befell him after midday that he opened his eyes. And when he saw folk he made great sorrow, and said: Why have you awaked me, for I was more at ease than ever I am now. O Jesu Christ, who might be so blessed that might see openly thy great marvels of secretness there where no sinner might be! What have you seen? said they about him. I have seen, said he, so great marvels that no tounge may tell, and more than any heart can think, and had not my son been here afore me I had seen much more. Then they told him how he had lain there four and twenty days and nights. Then him thought it was punishment for the four and twenty years that he had been a sinner, wherefore Our LOrd put him in penance four and twenty days and nights.
Malory, Sir Thomas, Le Morte d'Arthur, Dent, 1953 (1906), vol. 2, pp.256-8
Gawain at the Grail Castle of Corbenic from the Prose Lancelot
....Gawain beheld , and saw where there entered through a window a white dove, which bare in its beak a censer of richest gold. and so soon as it came therein the palace was filled the sweetest odours that heart of man might conceive, or tounge of man might tell. And all that were in the hall became mute, and spake never a word more, but kneeled down as soon as they beheld the dove. And it entered straightway into a chamber, and forthwith the folk of the palace made ready with all haste, and set the tables on the daïs, and they sat them down the one ond the other, and never a man of them spake a word, nor had need of summons. Sir Gawain marvelled greatly at this adventure, but he sat him down with the others, and beheld and saw how they were all in prayers and orisons.
With that there came forth from the chamber wherein the dove had entered a damsel, the fairest he had beheld any day of his life; and without fail she was the fairest maiden then alive, nor was her peer thereafter born. Her hair was cunningly plaited and bound, and her face was fair to look upon. She was beautiful with all that pertaineth unto woman, none fairer was seen upon earth. She came forth from the chamber bearing in her hands the richest vessel that might beheld by eye of mortal man. 'Twas made in the semblance of a chalice, and she held it on high above her head, so that she was ever bowed before it.
Sir Gawain looked on the vessel, and praised it much, yet he might not know whereof 'twas wrought; for 'twas not of wood, nor of any manner of metal; nor was it in any wise of stone, nor of horn, nor of bone, and therefore he was sore abashed. Then he looked on the maiden, and marvelled more at her beauty than at the wonder of the vessel, for never had he seen a damsel with whom she might be compared; and he mused so fixedly upon her that he had no thought for aught beside. But for the King and his knights, as the damsel passed them by, all kneeled low before the holy vessel; and forthwith were the tables replenished with the choicest meats in the world, and the hall filled with sweetest odours.
When the damsel had passed the daïs once she returned into the chamber whence she came, and Sir Gawain followed her with his eyes as long as he might, and when he saw her no more he looked on the table before him, and saw naught that he moght eat, for 'twas void and bare; yet was there none other but had great plenty, yea a surfiet of victuals, before him. And when he saw this he was sore abashed, and knew not what he might say or do, since he deemed well that he had in some point transgressed, and for that transgression was his meat lacking to him. So he witheld him from asking till that they were risen from the table, but then all gat them forth from the palace, the one here, the other there, so that Sir Gawain wist not what had become of them, and knew naught but that he was left alone; and when he himself would have gone forth into the courtyard below he might no longer do so, for the doors were fast shut.
Weston, J. L., trans., Arthurian Romances Unrepresented in Malory's "Morte d'Arthur" No. VI, Sir Gawain at the Grail Castle, Llanerch, 1995, pp. 55-57.
This translation is that used by Lewis Spence in his interpretation of the Holy Grail as a descendant of magical Celtic Cauldrons. It was originally made by Thomas Stephens and appeared in his book Literature of the Cymry.
Praise to the Lord, Supreme Ruler of the high region,
Who hath extended his dominion to the shore of the world,
Complete was the prison of Gwair on Caer Sidi. Through the permision of Pwyll and Pryderi
No one before him went to it;
A heavy blue chain firmly held the youth,
And for the spoils of Annwn gloomily he sings,
And till doom shall he continue his lay.
Thrice the fullness of Pridwen we went into it,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi
Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in the song,
In Caer Pedryvan four times revolving!
It will be my first word from the cauldron when it expresses;
By the breath of nine damsels it is gently warmed.
Is it not the cauldron of the chief of Annwn in its fashion?
With a ridge round its edge of pearls!
It will not boil the food of a coward not sworn,
A sword bright flashing to him will be brought,
And left in the hand of Llemynawg,
And before the portals of hell, the horns of light shall be burning.
And when we went with Arthur in his splendid labours,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Vedidwid (or the inclosure of the perfect ones).
Am I not a candidate for fame, to be heard in the song,
In the quadangular enclosure in the island of the strong door,
Where the twilight and the jet of night moved together.
Bright wine was the beverage of the host,
Three times the fullness of Prydwen we went on sea,
Except seven, none ruturned from Caer Rigor (or the enclosure of the Royal Party.
I will not have merit, in the multitude in relating the hero's deeds,
Beyond Caer Wydr they beheld not the prowess of Arthur?
Three times twenty-hundred men stood on the wall,
It was difficult to converse with their sentinel.
Three times the fullness of Prydwen, we went with Arthur,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Colur (or the gloomy inclosure).
I will not have merit from the multitude with trailing shields,
They know not on what day, or who caused it,
Nor what hour in the splendid day Cwy was born,
Nor who prevented him going to the meanders of Devwy.
They know not the brindled ox, with his thick head band,
And seven score knobs on his collar.
And when we went with Arthur of mournful memory,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Vandwy (or the inclosure resting on the height).
I will not have merit from men of drooping courage,
They know not what day the chief was caused,
Nor not what hour in the splendid day the owner was born;
What animal they keep of silver head,
When we went with Arthur of mournful contention,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Ochren (or the inclosure of the shelving side).
Monks pack together like dogs in the choir
From their meetings with their witches;
Is there but one course to the wind, one to the water of the sea,
Is there but one spark to the fire of the unbounded tumult?
Monks pack together like wolves,
From their meetings with their witches,
They know not when the twilight and the dawn divide,
Nor what the course of the wind, nor who agitates it,
In what place it dies, on what region ir roars.
The grave of the saint is vanishing from the foot of the altar.
I will pray to the Lord, the great Supreme,
That I be not wretched__may Christ be my portion.
Spence, L., The Mysteries of Britain, Senate, 1994 pp.121-123
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