Sacred Texts  Sub Rosa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at


The Sacred Dish being also, as we have seen, rather an unmeaning mystery, and as although it recurs frequently the descriptions are brief and the office which it holds is doubtful, it will be only desirable to distinguish those texts in which it is found. Subject to one possibility, and this is of the speculative order, it is, as we have seen, an unmodified survival from folk-lore; we should therefore

p. 126

expect it to appear in the Chrétien portion of the Conte del Graal, and this is the case actually, but it serves therein a very practical and mundane purpose, being used by the King and his guest to wash their hands. It is a silver plate and is carried by a damsel. It reappears in one codex of the continuation by Gautier. The conclusion by Manessier describes it after a similar manner, but its purpose is not delineated; Perceval asks all the necessary questions regarding the Graal and Lance; he asks also concerning the Dish, but there is apparently nothing to ask, or at least he hears nothing. At the same time it may have had a higher significance for this poet than for all the others, since he causes the Holy Dish to follow Perceval with the other Hallows when he goes with a hermit into the wilderness, where he serves the Lord for ten years. Finally, he states in his last words that the Dish was doubtless assumed into heaven with the other sacred objects, namely, the Lance and the Sword. According to Gerbert, a lady named Philosophine, who here, as in another romance, figures as the mother of Perceval, came over with Joseph of Arimathæa bearing a certain plate; another lady carried an ever-bleeding lance, while Joseph himself bore a fairer vessel than eye had ever beheld. In the Lesser Chronicles there is only a single reference, which occurs in the Didot Perceval; when the Graal and the other Hallows are first manifested to Perceval, it is said that a damsel bears two silver plates, together with draperies. In the Book of the Holy Graal, and on the occasion that the Second Joseph is raised to the high pontificate, the Paschal Dish is seen on the altar, and in the middle place thereof is an exceedingly rich vessel of gold and precious stones. Here the reference is probably to the Sacramental Cup, but the account is confused; and elsewhere the complex romance presents a new aspect of folk-lore, for there is another Dish or Charger, bearing a great and glorious head, about which we have no explanation and of which we hear nothing subsequently, either in the text itself or in the later documents of the cycle.

p. 127

[paragraph continues] The Dish also passes out of the horizon, not only in the prose Lancelot but also in the Quest of Galahad. The German cycle speaks of a Golden Salver jewelled with precious stones and carried upon a silken cloth. It is used in Heinrich's poem to receive the blood which issues from the Lance.

It seems possible that there was an early tendency on the part of Christian romancers to distinguish between the chalice--being the Cup in which Christ made His sacrament--and the Dish--being the vessel in which He and His disciples ate the Paschal Lamb. They are to some extent confused in the Book of the Holy Graal, and the prose Lancelot knows of a single vessel only, which is the Eucharistic Cup. If such an implicit was present to the mind of Manessier, we can understand why he says that the Dish was assumed into heaven.

I wonder that it has not occurred to some of those who have preceded me in the tortuous paths and among the pitfalls of interpretation, to understand the four Hallows after another and more highly symbolical manner, as follows: (1) The Chalice is the Cup of the Sacrament; (2) The Dish is the Paten; (3) The Sword symbolises the Body of Christ; its fracture is the bruising for our sins and the breaking for our trespasses, while at some far distance the resoldering signifies the Resurrection; (4) In another sense, the Spear is also the wounding for our iniquities, by which the life flowed from the body, and the issue of blood therefrom is the outgoing of the divine life for our salvation. Yet it is not after this manner that we shall come into the truth of the Graal, while it is likely enough that hereabouts is one of those pits which bring the unwary to destruction.

We shall meet with all the Hallows under a very slight modification in the most unexpected of all places, but this will be at a later stage. We shall then see that the people preserved something besides folk-lore, or that folk-lore had other meanings behind it than the recognised schools would be disposed to attribute thereto.

Next: VI. The Castle of the Holy Graal