Archbishop's web site Denver Catholic Register Parishes Catholic Pastoral Center
September 11, 2002
New book says the Holy Grail exists
Denver author releases book on Spain's prized Holy Chalice of Valencia
By Roxanne King
Reading a brochure in poor English describing relics on display at the Cathedral of Valencia in Spain about 10 years ago, writer Janice Bennett was amused to find "Oh, they think they have the Holy Grail."
Later, while researching the history of the Holy Chalice of Valencia, she became convinced that it is indeed the cup Christ used to institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
Last month, she released the self-published "St. Laurence and the Holy Grail: The Story of the Holy Chalice of Valencia" outlining the history of the agate cup. Until now, Bennett said, it was believed there was no written evidence to support the tradition that Pope Sixtus II gave the Holy Grail to St. Laurence the Deacon, who saved the cup from the greed of the third-century Roman Emperor Valerian by sending it to his homeland and was consequently roasted on a gridiron. But Bennett points to two documents that support the story, one of which had not been translated into English until she did so during her research.
That document is "a sixth-century manuscript written in Latin by St. Donato, an Augustinian monk from Africa who founded a monastery in the area of Valencia," Bennett said. "It explicitly mentions the details surrounding the transfer of the holy cup of the Last Supper to Spain."
"Life and Martyrdom of the Glorious Spaniard St. Laurence" was translated into Spanish in the 17th century. The original Latin manuscript no longer exists, but Bennett, who has a master's degree in Spanish literature, found a copy of the Spanish translation (the original Spanish manuscript is in a monastery in Valencia) while going through a card catalog in the National Library of Madrid, Spain.
"I had chills going through my body it was amazing," she said describing her reaction at the find. "It reminded me of Don Quixote when the lost manuscript comes to light. It was so exciting."
She includes her translation of the small, 17th century manuscript and a photocopied page from it in her book.
Another document she says supports the tradition that Pope Sixtus II gave the Holy Grail to St. Laurence is the 17th century "Anales del Reyno de Valencia" (Annals of the Kingdom of Valencia), written by Francisco Diago.
"It's possible that those who have written about the Holy Grail aren't familiar with (The Annals of the Kingdom)," Bennett said. "(Archeologist) Antonio Beltrán mentions the work by Diago, he says the reasons scholars dont give it much credit is they think he's just repeating the legend."
It really supports the manuscript I found by Donato."
The major source for the life of St. Laurence, Bennett said, is the poem "Peristephanon" by fifth-century Spanish poet Prudentius. The poem does not mention the grail incident.
"A lot of people question the validity (of the poem) because it's not complete and poetizes the martyrdom of St. Laurence," Bennett said. Her book compares the poem to Donato's manuscript, showing how essential elements of St. Laurence's death match what's found in Donato's manuscript.
Bennett, the author of another book on a sacred relic, "Sacred Blood, Sacred Image: The Sudarium of Oviedo New Evidence for the Authenticity of the Shroud of Turin," said a project as adventuresome as the grail book, which she worked on for three years, is unlikely to happen for her again.
"I could never, ever hope to find another project like this in my life," she said. "It has been an incredible experience."
The intriguing book, which has 32 pages of color photos, including shots of the places the grail was hidden on its pilgrimage from Jerusalem to Valencia, provides evidence for the cup's authenticity, explains the importance of relics for the early Christians, and examines the difference between legend, tradition, literature and history. It also builds a case supporting the early Church tradition that St. Laurence was martyred on the gridiron, as opposed to the now popular belief he was beheaded.
It disturbs Bennett immensely that modern scholars deny he was burned to death.
"It's trying to strip a saint of his glory, devaluing the pain he suffered," she said. "His remains show that he was indeed burned and the manuscript written by Donato describes his martyrdom as has been traditionally accepted."
It also frustrates Bennett that the Holy Cup of Valencia is overlooked by modern scholars who debate the merits of "unlikely" Holy Grail candidates, including a Roman fragrance container found in an attic in England and an emerald bowl owned by Napoleon.
Until now, "there's nothing (comprehensive) written in English about this relic," Bennett said. "That amazes me. I saw recently a film by PAX featuring all these cups that can't possibly be the grail and they ignore this one."
Bennett emphasizes that only the stone cup section of the Holy Chalice of Valencia which research shows was made in Egypt, Syria or Palestine between the second century B.C. to the first century A.D. was used by Christ; the jewel encrusted gold base was added in the Middle Ages. Bennett documents an exhaustive study of the relic carried out in 1960 by Spanish archeologist Antonio Beltrán, whose study concluded: "Archeology supports and definitively confirms the historical authenticity" and affirmed that the cup could have been on the table of the Last Supper.
According to an ancient Church tradition, Bennett said, St. Peter took the relic to Rome, where it remained for more than 200 years and was used by the first 24 popes to celebrate Mass. When Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass with the cup in 1982, he was the first pope to use the chalice since Sixtus II.
The chalice is on display in a special chapel in the Cathedral of Valencia. The cup had been used for special Masses there until 1744, when it slipped from an archdeacon's hands during a Holy Week liturgy Bennett said. The cup was immediately repaired before numerous witnesses, but a chip and fine crack remain.
The real history of the Holy Grail is no less exciting than Arthurian legends about it and Hollywood's "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," Bennett said.
"In 258 A.D., tradition holds, Pope Sixtus II, just before he was murdered, gave the grail to St. Laurence, a deacon and Church treasurer, for safekeeping," Bennett said. "Pope Sixtus was soon beheaded this was during the Valerian persecution. He was the Roman ruler at the time. Rome had passed a decree that the Church couldn't own any property. They asked St. Laurence for the Church treasures, but he had given all the money to the poor. The story is that he gathered the poor and brought them to the Romans and said, `These are the treasures of the Church.'"
Laurence was roasted on a gridiron just four days after Sixtus was killed, but prior to being brought before the Roman authorities, he had entrusted the Holy Grail to a Spaniard, Bennett said. The cup stayed in Spain for 450 years, until the Muslim invasion of Spain in 711 A.D., when it was hidden in three nearly inaccessible locations in the Pyrenees for several hundred years. It arrived in San Juan de la Peña in the 11th century and remained there until King Martin the Humane of Aragon acquired it from the monastery in 1399. After the king's death, King Alphonse the Magnanimous brought it to Valencia, where it has remained.
Modern-day faithful have also protected the cup with vows of martyrdom, Bennett said, noting that in 1936, at the start of the Spanish Civil War, cathedral officials, aware that Marxists planned to burn the church, spirited it away into protective custody. It was returned to Valencia when the war ended and was placed in the rebuilt cathedral.
When John Paul II used the cup to celebrate Mass Nov. 9, 1982, "the Spaniards were overcome with emotion," Bennett said. "It was overwhelming.
"Everyone in Spain believes it is the cup," Bennett said. "You can see it every day that the chapel is open.
"To imagine Jesus using it to consecrate the wine at the first Mass is amazing," Bennett said.
The reason she wrote the book? "To let people know (the grail) exists," she said. "It's there in Valencia and you can go see it if you want."
"St. Laurence and the Holy Grail" published by Libri de Hispania, Bennett's publishing company, can be purchased by sending $24.95 plus $2 shipping to P.O. Box 270262, Littleton, CO 80127-0005. Visit on line at www.libridehispania.com.