The Virgin and the Grail

Origins of a Legend

Joseph Goering

View Inside Price: $24.00

April 11, 2005
212 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
21 b/w + 6 color illus.
ISBN: 9780300192025

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Some fifty years before Chrétien de Troyes wrote what is probably the first and certainly the most influential story of the Holy Grail, images of the Virgin Mary with a simple but radiant bowl (called a “grail” in local dialect) appeared in churches in the Spanish Pyrenees. In this fascinating book, Joseph Goering explores the links between these sacred images and the origins of one of the West’s most enduring legends.
While tracing the early history of the grail, Goering looks back to the Pyrenean religious paintings and argues that they were the original inspiration of the grail legend. He explains how storytellers in northern France could have learned of these paintings and how the enigmatic “grail” in the hands of the Virgin came to form the centerpiece of a story about a knight in King Arthur’s court. Part of the allure of the grail, Goering argues, was that neither Chrétien nor his audience knew exactly what it represented or why it was so important. And out of the attempts to answer those questions the literature of the Holy Grail was born.

Joseph Goering is professor in the department of history, University of Toronto.

"Goering’s quest for the origins of the grail legend leads us through a landscape of romance, theology, art, and dynastic history, to track down the first ’Perceval’ in Christendom’s least-frequented corner. A ’must’ for addicts."—Alexander Murray, University College, Oxford

“To search for the Holy Grail has always been to search for its meaning. Goering, in a highly original and historically satisfying work, invites the reader to join his fascinating quest for the origins, place, and meaning of the mysterious Grail.”—Paul Dutton, author of Charlemagne’s Mustache

"This slim monograph . . . is a pure delight. . . . What [this book] accomplishes is to set the entire complex story, including the usually ignored Spanish paintings, into a short and easily understood framework, offering a new and unusual origin to an almost too familiar tale. I thoroughly recommend this book for use in undergraduate or postgraduate courses as a model of history combined with fine Art and literature. It is also an excellent addition to the library of anyone teaching in any of these areas."—Anne Gilmour-Bryson, The Medieval Review


"This book . . . presents an intriguing thesis and is so well and cogently argued. . . . The subject matter of the book is one which commands interest today beyond all chronological boundaries. . . . Literary analysis, artistic iconographical studies, and original historical research, all about perhaps the most famous of all literary motifs, have been combined brilliantly and trenchantly in this book."—Richard Harp, The Ben Jonson Journal

"Goering provides an elegantly written, provocative, and . . . convincing account of one of the most enduring images of the Middle Ages. His is a work of grand sweep and pinpoint attention to detail, a model of the scholarly craft. And in accessible, persuasive writing."—Giles Gasper, Church Times

"It is a great pleasure to read a book like this that treats fascinating mythical elements with scholarship, balance and a lively narrative turn. It is an antidote to Da Vinci Code idiocy."—Christopher Howse, The Tablet

"Delightful. . . . The book supplies a good, brief review of twelfth-century Grail literature. In addition, it stirs up interest in the scholarly questions that resonate between text and image as it usefully reads the early Romanesque art of the Pyrenees region."—Julianne Smith, Christianity and Literature