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There is a dragon on the Way of the Holy Grail (or two?)

In the ancient city of Valencia, Spain, the inhabitants were horrified by the presence of a dragon in the river at the foot of the walls. The horrible beast devoured anyone who dared to venture into the wetlands. No one knew how to rid the city of this nightmare.

Until a vagabond Jew convicted of many crimes, nicknamed Espillet, offered to pardon his death sentence in exchange for freeing the city from the horrendous monster. He only asked for all the glass and mirrors that the anguished Valencians could provide.

Espillet went out through the gate of the wall covered with a suit of armor made of mirrors and crystals. As he confronted the monster, the sunlight lit up the improvised knight in thousands of reflections as if he were a living flame, and he cornered the dragon, piercing it with his sword.

The legend ran from mouth to mouth and from century to century, until it was picked up by the journalist Vicente Blasco Ibáñez in his Cuentos Valencianos, in 1896. One might think that this is the umpteenth local version of the legend of St. George and the dragon, but without the princess, and that’s all there is to it.


But then, any inhabitant of Valencia will remind you that, indeed, the dead beast is still hanging on the wall, as a trophy, in the convent of Corpus Christi, also known as Colegio del Patriarca. And that mothers of all times have shown it to their children as a method (debatable) to make them behave well.

Very surprised, the curious will go to the place in question, and will discover with astonishment that the “dragon” is actually a huge stuffed crocodile, hanging on the wall for several centuries.

An original gift

As is always the case, the medieval legend has survived where the facts have long been forgotten, and has found a home throughout the ages.

Because in reality, the dreadful “dragon” had an owner and even a name of its own. It was called “Lepanto”, and was the property of St. Juan de Ribera, the famous archbishop of Valencia in the 16th century, at the time of the Counter-Reformation.

According to documents of the time, Gaspar de Zuñiga y Acevedo, viceroy of Peru, sent not one, but two (live) caimans, male and female, to the distinguished prelate as a gift. When both reptiles died, they were stuffed and hung, one in the Patriarch’s College and the other in the Monastery of El Puig. Only the second one was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, and there are no known graphic documents about it.

It coincides that both places, the College of the Patriarch and the Monastery of El Puig are emblematic places of the Way of the Holy Grail, and that they are united by the holy archbishop Juan de Ribera, who had both buildings constructed, nowadays considered national patrimony. And Juan de Ribera is also a key figure in the veneration of the Holy Grail.

The first serious investigation

These were the difficult times of the Counter-Reformation, in which on the one hand the Protestant schism was being fought, and on the other hand, an attempt was being made to purify the Catholic Church of all the superstitious adherences of medieval origin that had caused the tremendous religious crisis.

So the prelate, a well-known theologian and man of firm decisions, upon arriving at the seat of Valencia, ordered to remove all the relics kept in the cathedral and to make the relevant checks on their authenticity, burning those that did not prove it. Among them was the Holy Grail or Holy Chalice, which had been given by King Alfonso V the Magnanimous in 1437, as payment of a debt.

It is not the purpose of this article to detail the itinerary that took the Holy Grail from the Cenacle of Jerusalem, through Rome, to the cathedral of Valencia. Suffice it to say that a pilgrimage route has been traced on it, the Way of the Holy Grail, which can be seen here.

Way of the Holy Grail

Returning to St. John of Ribera, after the appropriate investigations, he must have been convinced of the authenticity of the Cup. Thus, in his own personal Bible, (which is preserved in the Colegio del Corpus), commenting on the passage of the Last Supper in Mk 26, he underlined the word “calicem”, and made in his own handwriting this note:

“Hic calix usque hodie in hac nostra valentina ecclesia asservatur” (“This chalice to this day in this our Valencian church is preserved”).

The saintly prelate promoted the veneration of the Eucharist, instituting with the greatest solemnity the feast of Corpus Christi, which even today is, together with the Fallas, the greatest feast of the city. He also promoted the intense devotion that already existed in Valencia to the Precious Blood, possibly linked to the presence of the Holy Chalice.

So, pilgrim who comes to Valencia to see the Holy Grail: Be sure to visit the Patriarch’s College to see its famous dragon. But do it with reverent silence, or you will be told the famous phrase that Valencians pass down from generation to generation:

“Si en silenci dins no esteu, á mon ventre parareu” (If you don’t keep silent, you will end up in my belly).

This post is also available in: Español Italiano

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