Duality and Heterodoxy of Legend.
To realise the fact that both divisions of the Grail legend have their source in twelfth century England raises afresh the question whether they are really parts of one harmonious whole, parts equal in age and import? Assume for one moment that they are, and let us endeavour to realise what was the intention of the legend-writer, and in what way he proposed to carry out that intention. He sought, it is evident, to glorify his own country, a land blessed, above all others, by the presence of Christ's faithful disciples and of the sacred relics of the Passion. The holiness of these relics, the raison d'être of the whole legend, must, we would expect, be insisted upon from the first. What, then, could be his object in devising an account of what happened to the relics after they had safely reached Britain? To explain why they were no longer found there? To describe how the Grail-keepers fell from their high estate, and were ultimately restored thereto? Such an object would be intelligible, nay more, would be the only one which, so far as we can see, could have occurred to a writer who planned the whole legend with deliberate foresight. Can it be pretended that it is carried out in the Quest portion of the legend? True, the Quête del St. Graal does assert the unworthiness of Britain to be the home of the Grail, but casually and without any attempt at explanation. True, the Parzival does give an explanation, the only one in the entire cycle which appeals to us as in any sense adequate, of the Grail-keeper's suffering. But would one legend-writer have set in motion Christ and Joseph and another have brought down the Grail from Heaven merely to point the moral of Anfortas' unlawful love? And if we could believe that such was his purpose, how are we to account for the fact that every other version (even the most ascetic in spirit) has utterly departed from it? Must we not rather recognise that the suffering of the Grail-keeper, so far from being an inherent element of a Conversion of Britain legend is rather in tacit disaccord with the essential spirit of such a legend and its purpose of exalting Britain as the land favoured by the Holy Vessel and its guardians?
Assume, on the other hand, that the Quest, as we have it in its oldest
forms-the story of a hero seeking, by means of certain talismans, to restore
a kinsman to health and prosperity, or to avenge an injury done him-became
inextricably attached to a Christian legend with which originally it had
nothing to do. Does not such an assumption provide a more plausible explanation
of all the facts? Would not the attempt to interpret in a specifically
Christian sense objects and incidents which in
Before proceeding to examine the older versions of the Quest on the assumption
of its original non-Christian character, certain aspects of the specific
Christian portion of the developed legend claim attention. As we saw,
this has its sources in apocryphal far more than in canonical Scripture;
as we have assumed, it is superimposed upon a non-Christian basis. Little
wonder, then, if we note a disconcerting, unorthodox aspect to be found
nowhere else, to my knowledge, in the vast mass of mediaeval legend of
a distinctively Christian character. After making every allowance, however,
for these two factors they fail, I hold, to account fully for the effect
produced, an effect only to be realised by reading the romances as a whole.
Apocryphal legend is often puerile, often tainted by a questionable mysticism
derived from Gnostic sources ; the adaptation by unskilful hands of non-Christian
incidents to a Christian scheme of interpretation must needs yield occasional
results of an unorthodox character. But the sense in which the Grail romances
are unorthodox, or rather anti-orthodox, is far more deep-seated and thorough.
They not only claim for the Church of Britain an origin more illustrious
than any to which it had pretended before the twelfth century, one which,
if seriously maintained, would have been most unwelcome to the chief ecclesiastical
authority of Christendom, they also set up a kind of uncanonical church
with sacraments, unexceptionable it may be from the purely dogmatic standpoint,
but open otherwise to the most serious objections. What may be called
the Grail Church has in either form of the Early History an origin only
less sacred than that of the official Church of Christendom-nay, in the
Sacramental Vessel form (Borron, Grand, St. Graal-Quête) it excels
that Church as possessing the most sacred relics of the faith. The author
of the Grand St. Graal is fully conscious of this when he tacitly claims
his romance, the work of Christ Himself, as superior to Gospel.
Quelle: The Legends of The Holy Grail, Alfred Nutt, London 1902, S. 44ff