Aug 13, 2014 I Tom Head

British Police Search for the Holy Grail, Find a Salad Bowl

British police raided the Crown Pub in Lea, Herefordshire last week in search of the missing Nanteos Cup, considered by many (almost certainly erroneously) to be the original Holy Grail. What they found was nearly as impressive, at least if you like salad:

Police and a dog handler locked all the staff inside while they searched every inch of the 15th century pub in their hunt for the stolen relic.

But after an hour the only thing they found that looked like the missing mediaeval cup was a wooden bowl used to serve mixed salad to customers.

The Nanteos Cup went missing last month following a break-in. A police spokesperson said at the time that "I don’t want to say we are hunting the Holy Grail,” so that implication has of course appeared in the headlines of almost every article written about the burglary and subsequent investigation.

British monks began hiding the Nanteos Cup in 1539. Legend has it that the last monk whispered on his deathbed that the cup is, in fact, the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper—the legendary Holy Grail—and that it possesses miraculous healing properties. He left it in the care of the Powell family, who watched after (and exhibited) it for some 400 years. It has passed from family to family ever since.

While the Nanteos Cup has never been carbon dated, archaeologists have suggested that the design and materials indicate a medieval origin. This is true of the vast majority of Holy Grail candidates, actually; they are generally ornate cups made of metal or gemstones, and at the Last Supper Jesus would have almost certainly used a simple clay goblet similar to those found at Qumran or, if he was feeling especially cosmopolitan, a decorated Roman-style glass cup.

First-century drinking goblets from Qumran. Photo: Library of Congress.

The idea of an ornate goblet becomes more plausible if we follow the alternate theory that Joseph of Arimathea used a distinctive and precious goblet to capture the blood and sweat of Jesus, but then we have to answer the question of why a messiah who despised worldly wealth would have left as his primary earthly relic an expensive artifact that has passed through the hands of British aristocracy for centuries. In the case of the Holy Grail, it may be the theology—not the archaeology—that poses the greatest challenge.

Tom Head

Tom Head is an author or coauthor of 29 nonfiction books, columnist, scriptwriter, research paralegal, occasional hellraiser, and proud Jackson native. His book Possessions and Exorcisms (Fact or Fiction?) covers the recent demand for exorcists over the past 30 years and demonic possession.

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