The Grail Legends The Merovingian Dynasty and the Grail Romances: A Medieval Mystery (The majority of these notes are synthesized from Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, London: Arrow Books, 1996.) The Merovingians were Sicambrian or Frankish kings. Between the fifth and seventh centuries they ruled large portions of what are now France and Germany.  The period of their rise corresponds to the time frame of the king in Britain who ultimately became known as Arthur, though the stories of Arthur didn’t become widespread for several more centuries. As with Arthur, the king from whom the Merovingian dynasty derives its name has his historical reality obscured by legend.  Merovee (or Merovech or Meroveus), like Jesus and Vergil, has a miraculous origin and character.  And his name echoes the French word for “mother” and the French and Latin words for “sea.” According to the leading Frankish chronicler of the time and to tradition, Merovee had two fathers.  While the queen was already pregnant by her husband King Clodio, Merovee’s mother supposedly went swimming in the ocean where she was either seduced or raped by a marine creature called a Quinotaur—“bestea Neptuni Quinotauri similes”—who also impregnated the lady.  When Merovee was born, the blood in his veins commingled that of the Frankish ruler and the mysterious sea creature. Usually, when this kind of legend existed during the Middle Ages it was an effort to mask some concrete historic fact with an allegory.  In this case, the façade might have covered an intermarriage between two dynastic lines, whereby the Franks became commingled with the blood of some other source, possibly from “beyond the sea.” In any case, by virtue of his dual origin, Merovee was said to have been endowed with an array of supernatural powers, such as the ability to heal by laying on of hands, have clairvoyant or telepathic powers, be able to communicate with animals, experience extreme longevity, etc.  The Merovingians were called “sorcerer kings” or “thaumaturge kings.” And they all seemed to have a distinctive birthmark, either over the heart or between the shoulder blades—a red cross—that testified to their divine or sacred blood. Also, like the biblical Samson, the Merovingian kings were frequently called “the long-haired kings” because they didn’t cut their hair, believing it to contain their power. Whatever the actual reason for this, it was taken quite seriously; in AD 754 when King Childeric III was deposed and imprisoned, his hair was ritually shorn by the express command of the pope. Like the Egyptian pharaohs, the Merovingian kings seem to have been priest-kings, with the acknowledgement that semi-divine blood flowed through their veins.  They did not rule simply by God’s grace, but were apparently deemed the living embodiment of God’s grace, a status usually reserved for Jesus. And they engaged in rituals that partook more of priesthood than of kingship.  For example, skulls found of Merovingian monarchs bear what appears to be a ritual incision or hole in the crown, similar to those found in the skulls of high priests of early Tibetan Buddhism, made to allow the soul to escape on death and to open contact with the divine. The Merovingians claimed descent from Noah, whom they regarded more than Moses as the source of all biblical wisdom.  The Merovingians also claimed direct descent from ancient Troy, which explains the occurrence in France of Trojan names like Troyes and Paris.  Some authors have attempted to trace the Merovingians to Arcadia; according to Homer a substantial contingent of Arcadians was present at the siege of Troy, and in early Greek histories Troy was founded by settlers from Arcadia. (The Galatians, to whom St. Paul wrote one of his epistles, were in the vicinity of the ancient city of Troy, and were related to the Gauls of France.) The bear was a sacred animal in ancient Arcadia. The name Arcadia actually means “people of the bear.” The Arcadians claimed descent from Arkas, the patron deity of the land, whose name means “bear,” and who, according to Greek myth, was the son of Kallisto, most familiar to moderns as the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. The Sicambrian Franks worshipped the bear in the form of Artemis, or in the shape of her Gallic equivalent, Arduina, patron goddess of the Ardennes in what is now modern France. It is an interesting connection to note that the Welsh word for bear is “arth,” the root word from which the name Arthur derives. There were two Merovees who have been discovered in history.  The first was a Sicambrian chieftain who fought under the Romans and died in 438.  In 448 his son, also Merovee, was proclaimed king of the Franks; he reigned for ten years. The wealth of the Merovingian kings was enormous, and many of the coins from that period bear a distinctive equal-armed cross, identical to the one subsequently adopted during the Crusades for the Frankish kingdom of Jerusalem. These kings ruled by “blood right,” and sons were not created kings but simply assumed the right to rule upon reaching the 12th birthday.  