Is This Chalice The Holy Grail? | An IgnatiusInsight.com Interview with Janice Bennett |
IgnatiusInsight.com: Who is St. Laurence and what role does he play
in the story of the Holy Grail
Bennett: St. Laurence was the deacon and treasurer of the
Church when Sixtus II was Pope. He was born in Valencia, Spain, but spent
most of his life in Italy during the Roman persecutions of Valerian and
Decius, who decreed that the Church could not have property or possessions
of any kind because they were jealous of her wealth, which came from her
many Christian benefactors. The Romans claimed to be tolerant of all religions,
but demanded that everyone worship the Roman gods, in addition to their
own, because they believed these gods could prevent droughts and other
calamities. This, of course, was unacceptable to the Christians, who were
promptly declared intolerant and a danger to public well-being.
St. Laurence was a young and idealistic Christian,
the only son of parents who have also been canonized by the Church. After
Sixtus II refused to hand over the treasures of the Church and was beheaded,
the Romans quickly discovered that they were now in the hands of Laurence,
his deacon and treasurer. When he not only refused to turn them over,
but declared that the poor were the real treasures of the Church, they
were outraged, as anyone can imagine, especially because he was young
and the only surviving deacon. He certainly knew that he would be put
to death, and it angered the pagan Romans that he actually wanted to die
as a martyr because he believed so strongly in the eternal life promised
In obedience to the request of Pope Sixtus II, he had already turned
the Holy Cup over to a Spaniard in Rome at the time, with instructions
to take it to Spain, where Laurence knew that his family would care for
it. St. Laurence was burned on a gridiron for his noncompliance to the
Romans request. Although this form of death was rare at the time,
I believe they not only wanted to make an example of him, but they also
hoped to make the martyrdom that he desired so much as painful as possible.
IgnatiusInsight.com: You note in the book
that Americans have paid little, if any, attention to the Holy Chalice
of Valencia. Why is that?
Bennett: I believe that most Americans
have never heard of the Holy Chalice of Valencia, for the simple reason
that until now there has been next to nothing written about it in English.
On the other hand, it seems to be common knowledge in Spain no
one even questions the fact that the Holy Chalice of Valencia is the Holy
Grail. As I mentioned in the book, I saw a documentary on television about
the Holy Grail, and I was shocked at the superficial treatment it was
given. The Holy Chalice of Valencia was not even mentioned, but a perfume
bottle found in an attic in England was featured as a strong possibility
of being the authentic Holy Grail. Sir Galahad and Percival, who are clearly
literary figures, were discussed as if they were real, historical people.
And now, of course, we have all the nonsense about
how Mary Magdalene is the Holy Grail. It keeps getting more and
more absurd. Like Don Quixote, the popular Spanish literary figure who
read so many books about the Knights of the Round Table that he could
no longer distinguish between reality and fiction, modern man in the so-called
Age of Reason finds himself in the very same situation. As an example,
Andrew Sinclair, in his book The Discovery of the Grail [London:
Arrow Books Limited, 1999] has a chapter entitled "The Grail in Spain."
He intertwines erroneous historical details about the Holy Chalice and
the relics of Oviedo with Galahad and Don Quixote, and even claims that
"Saint Theresa of Avila continued these beatific visions [of Saint
Gertrude of Helfetha] of a holy chalice and a jeweled Grail Castle into
the sixteenth century, before Cervantes in Don Quixote struck them
down" (p. 192). It is incredible that someone would interpret St.
Teresas The Interior Castle in such a manner, and then claim
that Cervantes somehow "struck down" her visions of a castle
that serves as a metaphor for union with God!
cant tell you how many people have remarked to me that they thought
the Holy Grail was lost it must have been, because Sir Galahad
and Percival embarked on a quest to find it. Likewise, thousands read
Dan Browns The Da Vinci Code as a scholarly work. Who can
blame them, based on the claims made on the dust jacket: "An astonishing
truth concealed for centuries. . .unveiled at last," "perfect
for history buffs," "pure genius," "intelligent,"
and "intricately layered with remarkable research and detail."
Browns book contains such a mixture of distorted facts and fiction
that at least ten authors have written books to debunk it. It becomes
more and more difficult for the average person to separate the nonsense
from history and truth, so they tend to walk around in a fog of unreason
that makes the Middle Ages seem like the Age of Enlightenment by contrast.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What sorts of misunderstandings exist about
relics and their place in the Church, and how do they affect peoples
view of authentic relics?
Bennett: I am now working on my third book,
this one on the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, which includes
a discussion of the authenticity of the relics of St. James, believed
to be safeguarded in the crypt of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
The evidence for authenticity is compelling, but unfortunately it is not
presented in a single book in English about the Camino.
