Sacred Texts  Sub Rosa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at



It came about, therefore, at the end of the Quest, that the Suppressed Word was at last spoken, that the question was asked and answered. There are certain texts in which the asking and the answering are all that was required by the hypothesis, and then it was well in the Secret House of the Wardens. There are other texts, which connect more directly with folk-lore, in which the king's healing depended upon a dual office, of which the first part was the question itself, as a kind of interlocutory discourse, and then upon a mission of vengeance. It was fulfilled in either case. The head of the Blessed Bran does not appear in the symbolism of these branches, but the head as the sign of the accomplished sacrifice is an essential, in these branches, of the Quest fulfilled, and this is the characteristic in chief of the Conte del Graal. As a Rite of the Observance with Mercy, the question and its answer were held to be all-sufficient in the Lesser Chronicles, because the curse on the Keeper is like that on the Wandering Jew--it is the ages continued henceforward,

p. 158

and he comes at length to his rest. The Greater Chronicles offer another pageant of the Quest, the particulars of which are as follows: (1) The Building of the Ship of the Secret Faith, that at the end of a certain time it might carry into the far distance the most valid and efficacious symbols of the Mystery of Faith; (2) the healing of a King of the East who is not to be confused with the Keeper himself, but he dates ab initio symboli and is doubtless the witness in chief of the mystery even to the times of the Quest: concerning him it may be said that he tried to take the mystery of faith by violence, outside which his existence is parallel to that of the Keeper Brons, having been prolonged through the centuries from the first times of the legend; (3) the redemption of the Cain of the legend who slew his brethren; (4) an intercalatory and voided wonder concerning the maiming of the Graal King when he drew the Sword of David.

The particulars in all branches may be collected shortly as follows: In the Conte del Graal Gautier presents a certain lifting of the heavy veil of enchantment, so that the desert becomes the sown, and we are enabled to compare how it was in the dry tree with that which it is in the green: Winter has passed, so to speak, and the voice of the turtle is heard again in the land. In Manessier, the keeper, who has suffered from that illogical maiming occasioned by the death of his brother, is healed at the sight of his head who committed the original act of violence. The whole business is foolish, and so unutterably. It was necessary, for some reason that derived probably its roots from folk-lore, for the king to be smitten in his thighs; the event conies to pass under circumstances that are quite and frankly impossible; and there is also no reason why the wound which was self-inflicted unconsciously should not have been healed at once, unless death intervened as the term. Assuming that Gerbert knew nothing of Manessier's conclusion and that he regarded the last words of Gautier--in which the

p. 159

[paragraph continues] Rich Fisher hails Perceval as the Lord of his house--as the term, in fine, of the story, his own intercalation was intended to account for the closing along better lines, and he did not concern himself with any explanation of the King's wounding. On the contrary, his intention was to show that the proper demand and reply exercised their proper office, and that the one thing which remained to complete the whole was for Perceval to redeem his past. The poem does not offer a termination which follows from the text, while that of Manessier, from any explanatory standpoint, is so much idle baggage. The Conte del Graal, considered as a Graal story, is therefore at once imperfect and piecemeal. The Didot Perceval is by no means entirely satisfactory as a completion of De Borron's trilogy, but as a simple term of a quest which is exceedingly simple, it leaves nothing undone. The Keeper of the Graal, as we have seen, must communicate his mystery before he departs hence. The mode of communication presupposes the arbitrary question which is a pretext for unveiling the mysteries, and the issue, which is clear from the beginning, is not clouded subsequently by extraneous matters. The king is healed--that is to say, he is relieved of the long burden of the centuries, and he is enabled to pass in peace. In the Great Prose Quest it is the hands of Galahad which are the hands of healing. The Hallow of the ensanguined lance inflicted the wound from which the unknown king Pellehan suffered through the whole period during which the Quest was prepared and achieved. The restoration was accomplished by Galahad with the blood from the same weapon; therewith he anointed the king. It is after this or another manner that the remedial elements are sometimes in the House of the Graal, but they must be administered by one who comes from external places. It may be admitted that, at least on the surface, both wounding and healing in the Galahad Quest are a burden to the logical understanding. For what it is worth--which is little--in other respects,

p. 160

there is on this point a certain consistence in the Conte del Graal. At the beginning it carries the implicit of a vengeance legend, and though something is forgotten in the antecedence by Gautier and something else by Manessier, as if they had not read fully their precursors, that is explicated in fine which was implied at first. The Longer Prose Perceval has a root-difficulty, because there is no attempt to explain either why the question was necessary, when all was well with the king, or why--whether necessary or not--the failure of Perceval should have caused the Keeper of the Holy Graal to fall into such languishment that ultimately he died unhealed. For these are the distinctions, among many, between the High History and all other Perceval Quests--that it begins at the middle point of the story and that the Keeper perishes. Among the correspondences in the reverse order of these differences is the Quest of Gawain, according to Diu Crône by Heinrich, where the king indeed dies coincidently with his release, but this is his desired liberation from the condition of death in life. Speaking generally, the death of the wounded keeper is designed throughout to make room for his successor. In the Didot Perceval he is released according to his yearning, and that almost at once; in the Conte del Graal Perceval, far from the Castle, awaits the keeper's demise, which occurs in the natural course. In the Parsifal of Wolfram there is a kind of abdication by Amfortas in favour of the Questing Knight, but the two abide together, and, as in the Didot Perceval, there is, in fact, a trinity of keepers. In the Quest of Galahad, that glorious and saintly knight can be called a keeper scarcely; if I may be pardoned the expression, he and his companions act as the transport agents of the Sacred Vessel, so far as the term is concerned, though we may still regard Galahad as the keeper in heaven. We are not concerned with the healing of King Pellehan, because he is not the keeper of the Graal, as the text stands, though we feel that some editor has blundered. I will

p. 161

leave him therefore with the last word which he might have addressed to Galahad: Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo et sanabitur corpus meum. I will leave also at this point the mystery of the healing of the king. For us and for our salvation, the quests of the Graal are the exteriorised zeal of the hearts which desire the bread of heaven and a visible sign that it is more than the daily bread. Such a romance of sanctity they appear in the story of Galahad, whose kingdom is not of this world; he is crowned indeed at Sarras, but it is contrary to the will of him who sought only to be dissolved and to be with Christ. The first term of the other quests sometimes carried with it a species of kingship, and, as to these, it was on the king's healing that it was said of his successor: Long live the King!

Next: XII. The Removal of the Hallows