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Valencia Cathedral
click here to enlarge this image The Holy Chalice represented by Juan de Juanes
click here to enlarge this image The Holy Chalice in Jaca in 1959.
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The History of the Holy Chalice

Archaeological facts, testimonies of the tradition and documents support the theory that this beautiful cup was in the Lord's hands on the eve of his Passion, took bread with his holy and venerable hands and looking up the sky, to You, God, Almighty Father, giving thanks, blessed you, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples saying:

“Take this, all of you, and eat it, this is my Body which will be given up for you”. When supper was ended he took this glorious chalice into his holy and venerable hands, giving thanks, blessed you and gave it to his disciples saying: “Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me”

(Eucharistic prayer I, Roman Canon. Cf. Matthew 26-29; Mark 14, 22-25, Luke 22, 1520 and I Corinthian 11, 23-25)

The Holy Chalice of the Lord Supper

The First Impression

The Holy Chalice of Valencia arouses feelings of admiration and scepticism at the same time. The visitor feels captivated by the beauty of the Grail, its perfect and exceptional shape, the details in gold, the pearls and the precious gems. The observer comes with the mind full of legends, films, even warned by the novels and pseudo-scientific literature of “Grail-like” themes.

But also with scepticism:
Arabic writing on the footIs this Chalice of medieval appearance the grail of the Last Supper? Why is it in Valencia? Or is it maybe one of the many supposed Grails? Why isn't it so famous like the Shroud of Turin or the Tunic of Treveris? And many more questions we still hear at the Cathedral

Agate cupIts appearance mustn't confuse us.
Indeed, the relic is the upper part, which is a cup of dark brown agate finely polished. It is an “Alexandrian vessel” that archaeologists believe it to have an oriental origin (100 - 50 BC). This is the conclusion of Professor Antonio Beltrán, published in 1960 under the name of  “El Santo Cáliz de la Catedral de Valencia” (“The Holy Chalice of the Valencia Cathedral”). It was never refuted and is the base of the increasing respect and knowledge of the Holy Chalice.

Dimensions of the Chalice

The handles came later as well as the chalice's stem made of exquisitely engraved gold. Its alabaster base of Islamic art is different from the vessel. All of it, together with the jewels decorating the stem belong to the medieval period. It is 17 cm. high and 9 cm. wide, and the elliptical base measures 14,5 x 9,7 cm.

click here to enlarge this imageVenice and other places keep chalices with semiprecious stones of Byzantine origin. In Spain there are similar replicas (11th and 12th century) but they are liturgical cups, wrapped in gold and silver with an interior side in metal. However, the goldsmiths emphasized the vessel, without adornment, but with big handles so as to take it without touching the valuable and delicate chalice of translucent stone.

The Tradition of the First Centuries

The tradition tells us that it is the same cup that was used by the Lord in the last Supper for the Eucharist, then was taken to Rome by Saint Peter and was kept by the following Popes up to Saint Sixtus II. Through his Spanish deacon, Saint Lawrence, Saint Sixtus II was sent to Huesca (Saint Lawrence's homeland) in the 3rd century so as to save him from the persecution of Emperor Valerian. The presence of the Holy Chalice in Rome is evidenced by the phrase in the Roman Canon previously mentioned: “He took this glorious chalice” hoc praeclarum calicem, venerated expression that is not found in other old anaphoras and we cannot forget that the Roman Eucharistic prayer is the Latin translation from another Greek language, since this was the language of the Church of Rome till Pope Saint Damasus in the 5th century.

The History of the Holy Chalice in Spain

click here to enlarge this imageDuring the Muslim invasion, since 713 AD, the chalice was hidden in the Pyrenees region, after having been in Yebra, Siresa, Santa María de Sasabe (today San Adrián), Bailio and finally in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña (Huesca), where a  document (1071) refers to a precious chalice made of stone.

click here to enlarge this imageThe relic was handed over in 1399 to the King of Aragon, Martin “The Human” who kept it in the Aljaferia Royal Palace of Saragossa and then in the Royal Palace of Barcelona in 1410 when he died. The Holy Chalice is mentioned in the inventory of his properties (Manuscript 136 of Martin “The Human”. Archive of the Aragon Crown. Barcelona, where the history of the sacred cup is described). Towards 1424, the second successor of Mr. Martín, King Alfonso the Magnanimous handed over the royal reliquary to the Valencia Palace. Because of his stay in Naples, it was given with the rest of the relics to the Valencia Cathedral in 1437 (Volume 3.532, fol. 36, v. Cathedral's Archive).

