|Janice Bennett on the Legendary Cup of the Last Supper
LITTLETON, Colorado, 28 NOV. 2004 (ZENIT)
The story of the Holy Grail
has spawned numerous works of fiction and fantasy, including popular
films. The truth about the actual whereabouts of the cup is less clear.
One scholar, Janice Bennett, author of "St. Laurence and the Holy Grail"
(Ignatius), believes that the cup's history can be traced from St.
Peter's journey to Rome, to St. Laurence in the third century, and then
to its final resting place in Spain.
Bennett holds a master's in Spanish literature from the University of
Colorado, and a certificate in Advanced Bible Studies from the Catholic
Biblical School in Denver. She is a member of the Spanish Center for
Sindonology, based in Valencia, Spain.
She shared with ZENIT why she believes that the Holy Chalice of Valencia
is the same cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper.
Q: What exactly is the Holy Grail? How do you answer skeptics who say it
is just a myth?
Bennett: For Christians, the Holy Grail is and always has been the cup
used by Jesus to consecrate the wine at the Last Supper, the very
receptacle that held the blood of Christ in the newly instituted
sacrament of the Eucharist.
As such, it has been held in high esteem as a historically authentic
object that was used by Jesus himself, the relic of singular importance
for Christianity because it serves as a symbol for the Bread of Life.
People of all eras have wondered what has become of this precious relic,
which has generated a considerable number of fantastic stories about
knights, monks and kings embarking on a quest to find it.
This has been true not only for the people of the Middle Ages, but also
for those of us living today, as seen in the continued popularity of the
Grail legends and in films such as "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,"
in which Indiana Jones discovers a large number of possible grails in
the unlikely location of Petra, Jordan.
Unfortunately, the grail he determines to be authentic is the most
unlikely historically speaking, because it is made of wood, a porous
material that was forbidden for the Jewish Passover.
It is undeniable that Jesus used an actual cup for the consecration, and
that this cup is a historical object, not a myth. Perhaps because of the
mystery and fantasy that have surrounded this relic par excellence, some
modern scholars have created a scenario by which the Holy Grail can be
just about anything, from the Shroud of Turin to Mary Magdalene.
Others define the Grail as nothing more than a personal quest, or an
exploration of self, or link it with all sorts of ancient legends and
fertility rites, leading to a great deal of confusion about what it
Q: What got you interested in researching its existence and whereabouts?
Bennett: My husband and I visited the Chapel of the Holy Grail in the
Cathedral of Valencia in the early 1990s. I thought it rather strange
that they claimed to have the actual cup used by Jesus at the Last
Supper, because I had never heard anything about it in the United
The only information available was a small leaflet that had been poorly
translated into English, which mentioned that Pope Sixtus II entrusted
the cup to St. Laurence in A.D. 258, and that St. Laurence sent it to
Spain in the hands of a Spanish soldier. It also provided a brief
history of the relic in Spain.
Years later, when researching relics in the National Library of Madrid,
I remembered that leaflet. I searched for information on St. Laurence
and found a very interesting translation of a document that was
reportedly written by St. Donato in the sixth century, which not only
contains a biography of St. Laurence's early life, but also confirms
that this transfer had indeed taken place.
At the same time I found a small book written by the priest responsible
for saving the relic at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
As I examined the photos of where it had been hidden during the conflict
underneath the cushions of a sofa, in the secret compartment of a
wardrobe and in a stone wall
was absolutely amazed by the difficulties this relic has suffered
throughout the ages.
I immediately knew that I had to investigate the history of this cup in
depth. The Holy Chalice of Valencia not only claims authenticity, but
also has a long tradition and fascinating history that support that
Q: What is believed to have happened to the Holy Grail immediately after
the Last Supper?
Bennett: Most scholars believe that the Cenacle
the room where the Last Supper took place
and the Holy Cup were the property of the family of St. Mark the
Evangelist, who served as interpreter for St. Peter in Rome.
St. Mark and St. Peter were very close, and it certainly makes sense
that St. Mark would have given the Holy Cup to St. Peter, for the simple
reasons that it was very important for the early Christians to use
relics in the liturgy and that Peter was head of the Church.
Spanish tradition claims that St. Peter took the Holy Cup with him to
Rome, where it was passed on to his successors until the Valerian
persecution of 258.
Due to the extreme danger of the precious relic falling into the hands
of the Romans, St. Sixtus II, knowing that he would soon be martyred,
entrusted the cup to his treasurer and deacon, St. Laurence. St.