But the kings did not actually do anything; the authority for the government rested instead in the Mayors of the Palace. The most famous of the Merovingian rulers was Merovee’s grandson, Clovis I, who reigned between 481-511. Under Clovis the Franks were converted to Roman Christianity, and through Clovis Rome began to establish an undisputed supremacy in Western Europe, which would remain unchallenged for a thousand years. When he was baptized, the church effectively recognized him as the king he already was and officially bound itself to him and his bloodline.  He expanded his kingdom, and the effects of Roman Christianity, through most of what is now France and Germany. When Clovis died, his kingdom was split among his four sons, and unfortunately the claims to thrones became increasingly more confused, with the Mayors of the Palace becoming more and more powerful, easily manipulating the young kings and often making sure they didn’t arrive at manhood.  Dagobert II was one of these young kings, heir to the throne of Austrasie, and born in 651, who was kidnapped at the age of five by the Mayor of the named Grimoald, who pretended the boy had been killed, and was taken to the bishop of Poitiers, from whence he was sent into permanent exile in Ireland.  However, he met the High King of Tara and married a Celtic princess in 666, with whom he had three daughters.  After her death, he married a Visigoth princess, and had more daughters and an infant son, made his way back to the continent, and in 674 reclaimed the throne with his mother’s help. However, by claiming power and the wealth of his kingdom, he made some powerful enemies, and on a hunt on Dec. 23rd in 679, he was slain with a lance through the eye, on the orders of his own Mayor of the Palace, Pepin the Fat.  Immediately after his death he was buried in the Royal Chapel of Saint Remy, but two centuries later, in 872, his body was exhumed and he was moved to another church named for him, the Church of Saint Dagobert, for in that same year he was canonized. The son of Pepin the Fat succeeded him as Mayor of the Palace, and he was the famous Charles Martel, who conquered the Muslims at the Battle of Tours in 732.  Martel died in 741, and 10 years later his son, Pepin III, Mayor of the Palace to King Childeric III, enlisted the support of the Church in laying formal claim to the throne.  He laid before the pope the question, “Who should be king, the one who actually holds power, or the one who is called king who actually has no power at all?” The pope agreed to consider Pepin’s claim, provided he would rid Italy of the Lombards.  Pepin did so, and gave the lands to the church—the famous Donation of Pepin.  Pepin deposed Childeric III, the last Merovingian king, confined him to a monastery, and deprived him of his supposed magical powers by shaving his head.  Four years later Childeric died, and Pepin’s claim to the throne was undisputed.  So by apostolic authority, Pepin became the king of the Franks. So here is what was new: The ritual of anointment was transformed.  In the past, when practiced at all, it was a ceremonial act of recognition—an anointing of a king, acknowledging his “messiahship” and ratifying his right to rule by virtue of his bloodline.  Now, however, it assumed a new significance.  It took precedence over blood, and could magically sanctify blood.  Anointment became more than a symbolic gesture—it was the literal act whereby the church claimed that divine grace was conferred upon a ruler, and the pope, by performing the act, became the supreme mediator between God and kings.  Through the ritual of anointing, the church claimed  the right to make kings, and all monarchs were rendered subordinate and subservient to the pope.  And Pepin became the first of what have come to be called the Carolingian kings. In 496, the Church had pledged itself in perpetuity to the Merovingian bloodline.  In sanctioning the assassination of Dagobert, in devising the ceremonies of coronation and anointment, in endorsing Pepin’s claim to the throne, it had betrayed its pact to support the Merovingians. However, Pepin married a Merovingian princess, as did Charlemagne. But what of Dagobert’s infant son?  He seems to have been salvaged by one of his sisters, arrived in the Languedoc in 681, inherited titles from his mother’s side of the family, and perpetutated his lineage.  And by 886 one branch of that lineage is said to have culminated in a certain Bernard Plantavelu, whose son became the first duke of Aquitaine.  And through this bloodline, it is ultimately supposed to have culminated in the person of Godfroi de Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine, and leader of the First Crusade, who retook Jerusalem in 1099. In mythology, Godfroi de Bouillon was a grandson of the Grail prince Lohengrin, the “Swan Knight” who lived in the Grail castle at Munsalvaesche, also sometimes called Helias (implying solar implications).  Lohengrin had gone to aid a lady desperately in need of a champion.  She is said in the mythic story to have been either the duchess of Brabant or the duchess of Bouillon.  After defeating her persecutor, he married the lady, on the condition that she never ask him about his ancestry or origins.  She held out for some years but finally asked the forbidden question, and Lohengrin sadly departed in his swan-drawn boat, leaving behind an infant child who was either the father or the grandfather of Godfroi de Bouillon. Lohengrin was himself the son of Parzifal, the Grail knight in the most famous of all the European Grail legends by Wolfram von Eschenbach.  