The Holy Chalice in Valencia

click here to enlarge this imageIt was kept and venerated during many centuries among the relics of the Cathedral and it was used to keep the consecrated form in the float of the Holy Thursday up to the 18th century. During the Independence War, between 1809 and 1813, the chalice was taken to Alicante, Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca, escaping from Napoleonic invaders. In 1916, it was finally housed in the old Chapter House, later called the Holy Chalice Chapel. This continual public exhibition of the sacred relic resulted in a world-wide knowledge of its existence, since there was little information about it while it was kept in the reliquary of the Cathedral.

click here to enlarge this imageDuring the Civil War (1936-1939), it was hidden in Carlet. Pope John XXIII granted plenary indulgence on the day of its annual feast;

Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist with the Holy Chalice during his visit to Valencia on 8 November 1982 just as Pope Benedict XVI did when he visited Valencia on 8 July.

But is it the real Holy Chalice?

click here to enlarge this imageWe have said that the negative criticism tells us that already in Jesus' times, it was a valuable antique and there is an Israelite tradition which gives us an important fact, indeed, nowadays each Jewish family keep “the cup of blessing” for the Passover and sabbatical suppers. The Gospels says that Jesus celebrated the Easter rite in a decorated room, furniture with divans (Mark 14, 15). Would it be strange that the family that welcomed Him didn't put the precious familiar cup before the Lord so as to pronounce the ritual blessings, which became in the first Eucharistic consecration of the wine into the Redeemer's blood? We have seen many “poor” scenes of the Last Supper, with the disciples sitting on the floor and Jesus taking a humble clay cup ...but it was not like that

Thus, the Apostles and the first Christians could identify the cup of the first Eucharist and keep it in spite of its fragility. How could it be preserved intact the first crucial thousand of years if not for the memory of a sacred mystery?

The Legends of the Grail

The theme of the search for the Grail, beautiful object and a source of life, is key in the German-French literature of the middle ages, and its origin is mainly described in the works of Chretien de Troyes, being one of them “Perceval, The Story of the Grail” (1190) but left unfinished. Here it is not explained the origin of this jewel. Wolfram von Eschenbach was the poet who gave it the shape of a chalice in his poem “Perceval the Welsh”. It is believed that he began his “Parsifal” at the beginning of the 13th century, at Wartburg, mythical castle, the birthplace of poets and troubadours, and finished it in 1215. There Wolfram wrote his masterpiece, where those romantic artists had three main rules which were the source of their inspiration, God, their lord and their beloved women. Wolfram von Eschenbach was the prince of the troubadours, together with Walter von der Vogelweide and Heinrich Tannhäuser.

Recent researchers like Michael Hesemann (“Die Entdeckung des Heiligen Grals. Das Ende einer Suche”, Ed. Pattloch 2003), place the origin of these legends in Spain and the lower part of the Chalice made of agate stone of San Juan de la Peña and we cannot forget that they were the source of inspiration for the great poetical, musical works by Richard Wagner, “Tannhäuser”, “Parsifal” and “Lohengrin”.

A current subject

Though the Holy Grail literature of the middle ages found in the sacred cup a symbol of purification and renunciation to get personal perfection and eternal salvation, we have encountered supposedly historical novels and an esoteric literature that turn the Grail into a dark object or a secret tradition along the centuries that would keep the real essence of Christianity or the true history of Jesus of Nazareth. It seems that what the liberal criticism and the anti-religious materialism couldn't get would be possible to accomplish with this pseudo-spreading to destroy the pure faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Consequently, the suspicion and falseness aim to tarnish what was and should continue to be an icon of the Christian culture.

click here to enlarge this imageThat is why the Chalice of Valencia, sends us to Jesus' period due to its archaeological authenticity and its tradition free from wonderful elements, and reminds us of the institution of the Eucharist like historical moments that go beyond time and reach us as a mystery of salvation. We live it that way when the sacred relic is taken from its precious chapel, the old Chapter House (14th century), to the high altar in the celebration of the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper, and in the solemn feast of the last Thursday of October.

This is the message proclaimed from the Valencia Cathedral, with the support of the distinguished associations like the Royal Brotherhood of the Holy Chalice and the Fraternity of the Holy Chalice, which work with the Metropolitan Chapter to keep the worship and the spreading of the devotion to the Holy Chalice, expressed in the pilgrimage around the parishes and religious and civic entities, every week in the “Holy Chalice Thursday” celebration.

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