Laurence in turn gave it to a Spanish soldier with the request to take
it to Huesca, Spain, where he knew that his family would care for it.
This very early tradition is supported by many factors: the Roman Canon
of the Mass, the fact that the cup is not mentioned in Rome after the
third century, various documents and the traditional and historical
presence of the Holy Chalice in Spain.
Q: What is your theory about the Holy Grail's history and current
Bennett: Most people believe that there are hundreds of possibilities
for the authentic Holy Grail, which goes well with the old saying that
if all the supposed relics of the True Cross were gathered together,
there would be enough wood for a dozen crosses. This is definitely not
It is true that by the 16th century there were about 20 cups that
claimed the honor of being the authentic cup used by Jesus at the Last
Supper. But today none of these are considered authentic
with the exception of the Holy Chalice of Valencia and the silver cup of
The cup of Antioch has a two-liter capacity and is much too large to
have been passed around the table of the Last Supper for the Eucharist.
What is interesting, however, is the fact that St. Jerome mentions that
there were two cups on the table of the Last Supper, a silver cup that
held the wine for the meal, and one of stone that was used for the
institution of the Eucharist.
Only the Holy Chalice of Valencia, with its upper cup of agate stone,
fits St. Jerome's description of the cup used by Christ for the
consecration. When one examines its tradition and history in detail, it
is quite evident that everything makes perfect sense. I don't believe
that anything could ever disprove the theory that the Holy Grail is
indeed the Holy Chalice of Valencia, Spain.
Q: What erroneous tales have modern scholars put forth about the Holy
Grail and those involved in its transfer?
Bennett: When speaking about the Holy Chalice of Valencia, one problem
has been a lack of substantial, factual information that goes beyond the
St. Laurence tradition, and another has been the erroneous claim that
there are many Grails in existence that claim to be the one given to St.
Laurence by Pope Sixtus II.
Facts are sometimes mixed with false claims and legendary material in
such a way that it casts doubt on the possibility of ever knowing the
One serious rival to the St. Laurence tradition, at least in popular
opinion, is the legend that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail
It is based on the poem "Joseph of Arimathea" by the poet Robert de
Boron, who confirms the apocryphal legend of Nicodemus, adding that
Joseph brought the Grail to Glastonbury, thus joining Christianity to
the bones of the legendary Arthur that are supposedly buried there.
It relates that Joseph collected the blood of Christ in a vessel that
had served as a dish for the bread and the paschal lamb at the Last
Supper, and later gave it to the Celtic god Bron who took it to the West
as a talisman of immortality.
It is not difficult to see that this legend is based on nothing of any
substance whatsoever, and the grail in this case is not a historical
cup, but rather a dish that doesn't even exist in reality. It is a
perfect example of the mixture of fantasy, literature and legend that
permeates most discussions of the Holy Grail.
Q: Why should the Holy Grail matter to modern Christians today?
Bennett: The Holy Grail should matter to modern Christians today for the
very same reason it has always been venerated through the ages, as the
actual cup used by Christ to institute the Eucharist.
How appropriate that this latest "discovery" about the Holy Grail should
coincide with the Year of the Eucharist that was proclaimed by Pope John
Paul II on the feast of Corpus Christi in June, and began this October.
In this yearlong celebration of this sacrament that is so central to the
Faith, Catholics are called to honor the Eucharist, to receive it more
faithfully and to reflect more deeply on its meaning in their lives and
in the life of the Church.
The story of the Holy Chalice of Valencia is a beautiful reminder of the
importance of this sacrament in the life of the Church, so evident in
the care the vessel used by Christ to institute the Eucharist has
received throughout the ages.
The story begins with St. Peter, the first head of the Church, who
brought the sacred cup to Rome to be used in the liturgy of the Mass. It
continues with Sts. Sixtus and Laurence, both of whom were martyred for
refusing to turn it over to the Romans.
The Church in Spain went to great lengths to protect the vessel from the
Muslim invasion in the eighth century, and years later we see the same
respect and heroic courage in those who saved the cup from destruction
during Spain's War of Independence and Civil War.
Thanks to their personal strength and dedication, in 1982 the Holy
Father became the very first Pope to say Mass with the relic since St.
Sixtus II in the third century, and today Christians worldwide are able
to venerate this very special cup.
This is a modern-day miracle that should give us all cause for deep
reflection on the importance of the Eucharist in our daily lives, so
that we can publicly proclaim that the sacrifice of Christ is for the
salvation of the whole world, as the Holy Father desires.