And the Grail was linked commonly in the popular mind with the figure of Jesus. The Grail, as a cup or plate, was itself the subject of more than one myth.  Joseph of Arimathea was supposed to have salvaged the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper and caught the blood of Jesus in it at the Crucifixion (especially when he was pierced in the side by the lance of the Roman soldier Longinus), and then brought that cup, with vials of Jesus’ blood and sweat, to Glastonbury in England, where he had visited with Jesus many years before.  Or the Grail was sometimes seen as a plate, for the word Graal meant plate in the German language, so it was sometimes considered to be a platter from the Last Supper. In another legend, as early as the 4th century, there were stories that Mary Magdalene had brought the Grail to France, and that she had been deposited ashore at Marseilles, near where her earthly remains are still honored. In the opinion of most scholars, the first genuine Grail romance dates form the late twelfth century, from around 1188, and the romance in question is entitled Le Roman de Perceval or Le Conte del Graal.  It was composed by Chretien de Troyes, who seems to have been attached, in some indeterminate capacity, to the court of the count of Champagne, and to have composed other romances for Marie, Countess of Champagne. But he dedicated his Grail romance to Philippe d’Alsace, Count of Flanders. Chretien’s Grail romance has as its protagonist Perceval, who is described as the “Son of the Widow Lady.”  This appellation is a reference that had long been employed by dualist and Gnostic heresies, sometimes for their own prophets, and sometimes for Jesus himself. Subsequently, it became a cherished designation in Freemasonry, which traced it back to the builder of Solomon’s Temple, Hiram Abif, who was killed in the Temple because he would not reveal the secrets of its building.  Cretien’s poem is unfinished, but in it Perceval sets out on a quest to become a knight, and he meets an enigmatic fisherman, called the “Fisher King.” The land is blighted because of a wounding of the king (apparently a sexual wound).  Perceval is invited to spend the night at the Fisher King’s castle.  During the supper that evening, a damsel comes into the assembly bearing a jewel studded cup.  Apparently Perceval is supposed to ask a question of some kind (e.g., “Whom does the Grail serve?” or “Who serves the Grail?”), but he fails to ask any question.  And the next morning, when he wakes, he finds the castle empty, whereupon he loses his faith. Two other Grail romances followed Chretien’s. The first was by Robert de Boron, Roman de l’Estoire dou Saint Graal, written between 1190 and 1212, who gave the romance a distinctly Christian flavor by making the cup that which Joseph of Arimathea used to catch the blood of Jesus at the crucifixion and then took to England. For Robert, the Grail romances involves the Grail family; Galahad is supposed to have been Joseph of Arimathea’s grandson. And many scholars have noted that his name derives from Gilead; he is hence associated with Jesus himself.   The other romance was that known as the Perlevaus.  It was composed around the same time as Robert’s poem, between 1190 and 1212, by an author who chose to remain anonymous.  It has been suggested by at least one modern critic that the author may have been a soldier, and even perhaps a Templar, or at the very least someone familiar with use of weapons and with some symbols associated with the Templars of the Crusades.  In this poem, Perceval is again a “Son of the Widow Lady,”  and he visits a castle where he is greeted by two masters, who call in 33 other knights, all of whom are dressed in white with red crosses on the vestments. Much emphasis is placed on the lineage of Perceval, who is supposedly in the direct lineage of Joseph of Arimathea.  However, this poem takes place in the age of Arthur.  There are references to heads sealed in silver and heads sealed in lead, to a sanctioned ritual of king-sacrifice.  And the Grail itself is associated with a great secret concerning Jesus, the nature of which is entrusted to a select company. At one point, Sir Gawain has a vision in which in the midst of the Graal he sees a figure of a crowned king, crucified; then the figure of a child; then a man wearing a crown of thorns, and bleeding from his forehead, feet, palms, and side; the fourth manifestation is not specified; the fifth is a chalice.  On each occasion the manifestation is attended by a fragrance and a great light. The most famous of the Grail romances is that of Wolfram von Eschenbach, known as Parzifal, written sometime between 1195 and 1216.  Wolfram states up front that Chretien’s version is fantasy, and that he has the true story, which he supposedly got from an individual who had it from Muslim Spain, and that the story was of Judaic origin. Specifically, Kyot [de Provence], the well-known master, found in Toledo, discarded, set down in heathen writing, the first source of this adventure.  He first had to learn the abc’s, but without the art of black magic . . . A heathen, Flegetanis, had achieved high renown for his learning. This scholar of nature was descended from Solomon and born of a family which had long been Israelite until baptism became our shield against the fire of Hell.  He wrote the adventure of the Grail.  