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Whose Grail is it anyway?

European Christian traditions claim that the Holy Grail was the cup that Jesus used to make the fourth and final toast of the Passover Seder at the Last Supper. It is very unlikely, specialists in the matter explain, that a Jew in Jesus’ day and age would have used any kind of wine glass for a Passover dinner, no matter how poor. In fact, using a goblet made of noble and pure materials was customary –and the proper thing to do.

Being expensive, these cups were part of the family trousseau, and were jealously preserved. To which family, then, did the cup used at that supper belong?

Historians hypothesize that the cup was the property of the owners of the Upper Room (that is, the Cenacle) who lent Jesus and his disciples the place, and with it, everything they needed to celebrate Passover.

The owner of the Cenacle was a man named Chuza, who happened to be the procurator and treasurer of Herod Antipas. Tradition states that, in addition, he also had an oil mill in Gethsemane. The Gospel of Luke states that his wife, Joanna (considered a saint in various Christian traditions), was healed by Jesus (Lk 8:2-3), that she assisted Jesus and his disciples in their travels, and is even counted among the first to learn of the resurrection, together with Mary Magdalene and Mary “of James”. Being the wife of Herod’s treasurer, it is assumed that many the events that took place in the Herodian court were narrated to Luke, first hand, by Joanna. For example, a pious tradition holds that it was her who secretly collected the Baptist’s head for burial.

In short, Joanna and Chuza were Mark the Evangelist’s “rich” relatives.

Tradition holds that the disciples continued to meet there, at the Cenacle, after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It makes sense that Peter, being the head of the Church, was responsible of preserving the cup –especially if we consider that the disciples continued to remember and celebrate that Last Supper, which would become the Christian rite par excellence, the Eucharist.

Now, tradition claims that Peter carried the cup with him when he set out on his journey to Rome, where he would be martyred and buried in what is now St. Peter’s Basilica. That very same tradition claims that Mark the Evangelist, Chuza’s and Joanna’s relative, accompanied him on that last journey.

The cup would thus remain in the hands of the bishops of Rome, from Peter onwards. In fact, it is particularly revealing that only the ancient Roman canon of the Mass (the one celebrated by popes from ancient times, up until the Second Vatican Council), says that Christ raised this chalice and not the chalice, as every other canon says. If the wine glass that was used in the early days of Christianity in Rome was the same that Jesus had used in Jerusalem, everything fits.

But how did the grail get from Rome to Valencia, in Spain? Was it stolen? Was it sold? In truth, the story is much more complex, and it is no coincidence that the Quest for the Holy Grail has become a myth –mostly thanks to a heroic young Spaniard. But this is another story –one that deserves a post on its own.


This post is also available in: Español Italiano

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