Instead, authors like Edwin Mullins, who wrote the
classic account entitled The Pilgrimage to Santiago [New York:
Interlink Publishing Group, Inc., 1974, 2001], refers to the veneration
of relics as a "morbid mediaeval cult" and calls the Santiago
legend nothing more than "folk-lore brushed up for the tourist industry,"
given official recognition by Pope Leo XIII in 1884 as a political move
to sugar a legend that is "so improbable, so flawed, so disreputable,"
that it is "amazing and ironical" that this legend "should
have trodden a path through the history of western Europe that is flagged
by some of the brightest achievements of our civilization" (p. 16).
He even suggests that pious scribes, due to a psychological longing, created
"the foundations of a useful Christian legend where those foundations
were unfortunately lacking" (p. 8-9).
Another example is Spanish Steps by Tim Moore [London: Jonathan
Cape, 2004] about a man and his donkey on the Pilgrim Way to Santiago.
If youre looking for any useful information about the Camino, dont
buy this book it contains 328 pages of donkey jokes intertwined
with misinformation, among them disdain for relics, and the absurd claim
that the Compostela (the certificate in Latin given to pilgrims
at the end of their journey) is a sort of "Get out of hell free"
card, followed by the snide comment that he didnt make the
rules. Unfortunately for him, the Church didnt make that rule either.
Pilgrims who walk the entire route dont even get the plenary indulgence
unless they receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist at
the end, while those who simply visit the Cathedral and fulfill these
conditions do. One doesnt have to walk a single step along the Camino
to be saved. This author reflects the incredible misinformation floating
around about the Catholic Church, among them relics, indulgences, and
pilgrimages. It is not surprising that he shows no respect for the Eucharist
either, saying that when "a queue began to form for the bread and
wine, a sudden exhaustion had pinned me to my seat, and Im glad
" (p. 323).
The prevalent attitude seems to be that the veneration
of relics was a morbid mania that prevailed in a climate of pious unreason,
leading to widespread trafficking as well as the multiplication of thorns,
sweat cloths, grails, fragments of the True Cross, bones of the saints,
and other relics. If this went on, they reason, all relics must be false,
and if not, who cares, because the veneration of relics is little more
than a morbid fascination anyway, practiced by simple, illiterate people
in the Middle Ages who were indoctrinated by a Church that was obsessed
with the Last Judgment.
Someone once suggested to me that my books
were a "waste of time," because the cup used by Jesus at the
Last Supper would not have been preserved by the early Christians, nor
would the cloth containing His blood, without offering a bit of evidence
for his strong opinions. Ironically, this same person also gave me a relic
of a saint before my surgery, and this has always been at the heart of
their veneration the belief in divine intervention and miracles.
Some Christians, usually non Catholic, remark that relics have nothing
to do with their faith, and while this is true, what is wrong with knowing
more about them? No one objects to the study of ancient artifacts and
burial sites, but for some reason the mention of relics brings on some
rather strong opinions that seem to have been formed by the attitude of
non-Christian authors toward the Catholic Church.
I recently translated the story of the Christ of Burgos, a life-like
crucified Christ that is kept in the Cathedral of Burgos. It is not even
a relic, really, although legend claims that it was made by Nicodemus
at the foot of the cross. It has been venerated by pilgrims on their way
to Santiago. Recent studies confirm that it dates to the Middle Ages,
but the remarkable thing is the extensive documentation pointing to miracles
worked through the veneration and faith of the pilgrims. The story is
so inspiring and interesting that it is given an entire chapter in my
IgnatiusInsight.com: What miraculous
events, if any, have been connected to the Holy Chalice of Valencia?
Bennett: Unfortunately, I didnt investigate any miraculous
events that may have been connected to the Holy Chalice. It is possible
that the Cathedral of Valencia has a record of these, but they werent
mentioned in any of the books by the Spanish priests connected with the
Cathedral, nor in any of my other sources.
The only miracle I know of was mentioned
briefly by Elias Olmos Canalda, the Archivist Canon of the Cathedral who
was responsible for saving the Holy Chalice at the start of the Spanish
Civil War. He mentions that part of the cotton with which the Holy Chalice
was wrapped when it was hidden in a stone wall at Carlet was divided among
several young men who were marching in the front lines. They were told
to have faith in what was being given to them because it had covered a
relic. Not one suffered the least mishap or injury. I think the greatest
miracle, however, is that this relic has survived to the present day.
The odds were obviously against it.
IgnatiusInsight.com: What has been the reaction to your book
among scholars and students of the Holy Grail?
