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The Quest of the Holy Grail: The Sacredness of the Secular

The Quest of the Holy Grail: The Sacredness of the Secular

(p.194) Five The Quest of the Holy Grail: The Sacredness of the Secular
The Danger of Romance
Karen Sullivan
University of Chicago Press

For many decades, critics debated whether the Grail should be identified with Christianity or with pre-Christian Celtic traditions. In the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries, when the major Grail romances were being composed, western Europe witnessed a revival of both Eucharistic and penitential practices. As theologians conceptualized the transubstantiation of the Eucharist, the common people flocked to see the exposition of the host, occasionally witnessing miracles in its vicinity. People of all classes embarked on pilgrimages to shrines, including crusaders to the Holy Lands. Yet if these romances have appeared to many readers to evoke Celtic rather than Christian prototypes, it is because the Grail is not reducible to a container of the Eucharist, nor is the quest for the Grail reducible to a pilgrimage. During the Grail adventures, the knight does not just see through the literal, physical level of reality in order to apprehend the figurative, spiritual level, as happens in Christian allegory, but sees in the literal, physical level, and savors it. In their valorization of what they call the semblance of reality, and not just its senefiance, these romances resist, even as they recall, the theological and pastoral developments of their time.

Keywords:   Holy Grail, Eucharist, penance, pilgrimage, signification, allegory, adventure

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