[Paleopsych] BBC: (Holy Grail) The never-ending search
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Fri Jan 21 15:38:01 UTC 2005
The never-ending search
Friday, 26 November, 2004, 11:07 GMT
By Brendan O'Neill
Fascination with the Holy Grail has lasted for centuries, and now the
Bletchley Park code-breakers have joined the hunt. But what is it
that's made the grail the definition of something humans are always
searching for but never actually finding?
Could an obscure inscription on a 250-year-old monument in a
Staffordshire garden point the way to the Holy Grail - the jewelled
chalice reportedly used by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper?
That is one theory entertained by Richard Kemp, the general manager of
Lord Lichfield's Shugborough estate in Staffs.
Kemp has called in world-renowned code-breakers to try to decipher a
cryptic message carved into the Shepherd's Monument on the Lichfield
The monument, built around 1748, features an image of one of Nicholas
Poussin's paintings, and beneath it the letters "D.O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V.M."
It has long been rumoured that these letters - which have baffled some
of the greatest minds over the past 250 years, including Charles
Darwin's and Josiah Wedgwood's - provide clues to the whereabouts of
Christ's elusive cup.
Spot of bother
Poussin was said by some to have been a Grand Master of the Knights
Templar, named after the order that captured Jerusalem during the
Crusades and who were known as the "keepers of the Holy Grail".
Oliver and Sheila Lawn
Oliver and Sheila Lawn, with the mysterious inscription
Yet Oliver and Sheila Lawn, a couple in their 80s who were based at
the code-breaking Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire during World War
II, have had a spot of bother with the Shepherd's Monument.
Mr Lawn said yesterday that deciphering the letters was "much more
difficult" than cracking the Enigma code in WWII. He thinks it's a
message from an obscure Christian sect, declaring their belief that
Jesus was an Earthly prophet, not a divinity - while his wife Sheila
thinks it could be a coded tribute from a widowed earl to his wife.
So yet another trail to the Grail seems to have run dry. What is it
about the Holy Grail that so excites the popular imagination? And why
are so many willing to believe that such an item exists, when there is
a dearth of evidence?
The Holy Grail is believed by some to have been the chalice used at
the Last Supper, by others to have been a cup used by Joseph of
Arimathea to catch the blood of the crucified Christ, and by others
still to have been both. Some claim that Joseph may have brought the
cup to Britain in the first century CE.
Stories about the Grail have been told for centuries. There has been a
renewed interest since the publication of The Holy Blood and the Holy
Grail in 1982, which claims, in a nutshell, that Jesus survived the
crucifixion and together with Mary Magdalene founded a bloodline in
France, the Merovingians, who were protected by the Knights Templar
and later by the Freemasons. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, that book has
been denounced as mad conspiracy-mongering by some.)
The probability that the cup found its ways to Joseph and that he
travelled with it to Britain is as near as nil as makes no difference
Code points away from Holy Grail
The Holy Grail has even turned up in Hollywood. In Steven Spielberg's
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the eponymous hero both fights off
the Nazis and finds the Grail.
Now Ron Howard, the Happy Days actor turned film director, is making a
big-screen version of The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's novel about how
clues in Da Vinci paintings could lead to the discovery of a religious
mystery, including the Grail, and shake the foundations of
Christianity. Brown's novel has become a publishing phenomenon over
the past two years, feted and hated in equal measure.
According to experts, this is precisely where the Grail belongs - in
fiction and films. Eric Eve is a tutor in theology and a New Testament
scholar at Oxford University. He says he is unaware of any evidence
for the existence of a Holy Grail.
Mark Rylance as Leonardo from the BBC's The Man Who Wanted to Know
Does Leonardo's Last Supper contain clues?
"In the version of the legend I know, the Grail is meant to be the
chalice Jesus used at the Last Supper, subsequently brought to England
by Joseph of Arimathea. But there is no 1st Century evidence about
what happened either to the chalice or to Joseph - assuming he's even
an historical character.
"The probability that the cup found its ways to Joseph and that he
travelled with it to Britain is as near as nil as makes no difference.
I would say it is purely legendary."
Richard Barber, author of The Holy Grail: The History of a Legend,
published by Penguin next month, says the Grail legend came into being
more than a thousand years after Christ's death.
"It is pure literature. It was imagined by a French writer, Chretien
de Troyes, at the end of the 12th Century, in the romance of Perceval.
His vision is at the root of all the Grail stories."
Barber believes that 20th Century fascination with the Grail stems
from "the revival of interest in medieval literature in the 19th
Century, when Tennyson, Wagner and the Pre-Raphaelite artists were all
enthusiasts for the Grail legends" - and that our fascination today
has been boosted by the contemporary penchant for conspiracy theories
"The Grail - because it is mysterious and has always belonged in the
realms of the imagination - is a marvellous focus for the new genre of
'imagined history', the idea that all history as taught and recorded
is a vast cover-up. Once this kind of idea becomes current,
particularly with the internet, it acquires a life of its own -
regardless of whether it has any basis in reality.
Richard Holloway: 'Absolute nonsense'
Even some of those who have written of the Grail as having some "basis
in reality" admit that it is difficult to say what the Grail is, never
mind where it is.
Erling Haagensen is co-author (with Henry Lincoln) of The Templars'
Secret Island: The Knights, The Priest and The Treasure, which claims
that "something" is hidden on the tiny island of Bornholm in the
"I do not know what the Holy Grail is," says Haagensen. "Something
very important and with strong connections to the Holy Grail is hidden
on the island of Bornholm. The Ark of the Covenant might theoretically
be hidden there.
"But there is something even more important, which always followed the
Ark of the Covenant, and which we can now prove is found at Bornholm.
This will be revealed in our coming book," he adds, mysteriously.
Yet while some authors - and a host of conspiracy websites - believe
that "something" will one day be found, even men of the cloth have
little faith in the existence of the Holy Grail.
"It's all good fun but absolute nonsense", says Richard Holloway,
former Bishop of Edinburgh. "The quest for the Holy Grail belongs with
the quest for the ark Noah left on Mount Ararat or the fabled Ark of
the Covenant Indiana Jones is always chasing. There ain't any
objective truth in any of it - but of course it's a dream for
publishers, who know the world is full of gullible people looking for
miracles and they keep on promising that this time the miracle's going
to come true.
"Only it isn't - but the money keeps rolling in."
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