Bennett: I havent really received
all that much feedback, but the reaction so far has been excellent. One
woman, who has a doctorate in Romance and Germanic Languages and Literatures,
said that the book was a joy to read and a "great contribution to
scholarship," and remarked that it should keep other writers from
misidentifying Orencio and Paciencia as "two priests of the Church
of Huesca" as did Mark Amaru Pinkham in Guardians of the Holy
Grail [Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 2004], p. 31.
Another man (Christian, but not Catholic)
wrote: "We appreciate the fine work that you are doing in the field
of publishing. It is encouraging that there are talented individuals who
can make a difference in so many ways to improve the lives of people in
our world." One young man from Tennessee, who happens to be a big
fan of the Holy Grail legends, thought that it was an excellent book that
"surpasses all the legends" he has ever read and heard. He said
that he had never heard of St. Laurence and knew nothing of this tradition.
He has "read many books on the Holy Grail, some romantic and some
really so fantastic as to be easily recognizable as mere legend."
He thought that my book on the Sudarium of Oviedo was also excellent,
and a great asset to his faith.
I doubt that some of those who have written
about the Grail being Mary Magdalene would find my book at all interesting,
as their agenda seems to be to deny the divinity of Christ and discredit
the Church. I still cant bring myself to read Holy Blood, Holy
Grail in its entirety, which happened to serve as inspiration
for Dan Browns The Da Vinci Code, although I did read Browns
book, simply because so many people were asking me what I thought of it.
They werent really satisfied when I would reply, "Its
fiction." Now I have a bit more to say about it, none of it good.
Unlike Dan Brown, who hides his agenda
under the cloak of "fiction," Holy Blood, Holy Grail,
[New York: Bantam Dell, 2004; first published by Delacorte Press in 1982],
which happens to be a New York Times bestseller, claims
to be more revealing than any fiction, and provides source material for
the many books being circulated today, even in Spain. Just like Holy
Blood, Holy Grail, nearly all claim that Christ did not die on the
cross, was married and a father, and that his bloodline still exists in
France. The trend these days is to connect all of this with St. Mary Magdalene,
and to make the blasphemous and diabolical claim that she is the
Holy Grail, the "receptable" for Christ. These so-called scholars
are certainly not interested in the truth, but Im sure that they
all hope to become rich by circulating a controversial and illogical hypothesis
that they claim is "probably" true, although based on absolutely
I should mention that there is a big difference
between St. Donatos manuscript and this books claim that parchments
found in the South of France a century ago reveal one of the best-kept
secrets in Christendom. While I certainly cant prove the authenticity
of Donatos manuscript, it is included because it does contain a
written reference to the fact that St. Sixtus II gave the Holy Grail to
St. Laurence for safekeeping. It is translated in its entirely because
it provides new details about Laurences early childhood that not
only make sense, but do not appear to have been taken from any other source.
If it did happen to be a fake, it is brilliantly done, but I seriously
doubt it because Ive been able to support it with information from
many, many other sources.
The translator goes against the tradition
of his place of birth, Huesca, so he is obviously not trying to support
his hometown. St. Donato is a real person mentioned in ancient Spanish
history books, who also happened to be from the same Augustinian order
as the translator, and his explanation of how he came across the work
is quite logical. If, for some unknown and unforeseen reason, it was fake
although I dont believe that anyone could ever prove that
is was it wouldnt change any of the evidence for the authenticity
of the Holy Chalice of Valencia. That is strongly based on the Canon of
the Mass, Spanish tradition concerning St. Laurence, the history of the
relic in Spain, archaeological studies, and the very fact that not very
long ago, some people were so convinced that it is the real Holy Grail
that they were willing to suffer martyrdom to save it.
It also happens to be the only possible Holy Grail
in existence, because it is a cup, and the Gospels state very explicitly
that Jesus took a cup of wine to institute the Sacrament of the
Eucharist, not a perfume bottle or a green plate. The translation of Donatos
manuscript certainly exists, because I have copies of every single page,
I have translated them, and one of these copies is included in the book.
On the other hand, how can anyone know for certain if these supposed parchments
even exist, let alone reveal some bizarre and far-fetched secret about
Christ that flies in the face of two thousand years of Tradition? Yet,
the book cover claims that it is "meticulously researched."
Martyrs do indeed exist, and they certainly
wouldnt have given their lives for a faith that doesnt even
offer eternal life, because if Christ did not die on the cross, we are
not saved. Furthermore, a document can easily be faked, but it is impossible
to do that to tradition. Tradition is what it is, and in the case of the
Holy Chalice, it leaves no other possibility than the fact that the relic
is very likely authentic.
Sacred Blood, Sacred Image: An interview with Janice Bennett about the Sudarium of Oviedo
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