The presence of the Holy Vessel signified the Divine Presence. The Life of Life had remained in the Precious Blood. The Voice of the Angel of Great Counsel, the Voice of the Son and the Voice of the Holy Spirit abode therein, or spoke as if from behind it. The Presence was sacramental, but the Presence was also real, and through the soul it was one which sustained the body itself at need. So far as regards the Lesser Chronicles, and in those which I call Greater, there was a reservation which continued through centuries, an arch-natural Mass--said from time to time and not, as we may suppose, daily--an unfailing ministry to body and soul alike. In a word, the Last Supper was maintained for ever and ever. It was the sacramental side of the eternal festival of the followers of Bran, and those who say that the roots of the mystery are in folk-lore say only the most negligible part of the truth concerning it; for if I accomplish by a
secret science the transmutation of lead into gold, it will be useless for any scholarship of science to depose that the important fact is the lead. The latter is the antecedent, and as such is, of course, indispensable, but the great fact is the conversion; and I say the same of the Graal literature.
On this and all other considerations, it will be understood that the Mystic Castle was a place of the highest reverence, and that all things concerning the Sacred Vessel were done with ceremonial solemnity, following a prescribed order. In this way it comes about that all the quests present the pageant of the Graal on its manifestation within the hall and the shrine of the Castle. There are instances in which it is exceedingly simple, and others in which it is ornate. It is the former in the Lesser Chronicles, and demands scarcely the express name of a pageant; in the Greater Chronicles it is decorative, and this term will apply to some of the manifestations which are described in the Conte del Graal. The section which is referable to Chrétien offers, however, nothing to detain us. The procession enters the hall in single file, and consists in succession of a page, or squire, who carries the mysterious Sword which will break in one danger only, of another squire who bears the Sacred Lance from which the blood issues, and then of two squires together, each supporting a ten-branched candlestick. Between these there walks the gentle and beautiful maiden who lifts up the Holy Graal in her two hands; she is followed by another maiden, who carries the Silver Dish. The procession passes twice before the couch on which the King of the Castle reclines, and it is to be noticed that whatever efficacy and wonder may reside in the objects which are manifested thus, the office of the bearers is as purely ceremonial as that of the acolytes and thurifers at any High Mass in the world. When the questing knight pays his first visit in the Didot Perceval, the offices are transposed partially and the Sword is missing from the pageant. He who upraises
the Lance enters in the prescribed manner, but he carries it with both hands and is followed by a maiden with two silver plates and a napkin on her arm, while the vessel containing the Precious Blood of our Saviour, as if it were a phial or reliquary, is in the charge of a second squire. On the occasion of the later visit, it is said, still more tersely, that the Graal and the other venerable relics come out from a chamber beyond, but we do not learn who carries: them. It is a characteristic of all the versions that, even in telling the same story, it is done always with respect to a certain genius of difference and a variant intervening in the text. Gautier de Doulens recounts in two versions the visit of Gawain to the Graal Castle, in the more important case under circumstances of unexplained mystery, for no one was less on the quest. This is comparable to the reception of a neophyte who is neither introduced nor prepared, but is mistaken at first for another. The pageant is also dismembered, for the Dish does not appear, the Hallow of the Broken Sword is placed upon the breast of a dead body, which lies on a rich bier. As if it were a subsidiary Hallow, a stately clerk carries an enormous cross of jewelled silver, and the only procession described is of canons in silken copes, who celebrate the office of the dead amidst thuribles and golden candlesticks. The Graal itself does not appear till the supper is served in the hall, but it is held by no visible hand and no other sacred object is seen in connection therewith. At a later stage of the episode, the Lance manifests and the blood which distils from its point is received, as we have seen, in a silver cup; the Broken Sword, in fine, reappears at the close; it is a very curious and piecemeal pageant. When Perceval revisits the Castle, the account of Gautier is in better conformity with what may be termed the conventional or authorised ceremonial type.
Passing to this point at the term of the continuation by Gautier de Doulens, there is again a very simple pageant, in which the Graal comes first--a Holy and
[paragraph continues] Glorious Vessel--under the charge of a maiden, who issues from the secret chamber and passes before the royal table, carrying the Hallow exalted. There follows a second maiden, than whom none is fairer, clothed in white drapery, and bearing the Lance from which flows the mysterious blood. In fine, there enters the squire exposing a naked sword broken in the middle thereof. It is at this point that, abruptly enough, the continuation reaches its term and is taken up by Manessier, who causes the Graal and the Lance to pass for a second time before the King and his guest, together with the noble Silver Dish, which is carried by a third maiden--a procession of vestals only, seeing that the work of the Sword--which has been partly resoldered by Perceval--has no longer its place in the pageant. When the questing hero pays his third visit to the Graal Castle, under the auspices of the same poet, the Lance and Graal are carried by two maidens, and a squire holds the Silver Dish, enveloped in his rich amice of red samite. The sacred objects pass three times, and return as they issued into the secret chamber, the mystery of which is never disclosed fully by the makers of this romance. In fine, when Perceval is crowned--and this is his fourth visit--a gentle maiden exalts the Holy Vessel, the Lance is borne by a squire, while another maiden holds the Silver Dish. It will be seen that on each occasion there is some variation in the offices, as if these were determined by accident. The alternative of Gerbert--which seems interposed before the partial resoldering of the sword by Perceval in the Gautier version--some few verbal modifications notwithstanding, gives the same account of the Graal procession.
