The Celtic Literature Collective

Helindanus' Description of the Holy Grail

Hoc tempore (717-719) in Britannia cuidam heremitae demonstrata fuit mirabilis quaedam visio per angelum de Ioseph decurione nobili, qui corpus domini deposuit de cruce et de catino illo vel paropside, in quo domius caenavit cum discipulis suis, de quo ab eodem heremita descripta est historia quae dicitur gradale. Gradalis autem vel gradale gallice dicitur scutella lata et aliquantulum profunda, in qua preciosae dapes divitibus solent apponi gradatim, unus morsellus post alium in diversis ordinibus. Dicitur et vulgari nomine greal, quia grata et acceptabilis est in ea comedenti, tum propter continens, quia forte argentea est vel de alia precioso materia, tum propter contentum .i. ordinem multiplicem dapium preciosarum. Hanc historiam latine scriptam invenire non potui sed tantum gallice scripta habetur a quibusdem proceribus, nec facil, ut aiunt, tota inveniri potest.


At this time in the Britain, there was shown a hermit, through the help of an angel, a miraculous vision of Joseph (of Arimathea), the decurion1 who took the Lord's body from the cross, and concerning the vessel in which the Lord ate from with his disciples, [and from this vision] the hermit proceded to write a history called "Of the Grail."  The Grail, called "gradalis" or "gradale" in French, is a wide and deep saucer, in which precious mater [food] is ceremoniously presented, one piece at a time, richly provided in the various courses.  This is called in the vernacular "greal," as it gratifies and is welcomed at such a meal, is made of silver or some similar precious metal, and so because of its content, an overwhelming succession of expensive delicacies.  This history I have not found in Latin, but so far only written in French in the possession of certain chieftains, and not even then in a complete form2


From the chronicle of Helinandus, completed in 1204. This passage is believed to have been written ca. 1202. It is under debate which came first--the Grand St. Graal of the Vulgate, or Helindanus' chronicle.

1. decurion: an officer in the Roman legion who is the leader of ten men.

2. "not even then in a complete form": it is worth noting that in 1202, the extant grail romances--Chretien's Perceval, De Borron's Le Roman du Graal--were at this time only fragments, the prose version of Roman perhaps unknown to Helinandus.

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