Salvador Antuoano Alea, professor of Ethics and Sacred Scripture at the Francisco de Vitoria University Centre in Madrid, has just published a book on the relic believed to be the chalice used by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper, and at present kept in the Valencia Cathedral. The title of the book is, The Mystery of the Holy Grail: Tradition and Legend of the Sacred Chalice.
"If Indiana Jones had visited Valencia, he would have paid no attention to old medieval legends, and he would have saved himself all the dangers of The Last Crusade," Antuoano humorously remarks in the book's opening line. Over the length of 220 pages, the author reviews the tradition that envelops the Sacred Chalice, including archaeological research on its use in the Last Supper, its use by the first Popes of Christianity, it relocation to Spain, medieval legends, its stay in the Monastery of St John of la Peoa, and its first entry into documented history at the end of the 14th century.
The author finally brings together the negative publicity and damage it has been subjected to since then, as well as its use by John Paul II during a Mass celebrated in Valencia in November, 1992.
According to tradition, the Grail was the chalice from which Jesus and his disciples drank during the Last Supper. It is a standard cup, to which a gold structure with two handles has been added. The piece is 17 centimetres high. The cup is semispherical, about 3.5 inches in diameter and made of dark red agate. Archaeological studies reveal the work was done in a Palestinian or Egyptian workshop between the 4th century BC and the 1st century AD.
At the dawn of Christianity, this cup, connected with the first Eucharist, could not have been forgotten after the Redeemer's death, all the more so since the disciples met several times afterwards in the Cenacle. This is the explanation for the Sacred Chalice's appearance in Rome. According to tradition, it was brought from Jerusalem by St Peter. Two-and-a-half centuries passed, with clear indications that the chalice was used by the early Pontiffs to celebrate Mass. According to Antuoano, "What most impresses the researcher is the Roman liturgical canon of the first Popes. At the moment of consecration, they literally said: 'take this glorious chalice,' referring strictly to 'this' [one]." (Here Antuoano is referring to the official Latin text, hunc praeclarum calicem. The current ICEL English translation is simply, "the cup.")
History records that, shortly before his death at the hands of the Romans, during the persecution by Emperor Valerian, Pope Sixtus II gave relics, treasures and money to his deacon Lawrence, a native of Huesca, Spain, who was also martyred, but not before sending the Eucharistic Chalice to his native city, accompanied by a letter. This was in the year 258 or, according to some authors, 261.
The cup remained in Huesca until the Moslem invasion. Bishop Audeberto of Huesca left his city with the Sacred Chalice in 713, and took refuge in the Mount Pano caves, where the hermit John of Atares lived. Later, the monastery of St John of la Peoa was founded and developed there. It was from here that a nucleus of determined men left to undertake the re-conquest of Spain from the Moslems, an epic struggle with great appeal for writers and poets. According to historians of literature, this was the origin or source of the famous poems of Chretien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, about the hero Percival (Parzival). Eschenbach's epic later inspired Wagner's opera, Parsifal. In all these poems there is a marvelous Cup, which is called "Graal" or "Grail," and whose link with the Sacred Chalice is easy to understand.
The presence of the Sacred Chalice in St John of la Peoa is attested by a document dated 14 December 1134. On 26 September 1399, the Chalice went to Zaragoza for safekeeping, at the request of the King of Aragon. In the text of offer, which is kept in Barcelona, there is evidence that the Sacred Chalice was sent from Rome with a letter written by St Lawrence.
During the reign of Alfonso the Magnanimous, the relic was moved to Valencia. Since 18 March 1437, it has been kept in the Cathedral of that city, according to a document which refers to it as "the Chalice in which Jesus Christ consecrated the blood on the Thursday of the Supper."
"The Sacred Chalice is not known sufficiently either within or outside of Spain," Antuoano, a Mexican living in Spain, states; he believes its "value is not in scientific rigour fully attested, even if archaeology itself has no objections to its authenticity, but in the symbolism of the Lord's Supper. It is valuable because it is a sign and figure of the institution of the Eucharist, and this is much greater than any historical vestige."
The author states that when "the mystery of the Grail is revealed, one realises it is in no way an esoteric enigma; what it encloses is the most dramatic, romantic and sublime story humanity has ever known: the story of the Word made Man and Eucharist."
The book, edited by EDICEP and published in Spanish, has a prologue by Archbishop Agustin Garcia Gasco of Valencia, who highly recommends the reading of the book because "it highlights the value and meaning of the Holy Grail, which acquires its relevance in the Eucharist."