In the prose Lancelot, which prefaces the great and glorious Quest, the pageant has this characteristic--that it is preceded invariably by a dove which enters through a window bearing a golden censer in its beak, and the palace fills thereupon with the eternal sweetness of the Paradise which is above. The bird passes through
the hall and from sight into a chamber beyond. Out of that chamber--as if at a concerted signal--almost as if the dove had suffered transformation--there issues the maiden of the Graal, carrying the Precious Vessel. The manifestation in the prose Lancelot is at first on the occasion of Gawain's visit, and he sees nothing of the other Hallows till the Lance at a later stage issues from the chamber beyond and smites him between the shoulders. In the middle of the night of terror which follows this episode, he beholds another pageant preceded by a choir of voices. Once more the maiden issues from the hidden chamber carrying the sacred vessel, with lights and thuribles before her, and the service of the Graal is performed on a silver table in the middle place of the hall, but there are no other Hallows. When Lancelot comes to the Castle--from which event follows the conception of Galahad--the manifestation of the Graal is identical; but because of that which must be consummated he suffers no infliction, and he does not therefore behold the avenging Lance. It can be said scarcely that there is a pageant; the dove enters and vanishes; it passes within the secret chamber that the maiden in charge of the Vessel may come out therefrom; she appears accordingly, bearing the Holy Palladium, a vessel of gold, "the richest thing that any man hath lyving." She issues from the secret chamber, and again she returns therein, but not before Lancelot--also for that which must follow--is dazzled by her surpassing beauty.
In the time of the great Quest there are, strictly speaking, no pageants in the sense of the other romances, for the Graal is going about. Its apparition at the Court of King Arthur is heralded by a sunbeam only, and it is borne by no visible hand. In Corbenic, when all things draw to the holy marvel of their close, there is a solemn procession of angels to the secret shrine of the Graal, two of them bearing wax lights, the third a cloth, and the last the Sacred Lance, because heaven has
come down at the removal of that which is meant for earth no more. In Sarras, at the last scene of all, which ends the strange, eventful mystery, there is a great cohort of angels; but this is the choir above descending to witness that which must be done in fine below. There is no passing between intermediate spaces.
In the Longer Prose Perceval two damosels issue together from a chapel which is attached to the banqueting-hall, one of them carrying the most Holy Graal and the other the Lance, the point of which distils its blood therein. It is suggested also, but as if by a dream within a dream, that there are two angels, bearing two candlesticks of gold filled with wax lights. The damosels move through the hall and pass into another chapel; again they come forth, and it seems then that there are three maidens, with the figure of a child in the midst of the Holy Graal. They pass for a third time, and then above the Vessel there is a Vision of the Crucified King.
In the Parsifal of Wolfram a Squire enters hurriedly bearing the Lance, which bleeds profusely into his sleeve--an uncouth and ill-begotten symbol. Two gracious maidens, wearing chaplets on their heads, follow with flowing hair; they bear up golden candlesticks. Two other women, of whom one is described as a duchess, carry two stools of ivory, which they place before the king. Next in order are four maidens having as many tapers, and four other maidens who sustain between them an oblong slab of jacinth. There are then two princesses carrying knives of silver, and these also are preceded by four maidens. The princesses are followed by six additional maidens, holding tall glasses filled with rare perfumes. There is, in fine, the queen of all, with the Graal in the hands of her, and behind is the squire who carries the Sword of Legend. When we come at the proper time to see how much and how little on the surface sense of things follows from this cumbrous display, we shall turn with the
more relief to versions that are less decorative, though we can understand and excuse also the influence of the oriental mind reflected in the Parsifal from the prototype of Guiot de Provence. Relief at the moment will come from the poem of Heinrich, though it is the idlest of all the quests. Here the procession is in two parts. In the first there is a beautiful youth of highest mien, holding the Sword in one hand, and followed by cupbearers who serve wine at the feast. When this is over there enter two maidens carrying golden candlesticks; behind them come two youths, who lift up the Lance between them; they are followed by other two maidens, in whose charge is a salver of jewelled gold, borne upon a silken cloth. Behind these there walks the fairest of women holding the Precious Reliquary of the Graal, and after her the last maiden of all, whose hands are empty, whose office is weeping only--a variation which will be found also in the Montpellier codex of the Conte del Graal.