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Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail as the Source of Salvation: A Study of ​The Quest

of the Holy Grail ​as translated by P.M. Matarasso

Introduction

The Quest of the Holy Grail​ is a literary work that revolves around the search of
the titular sacred object, the Holy Grail. Within the timeline of the Arthurian cycle, ​The
Quest​ takes place after Arthur Pendragon establishes the kingdom of Camelot and
assembles the Knights of the Round Table. After the knighting of Galahad, the miracle
of the Holy Grail in Camelot, and the behest of Sir Gawain, Arthur sends the Knights out
to search for the Grail. ​The Quest​ centers on the adventures of five of these Knights: Sir
Galahad, Sir Lancelot, Sir Perceval, Sir Bors, and Sir Gawain. The search succeeds
through the efforts of Sir Galahad, Sir Perceval, and Sir Bors, who are considered pure
and virtuous enough to discover the secrets of the Holy Grail. It concludes in the death
of Sir Galahad upon his request, the recession of Sir Perceval into hermitage, and the
return of Sir Bors to Camelot to bring news of the quest. (Matarasso 2005)

The Quest of the Holy Grail​, from its characterization to its symbolization of the
Holy Grail, is a chivalric recreation of the main events of the life of Jesus Christ. Very
clearly, this is embodied by the character of Sir Galahad, through his origin to the many
testimonies spoken by the wise in the quest. However, in a much subtler fashion does
the Holy Grail also serve as an embodiment of similar regard, by symbolizing the
Kingdom of God which Jesus Christ in his human life sought to enact in the world. This
is further nuanced by the presence of chivalry as the primary standard of morality in
Arthurian legend. In a word, to be a chivalric man is the ideal human being. Thus, ​The
Quest of the Holy Grail​ may be placed in a chivalric-messianic framework that places
Sir Galahad as the paragon of knighthood who searches for the Holy Grail to restore the
land of the kingdom. This paper aims to provide a discussion of the ​Quest​ in this
framework by delving into the characterization of Sir Galahad among the other knights,
namely Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and Sir Bors, and the symbolization of the Holy Grail.
It integrates some part of a cultural studies theory ingrained in contemporary theology.
The paper concludes by arguing that the ​Quest​ is not one of physical movement, but
rather a spiritual journey that transcends earthly pleasure.

​ s Spiritual
The ​Quest a

From the title of the work, ​The Quest of the Holy Grail​, one may immediately
think of adventures of demonstrated gallantry and prowess. Images of combat and
jousting may be conjured from the thought. In essence, it also may refer to ideals of
such notions as embodied by the Knights of the Round Table who are chosen for their
virtues and abilities. But rather than this notion of movement and action, the narrative of
the ​Quest​ places supreme emphasis on exposition. Action is, at best, secondary to the
amount of speech and explanation that takes place throughout the story.

A simple formulaic approach of this may come as, firstly, the character
committing into action, followed by a counsel by a wise individual. Often, this counsel is
that of reproach of the character for his errant actions and advice for better action in
future events. Sir Gawain, Sir Bors, and especially Sir Lancelot, are the characters
which experience this kind of counsel and often meet it with a reverence for the “Good
Knight” for being able to possess excellent judgment on how to properly act in grave
situations – this is known to be Sir Galahad, the embodiment of knighthood as many
have referred to him. This focus on exposition rather than action is a quintessential
aspect of the ​Quest​. Here, action is often related to endeavors of earthly interests. For
instance, Sir Gawain, while wholehearted in his search for the Grail, goes down the path
of the glory of chivalry rather than the ultimate goal of chivalry. He slays multiple people
who stand in his way, often his own fellow Knights, yet not one victory brings him closer
to a conclusion of the search. Prominent here is the presence of sin and the “Evil One,”
the devil, attempting to find a kink in their virtuous souls in order to bring them away
from their state of grace and virtue. Sir Lancelot and Sir Bors, for instance, are
recipients of the trials of lust. The former, being tempted by Queen Guinevere, fails
miserably in this regard and is reprehended by the wise counselors who he encounters.
The latter faces such a trial when he is made to decide between saving his brother Sir
Lionel and saving a damsel from forced intercourse. (Matarasso 2005)

Yet, these three, at least at the start of the ​Quest​, fail to recognize that the Holy
Grail is not a physical object of covetous interest. Rather, it is a sacred item that would
bring about a divine revolution of the profane world of sin. Of the four knights given
focus in this paper, it is Sir Galahad that recognizes the nature of this quest.

Sir Galahad and the Holy Grail, Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God

Because of the clear parallel between Sir Galahad and Jesus Christ, it is deemed
necessary to provide a groundwork of understanding this comparison. Sir Galahad can
be considered a chivalric recreation of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that they are both
completely the same. Rather, it is to say that Sir Galahad shares characteristics with
Jesus Christ, albeit in a chivalric setting. Each of them is considered the prime model of
humanity, to start. In their respective times, Sir Galahad is considered to be the most
perfect knight – it is important to note that chivalry in the culture of the Arthurian legend
is considered the prime moral standard – whereas Jesus is considered as the most
ideal human being. They each also bear an ancestral lineage that may be said to
culminate into each of their existence. Sir Galahad is born from a lineage of ideal
knights that, in each of their times, are the models of knighthood (Matarasso 2005),
while Jesus descended from a series of people chosen by God to deliver His word.

