The Maier Files | The Graal, again a link with Flanders
The first story ever written about the Grail was Perceval or the Story of the Grail (ca. 1180–1190) by Chrétien de Troyes. Chrétien tells us in his prologue that that he based his story on a book (livre) that he had received from his patron, the count of Flanders.
Flanders, Holy Grail, Graal, Parzival, Chretien de Troy, Eschenbach, Visigoth, Cathar, legend, myth
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The Graal, again a link with Flanders

Count of Flanders

28 Nov The Graal, again a link with Flanders

The first story ever written about the Grail was Perceval or the Story of the Grail (ca. 1180–1190) by Chrétien de Troyes. The tale of the Holy Grail is not an ancient myth whose roots are lost in the depths of time. The Grail legend was invented by medieval poets, storytellers and troubadours in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. Chrétien called his long verse-narrative ‘‘the finest tale that may be told at royal court,’’ and contemporaries seem to have agreed.

Chrétien was probably a native of the city of Troyes, some 140 kilometers east of Paris, in the rich and powerful county of Champagne. All that we know of Chrétien’s life we learn from his writings. He left three complete romances, Erec et Enide, Cliges, and Le Chevalier au Lion (The Knight with the Lion), and two others he left unfinished, Le Chevalier de la Charrette (The Knight of the Cart) and Le Conte du Graal.
His Conte du Graal is dedicated to Philip of Alsace, Count of Flanders. Since Philip became count of Flanders in 1168, and left on crusade in September 1190, dying overseas in 1191, the Conte du Graal must have been written sometime between 1168 and 1191. Most scholars would narrow these dates, and place the composition of the story to the last decade of Chrétien’s known literary activity, between 1180 and 1190. The first mention of the Grail is in Chrétien’s dedication to Count Philip of Flanders : ‘‘Is he [Philip of Flanders] not worthier than Alexander . . . ? Yes, never doubt this. Therefore [Chrétien’s] labor will not be wasted when, at the count’s command, he endeavors and strives to put into rhyme the finest tale that may be told at a royal court. This is the story of the graal, from the book the count gave him. Hear how he performs his task’’ (ll. 57–68; p. 340).

Chrétien tells us in his prologue that that he based his story on a book (livre) that he had received from his patron, the count of Flanders. What are we to make of this assertion? Scholars remain divided as to the existence of such a written source for Chrétien’s romance, with many taking Chrétien at his word, and many others concluding that Chrétien was employing a well-known rhetorical topos to add authority and authenticity to his romance.

‘‘What, precisely, did the book contain? The answers to this question tend to be influenced by theories concerning the origin of the Grail legend. Some have surmised that the book was written in Latin and described a ritual about a Christian relic; others have maintained—in my opinion with a greater probability—that it was a ‘conte d’aventure,’ filled with ancient Celtic/Germanic marvels and folktales.’’
But no surviving book containing ‘‘Celtic/Germanic marvels’’ or descriptions of a pagan or Christian ritual or relic fits these particular specifications. If we are to take Chrétien at his word, we must look rather for a book that is, at least in its general outlines, very much like the one that Chrétien has produced, and the most careful research, conducted over many centuries, has failed to produce a single likely candidate.

Before Chrétien, the word ‘‘graal’’ was neither famous nor evocative; it was simply a word, used especially in Catalonia and surrounding regions, to designate a piece of common table furnishing. We might ask where the word comes from and what kind of thing it designates. Chrétien would not have found the word in any of his Celtic sources, nor is graal derived from a Latin root. One can notice that this is the land where the Visigoths settled and later Cathar land, but these are the other pieces of the puzzle.

Note that Philip of Alsace (1143 – 1 August 1191) was count of Flanders from 1168 to 1191. He succeeded his father Diederik of Alsace, (who brought the relic of the Holy blood into Bruges.) and his mother was Sibylla of Anjou. (Anjou another mysterious link with Grail lore and the bizarre tale of Melusine)

Died1 August 1191
Noble familyHouse of Alsace
Spouse(s)Elisabeth of Vermandois
Theresa of Portugal
FatherDiederik, Count of Flanders
MotherSibylla of Anjou

The Virgin and the Grail (Joseph Goering)

In this book, Joseph Goering explores the links between these sacred images and the origins of one of the West’s most enduring legends. While tracing the early history of the grail, Goering looks back to the Pyrennean religious paintings and argues that they were the original inspiration of the grail legend. He explains how storytellers in northern France could have learned of these paintings and how the enigmatic “grail” in the hands of the Virgin came to form the centrepiece of a story about a knight in King Arthur’s court. Part of the allure of the grail, Goering argues, was that neither Chretien nor his audience knew exactly what it represented or why it was so important. And out of the attempts to answer those questions the literature of the Holy Grail was born. “To search for the Holy Grail has always been to search for its meaning. Goering, in a highly original and historically work, invites the reader to join his quest for the origins, place, and meaning of the mysterious Grail.”

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