KING Arthur and his knights and Indiana Jones looked for it, and most recently Dan Brown’s sleuth, Robert Langdon, hunted it down in The Da Vinci Code.
But these legendary and fictional characters might have saved a lot of trouble in their hunt for the Holy Grail by just going to Valencia in Spain.
The host city of Pope Benedict XVI’s third pastoral journey abroad from July 8-9 is home to what tradition says is the cup Jesus used during the Last Supper.
The custodian of the “Santo Caliz”, or Holy Grail, said the age of the stone chalice and documents tracing its history back to 1071 make it “absolutely likely that this beautiful cup was in the hands of the Lord” during the Last Supper.
Msgr Jaime Sancho Andreu, who is head of Valencia archdiocese’s liturgy commission and curator of the Holy Grail, wrote a full-page article in the July 5 edition of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, describing the chalice, its history and the likelihood of it being authentic – although at least one Vatican art official challenged the notion.
Pope Benedict admired the holy vessel during his July 8 visit to Valencia’s cathedral, where the chalice has been kept since 1437, and Church officials also gave him a replica as a gift.
The Pope used the Grail to consecrate the wine during a July 9 outdoor Mass to close the Fifth World Meeting of Families, just as Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass with the holy chalice during his visit to the city in 1982.
Valencia’s sacred chalice is made up of two parts.
The polished stone vessel on top is supposed to be the cup of the Last Supper.
It is made of dark brown agate and measures about 17cm tall and 9cm wide.
Archeologists say it dates back to the 1st century BC and is of eastern origin, from Antioch, Turkey, or Alexandria, Egypt.
The part of the chalice that the cup rests on was made during the medieval period.
The chalice’s stem and handles are made of fine gold, and its alabaster base is decorated with pearls and other precious gems.
Msgr Sancho wrote in the Vatican newspaper that tradition says after Christ instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper St Peter took the cup to Rome, where it was protected by successive popes.
The cup then made its way to Spain during the Christian persecutions in Rome by Emperor Valerian in the 3rd century.
The grail has a paper trail spanning the 11th-15th centuries that supports its origins, the Spanish monsignor said.
However, Umberto Utro, who is head of the Vatican Museums’ department of early Christian art, told Catholic News Service that Valencia’s grail was not the cup used during the Last Supper.
“It’s impossible Jesus drank from it. That there were such rich and fine vessels used at the Last Supper was nonsensical,” he said, especially since Jesus and most of the apostles came from humble or poor backgrounds.
“He most probably used a cup made from glass like everybody else,” he said.
Mr Utro also said preserving relics was not part of the Jewish culture.
The Holy Grail, like most other Christian relics, represents the pilgrims’ “pious desire” to have a material or physical connection to one’s spiritual roots, he said.
Like the Shroud of Turin or Veronica’s veil, people do not base their faith in Christ on the existence of such objects, he said, but the relics do help people recall the real past events that make up the Christian faith.