Graal (Gral, from the old French, but originally Celtic word Greal, Provencal.ggrazal, and in medimeval Latin gradalis). signified originally a "bowl-shaped vessel." The poetry of the Middle Ages makes numerous mention of the Saint Gral (in old French San gnial), a vessel said to have been made of a precious stone, and endowed with wonderful virtues. According.to the legend, the vessel was brought to the earth by angels, and kept first by them, then by a company of knights commanded by a king, in a temple built expressly for it, at the summit of the unapproachable mountain Montsalvage. The legend was developed in the early part of the 12th century by the addition of Arabic, Jewish, and Christian elements during the wars between the Moors and Christians, and especially in the wars of the Templars in Spain and Southern France. In these countries it became a favorite theme for poets. In 1170 it had became confounded with the legends of Arthur and of the Round Table, by Chreatien de Troyes and other Troubadours of Northern France. In the legend of the Round Table the Saint Graal is considered as the vessel used by Christ at the last supper, and in which Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood that fell from the side of Christ (hence the erroneous meaning attached to the word, as Sang real, i.e., royal blood, blood of the Lord). The legend was made the subject of a poem in old French by Guiot de Provins, which has been lost. This tale furnished Wolfram von Eschenbach the materials for his Parcival and Titurel, but he gave the subject a deeply allegorical meaning of his own. The subject was more thoroughly treated by the author of the second Titusrel in 1270; yet he connects it with the legends of Lohengrin and of Prester John.
The legend of the Saint Graal is of some importance in the history of the Church. Attempts have been made to show the. derivation of the word itself, graal, from Garalahe ( רלָה) i.e., foreskin, in allusion to the blood shed in circumcision as the type of the blood of Christ. But it appears certain that it means a vessel, cup, or shell. A costly cup was really found by the first crusaders at Ceasarea. It was allotted to the Genoese, who brought it to Genoa, where it remained for several centuries in the chapel of John the Baptist in the Church of St. Lorenzo, from whence it was transported to Paris. There appears to be some connection between the legend of Prester John, as joined with the San Graal, and the still existing remains of the Gnostic sect known by thee appellation of Disciples of John (Sabians, Zabians, Nazareans, Mendeans, Baptists). Not only the name John, but the locality assigned in the legend (viz. the interior of Asia, on the southern frontier of the Turkish empire), as well as the fact that in this Gnostic sect the king is at the same time high-priest, seems to favor the idea of a connection. The use of the Graal, according to the tradition, is as followvs: It is claimed on every Good Friday there comes into it, from heaven, a holy wafer, which is intended as. the food for many; thus the Graal is a sort of continuation of the miracle of feeding the multitude (Mt 15:32). It provides food and drink in abundance for the initiated, but to them alone is it visible. It cannot be obtained by violence, but is to be received by faith. At the bottom of the legend we find the doctrine of the real presence in the Lord's Supper. The wanderings of the Saint Graal, which came from the East to the West, afterwards to return again to the East, points the Church to the duty of missionary enterprise, etc. In all these poetical legends one point is especially deserving of notice: it is the evidence they afford of the tendencies of the Christian mind in all ages to fathom the unfathomable, and to cling to the memory of past events, and to reproduce them. But for this very reason it becomes the more necessary for us to distinguish between the original and the image, between the real facts and the errors which have grown up around them. By a just criticism, the poetry ofthe Middle Ages, which in latter times has been much studied, can be made very useful for the history of theology. — See Busching, Der heil. Gral. u. seine Huter (Altdeutsches Museusn, Berl.. 1809, volume 1); Boissereie, Ueber d. Basesreibung d. heil. Gral's (Mun. 1834); C. Lachmann, Wolfram von Eschenbach (Berlin, 1833, 2d ed. 1854); San Marte (Schultz), Die Sage v. heil. Gral (Leben u. Dichten W's v. Eschenbac, 1841, volume 2); K. Simrock, Parcival and Titusrel (Stuttg. and Tubing. 1842); C.F. Goschel, Die Sage v. Parcival u. v. Gral, etc. (Berlin, 1855); Herzog, Real-Encyklop. 5:314; Dunlop, History of Fletio, page 73 sq. (London, 1845, 1 volume, 8vo); Bullfinch, Age of Chivalry, pages 185-226 (Boston, 1865, 8vo).