The most vital point of comparison, however, lies in the very thing that Sir
Galahad and Jesus Christ seek to establish: The Kingdom of God. This is very clear in
the case of Jesus Christ, as he performed miracles and preached the Word of God
during his time to enact it, with his ultimate goal being the unification of the world after
being broken by sin. In the case of Sir Galahad, however, this comes as very subtle
and, ultimately, revelatory. To recount the Holy Grail miracle in Camelot, it is detailed
how many people witnessed the miracle of the Holy Grail of being able to provide
bountiful, delectable food and drink to the residents of the kingdom. King Arthur, himself
having been befallen an illness, indirectly afflicts the land with sickness as he is
inextricably linked to it. After seeing the marvelous miracle, King Arthur sends out the
Knights to search it in hopes of restoring the land (Matarasso 2005). This detail is
important; one must note how King Arthur divides the fellowship of the knights by setting
them out to look for the Holy Grail to be more efficient in searching for it. It defeats the
very purpose of the quest – this paper explains why later. Sir Galahad is detailed to
become a figure which receives many blessings and sacred items in his journey in
virtue of him being the chosen knight of God. In page 79, it is shown how Sir Galahad is
very clearly compared to Jesus as an abolitionist of sin and the harbinger of
forgiveness. Notable here, also, is how the knights remarked that they wish to be
companions of Sir Galahad, contrary to the initial order of King Arthur to spread out to
search the Holy Grail. In other words, Sir Galahad is likened to Jesus Christ, which
means like Jesus, Sir Galahad seeks the unification of the world after being broken by
sin. In essence, Sir Galahad sets out to enact the Kingdom of God.

The Holy Grail is the symbol of the Kingdom of God. The ​Quest​ talks about the
Grail as the cup from which Jesus drank in the Last Supper. In chapter five of the book
Jesus Before Christianity​, Albert Nolan (1976) notes that what Jesus did to reunite the
people is by way of feasting with the oppressed and the sinful. Nolan argues that
feasting, for Jesus, is the method by which communion may be made among people, for
it allows them to enjoy and participate in others’ presence. Hence, Jesus spends much
of his time in meals with the sinners. It is his way of fellowship which ultimately
manifested in the famous Last Supper with his twelve apostles. Feasting, in other
words, is Jesus’s primary “weapon” to bring about the Kingdom of God, by uniting the
people in feasting. To return to Sir Galahad, it seems, then, that ultimately Sir Galahad’s
goal is the enactment of the Kingdom of God as Jesus has sought before him. It seems
that other knights, and even King Arthur, sees the Grail under a more materialistic,
economic approach; the Grail will restore the land by providing an infinite amount of
food and drink for the Kingdom. This, while noble, is fallible to sin, as Sir Lancelot, Sir
Gawain, and Sir Bors demonstrated. Sir Galahad, however, sees beyond this earthly
notion: the Holy Grail is the tool for the unification of mankind through which the land
may be restored. It is not through action, through the seizure of this object, that he
obtains it. Rather, it is through divine rumination and examination of virtue that allows
him, along with Sir Perceval and Sir Bors, access to the Holy Grail.

Sir Galahad as Model of Knighthood

It is clear, at this point, why the ​Quest​ formally starts with the tales of Sir
Galahad. He sets the standards by which the knights must act virtuously. Sir Galahad
demonstrates that it is not through one’s own prowess, but rather through divine
contemplation and intercession, that one may transcend earthly desire to the ultimate
contentment of the Kingdom of God found in the Holy Grail. This is stressed in the idea
of fellowship, which Jesus Christ started with the twelve apostles, Josephus
perpetuated with his four thousand followers, and finally continued by King Arthur with
the Knights of the Round Table. To reiterate, the error of King Arthur and many of his
knights is found in their thought of the Holy Grail as an earthly solution of the
barrenness of the land. They fail to realize that the barrenness of the land is caused by
their division due to sin which causes them to be selfish and materialistic rather than
communal and spiritual.

At the end of the ​Quest​, after Sir Galahad realizes the true nature of the quest,
he then wishes to be delivered to Heaven. This is similar to Jesus Christ’s ascension to
Heaven after his death. In both accounts, it leaves a very open-ended note to not only
the figures of each story but also the readers. Sir Galahad and Jesus Christ have been
shown to display the very ideals and virtues of a most ideal human being, at least during
their time. This is such that they are allowed to witness the very Kingdom of God that is
sought to be enacted on the world. Their deaths are not those which people must
immerse themselves in sorrow, as if the very hope of the world is gone. Rather, they
demonstrate that they themselves, being human, show that it is possible to attain and
establish the Kingdom of God. In the Arthurian legend, Sir Bors returns to Camelot to
tell King Arthur and the others about the nature of the quest and the adventures along
the way. From that point on, it is up to King Arthur and the whole of Camelot to realize
that the quest is ultimately spiritual and to decide how they may redeem themselves and
the land from sin, through the model and works of Sir Galahad who followed Jesus
Christ.
Bibliography

Matarasso, P.M. “The Quest of the Holy Grail.” London, England: Penguin Books Ltd,
2005.

Nolan, Albert. “Jesus Before Christianity.” Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1976.