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The Holy Grail: Fact or Fiction?

11/29/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Janice Bennett on the Legendary Cup of the Last Supper

LITTLETON, Colorado, NOV. 29, 2004 (Zenit) - The story of the Holy Grail has spawned numerous works of fiction and fantasy, including popular films. The truth about the actual whereabouts of the cup is less clear.

One scholar, Janice Bennett, author of "St. Laurence and the Holy Grail" (Ignatius), believes that the cup's history can be traced from St. Peter's journey to Rome, to St. Laurence in the third century, and then to its final resting place in Spain.

Bennett holds a master's in Spanish literature from the University of Colorado, and a certificate in Advanced Bible Studies from the Catholic Biblical School in Denver. She is a member of the Spanish Center for Sindonology, based in Valencia, Spain.

She shared with us why she believes that the Holy Chalice of Valencia is the same cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper.

Q: What exactly is the Holy Grail? How do you answer skeptics who say it is just a myth?

Bennett: For Christians, the Holy Grail is and always has been the cup used by Jesus to consecrate the wine at the Last Supper, the very receptacle that held the blood of Christ in the newly instituted sacrament of the Eucharist.

As such, it has been held in high esteem as a historically authentic object that was used by Jesus himself, the relic of singular importance for Christianity because it serves as a symbol for the Bread of Life.

People of all eras have wondered what has become of this precious relic, which has generated a considerable number of fantastic stories about knights, monks and kings embarking on a quest to find it.

This has been true not only for the people of the Middle Ages, but also for those of us living today, as seen in the continued popularity of the Grail legends and in films such as "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," in which Indiana Jones discovers a large number of possible grails in the unlikely location of Petra, Jordan.

Unfortunately, the grail he determines to be authentic is the most unlikely historically speaking, because it is made of wood, a porous material that was forbidden for the Jewish Passover.

It is undeniable that Jesus used an actual cup for the consecration, and that this cup is a historical object, not a myth. Perhaps because of the mystery and fantasy that have surrounded this relic par excellence, some modern scholars have created a scenario by which the Holy Grail can be just about anything, from the Shroud of Turin to Mary Magdalene.

Others define the Grail as nothing more than a personal quest, or an exploration of self, or link it with all sorts of ancient legends and fertility rites, leading to a great deal of confusion about what it actually is.

Q: What got you interested in researching its existence and whereabouts?

Bennett: My husband and I visited the Chapel of the Holy Grail in the Cathedral of Valencia in the early 1990s. I thought it rather strange that they claimed to have the actual cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, because I had never heard anything about it in the United States.

The only information available was a small leaflet that had been poorly translated into English, which mentioned that Pope Sixtus II entrusted the cup to St. Laurence in A.D. 258, and that St. Laurence sent it to Spain in the hands of a Spanish soldier. It also provided a brief history of the relic in Spain.

Years later, when researching relics in the National Library of Madrid, I remembered that leaflet. I searched for information on St. Laurence and found a very interesting translation of a document that was reportedly written by St. Donato in the sixth century, which not only contains a biography of St. Laurence's early life, but also confirms that this transfer had indeed taken place.

At the same time I found a small book written by the priest responsible for saving the relic at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

As I examined the photos of where it had been hidden during the conflict -- underneath the cushions of a sofa, in the secret compartment of a wardrobe and in a stone wall -- I was absolutely amazed by the difficulties this relic has suffered throughout the ages.

I immediately knew that I had to investigate the history of this cup in depth. The Holy Chalice of Valencia not only claims authenticity, but also has a long tradition and fascinating history that support that claim completely.

Q: What is believed to have happened to the Holy Grail immediately after the Last Supper?

Bennett: Most scholars believe that the Cenacle -- the room where the Last Supper took place -- and the Holy Cup were the property of the family of St. Mark the Evangelist, who served as interpreter for St. Peter in Rome. ...

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