On his father’s side, Flegetanis was a heathen, who worshipped a calf. . . The heathen Flegetanis could tell us how all the stars set and rise again . . . To the circling course of the stars man’s affairs and destiny are linked.  Flegetanis the heathen saw with his own eyes in the constellations things he was shy to talk about, hidden mysteries.  He said there was a thing called the Grail, whose name he had read clearly in the constellations.  A host of angels left it on the earth.  Since then baptized men have had the task of guarding it, and with such chaste discipline that those who are called to the service of the Grail are always noble men. Thus wrote Flegetanis of these things. Kyot, the wise master, set about to trace this tale in Latin books, to see where there had been a people, dedicated to purity and worthy of caring for the Grail. He read the chronicles of the lands, in Britain and elsewhere, in France and in Ireland, and in Anjou he found the tale.  There he read the true story of Mazadan, and the exact record of all his family was written there. Kyot de Provence has been identified as Guiot de Provins, a troubadour, monk and spokesman for the Templars who did live in Provence and who wrote love songs, attacks on the Church, paeans in praise of the Temple, and satirical verses. Wolfram likely met Guiot in Germany in 1184. In both the Perlesvaus and Parzifal, there is the suggestion that the Knights of the Temple are the guardians of the Grail and the Grail family. The implication is that the Grail existed not just in Arthurian times, but also during the Crusades, when the romances about it were composed.  By introducing the Templars, both Wolfram and the author of the Perlesvaus may have been suggesting that the Grail was not just something of the past but also something which, for them, possessed contemporary relevance. In Wolfram’s story, the Grail is many things:  it is a cornucopia that dispenses food, it is the Philosopher’s Stone of alchemy, which, when human’s look upon it, allows them to remain forever young.  And it is guarded by a select company, the Grail family, knights and maidens who are specifically called to its service, and who may not give the background of their origins. Wolfram ascribes great importance to the bloodline of the Grail family, which he says once incurred God’s anger.  This allusion echoes references from the Middle Ages to the Jews.  Joseph of Arimathea was a Jew. Flegetanis was supposedly descended from King Solomon. So, is the Grail family being obliquely referred to here as of Judaic origin? And is Mazadan a reference to Masada, a major bastion during the Judaic revolt against Roman occupation in A.D. 68? Wolfram insists that the story he is telling is set in the Arthurian court, and that the court is in Nantes, in France.  Further, the Queste del Saint Graal, composed between 1215 and 1230 declares explicitly that the events of the Grail story occurred precisely 454 years after the resurrection of Jesus, which would place the events in 487, during the first flush of Merovingian power, and just nine years before the baptism of Clovis. Finally, the house of Anjou is mentioned as having been a source for Wolfram’s story, and it was associated both with the Holy Land and the Templars.  Fulque, Count of Anjou, was an “honorary” or “part-time” Templar.  In 1131 he married Godfroi de Bouillon’s niece and became king of Jerusalem. The lords of Anjou, the Plantagenet family, were related to the Merovingian bloodline. The word Grail derives in many early manuscripts from the Sangraal, or Sangreal.  It was divided into San Graal or San Greal, but it may have been intended instead to be spelled Sang Raal or Sang Real.  Or in other words, it may have originally been intended to mean “Holy Blood.”  Traditionally, the cup with Jesus’ blood in it may have been an allegory for something besides a cup, namely, the body of Jesus’ wife, Mary Magdalene. There were early church writers who stated that after the crucifixion, Lazarus, the Magdalene, Martha, Joseph of Arimathea, and a few others were transported by ship to Marseilles.  There, Joseph was supposedly consecrated by Saint Philip and sent on to England, where he established a church at Glastonbury.  Lazarus and the Magdalene, however, are supposed to have remained in Gaul. Lazarus is credited with having founded the first bishopric there. One of their companions, Saint Maximin, is said to have founded the first bishopric of Narbonne. In other traditions, the Magdalene’s tribal affiliation is said to have been that of the Tribe of Benjamin.  And she is said to have been of royal blood.  If she was of the Benjamites, she was a descendant of King Saul.  Saul was deposed by David, from whose lineage Jesus came.  By marrying the Magdalene, he would have been reuniting the two royal families and fortifying his position as priest-king of the true blood royal, and any offspring would be doubly rightful heirs to the throne of Jerusalem. There is, or course, no way to prove this conclusion.  But now you know why the French believe that the Merovingian dynasty was originally supposed to have been the bloodline that was to supply all the royals of the thrones of Europe! (For more on this subject, see the section “Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail.”) Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily