Is the Holy Grail Made of an Emerald from Lucifer’s Brow?: A Scholarly Quest
Many legends exist about the origins of the Holy Grail. One of the most widespread today — among symbolists and non-academic circles — claims that the Grail was fashioned from an emerald that fell from Lucifer’s brow after he was cast out of heaven. The usual source that is cited by those who mention this legend is Parzifal by Wolfram von Eschenbach (13th c.). However, in this account, Wolfram does not mention an emerald falling from Lucifer’s brow, although he does describe the Grail as a mysterious stone, named lapsit exillis. Here is what Wolfram says about the origin of the Grail in his poem:
When Lucifer and the Trinity fought with each other, those who sought not to battle, those angels, worthy noble, were made to fly, swiftly, to earth, and to that self-same stone, ever-pure. If they did atone, I know not, whether God forgave, damned them forever, or did save. If twas His will, he took them back. Since that day, it has seen no lack of guardians, for tis in the care of those God appointed to share in that task, and to whom He sent His angel; a sacred complement. And this, sir, is what doth prevail in matters concerning the Grail.1
In the following, we will show that the source of this legend comes from another medieval poem in Old German, the Sängerkrieg (13th c.), also known as the Wartburg Singers’ Contest. This poem was written by an anonymous author after Wolfram’s death and it inspired Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin in the 19th century. We will also show that the legend does not mention a stone placed directly on Lucifer’s brow. Instead, it mentions a precious stone that was part of a crown on Lucifer’s brow. We will also study the symbolism of this stone and its connection to the Virgin Mary.
I. René Guénon’s reservations
II. Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin
III. The booklet of Lohengrin and the Luciferian legend of the Grail
IV. The Wartburg Singers’ Contest
V. Wolfram von Eschenbach and Lohengrin
VI. Lucifer’s Crown
VII. Iconographic representations of Lucifer wearing a crown
VIII. The Crowned Virgin and Lucifer
I. René Guénon’s reservations
French metaphysician René Guénon (1886–1951) recounted this legend many times in his publications, as did many other authors who were his contemporaries.2 However, he expressed doubts about the origins of the legend of the emerald falling from Lucifer’s brow in a letter dated March 19, 1934 to his faithful correspondent and long-time friend Patrice Genty:
What you say about the Grail temple and Prester John is very peculiar; but from which version exactly is this taken? In this regard, I must ask you something else: I always thought that the story of the emerald falling from Lucifer’s brow was in Wolfram von Eschenbach; but someone wrote to me recently that he has seen the text of it and that there is nothing similar: it would only be a question of a stone brought to earth by angels who remained neutral during the revolt of Lucifer. Waite also seems to relate this story to Wolfram, but, as he makes only vague allusions, it is not very clear; could you find some clarification on that? Thanks in advance.
He repeated this request in another letter that he wrote on May 19, 1934:
Have you finally been able to get some information about the Grail that I asked you? I also thought it was in Wolfram.
A year later, he still had no success with this search and repeated his request in a letter on May 12, 1935. He clearly expressed his surprise and confirmed that this legend was widespread:
It is indeed surprising that Michelet promised to look for the source of this Grail story for you; so let’s wait for the result; it is still strange that we cannot find something that has been said over and over like this from all sides!
His collaborator Marcel Clavelle published a note on this subject in the periodical Le Voile d’Isis in July 1935, asking for help from readers to figure out the mystery of where this legend came from. Guénon told Genty on August 9, 1935 that “no answer has come yet to the question about the Grail; let’s wait and see....”
Finally, and this is the only mention on this subject that we have left, not having Patrice Genty’s letters to know more, René Guénon expresses his disappointment in a letter on March 17, 1936, after receiving a response stating that this legend appeared to be a modern invention:
It would still be a little surprising if the story of the emerald on Lucifer’s brow were only an invention of a romantic poet; well, let’s wait for details....3
We now know that the first time the modern version of the legend of the Grail falling from the sky was mentioned was in a textbook printed for the opera Lohengrin by Richard Wagner (1813–1883). The textbook was printed for the first show of the opera in 1850 in Weimar, Germany, with Wagner’s father-in-law, the Hungarian pianist and composer Franz Listz (1811–1886) as the music director.
II. Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin
Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin tells the legend of the knight of the same name, who is brave and pure, and the son of Parzifal, the guardian of the Holy Grail. The opera begins with the intrigues of Count Frederick of Telramund, a powerful lord of Brabant, who intends to seize the crown of this duchy. He accuses Elsa, the daughter and heiress of the Duke of Brabant, of murdering her brother, who disappeared when they went out alone to a forest. Frederick brings Elsa before the Emperor’s tribunal and demands a Judgment of God, a fight between the accuser and the accused, to decide the truth or falsehood of his claim. However, none of the lords present would volunteer to be Elsa’s champion. Elsa, desperate, prays for help and falls asleep. She dreams that a knight in silver armor will come to console her and defend her from the accusation. The sound of a bell that she rings miraculously reaches the castle of Montsalvat, where Parzifal, the king of the Holy Grail, reigns. He learns of Elsa’s distress and sends his eldest son Lohengrin, one of the knights of the holy militia, to rescue her. Lohengrin arrives in a boat pulled by a swan, which takes him into the port of Antwerp. He declares himself Elsa’s champion, fights Count Frederick and defeats him. He spares his life so that he can repent, and marries the young duchess. However, because the knights of the Holy Grail must keep their sacred function secret, he is forbidden to reveal his identity. He makes Elsa promise that she must “never know, nor desire to know, nor ask, what country he came from, what was his name and what his nature was.”4 Under the influence of Frederick’s wife, Ortrude, who seeks revenge, Elsa breaks her promise and asks Lohengrin who he is, where he comes from and what his race is. Lohengrin then reveals that he is a noble knight in the service of the Grail and the son of Parzifal. He leaves on his boat and disappears forever. The swan that accompanied his boat then transforms into Elsa’s missing brother and they are finally reunited.
This romantic opera was an immediate success throughout Europe. It was also Wagner’s first opera to mention the Holy Grail. It was not until 1882 that he composed his three-act opera Parzifal, which narrates Perceval’s medieval tale based on the medieval poem of the same name by Wolfram of Eschenbach.
What is crucial to the issue of the origin of the modern legend of the Grail is that Richard Wagner does not mention this origin in Lohengrin. It is only in the introduction to the printed textbook that accompanied this opera, which was published in 1851, that we see the following passage:
The holy grail was a cup made of a dazzling precious stone, fallen from Lucifer’s crown at the time of his fall.5
This phrase is the origin of the current legend, and we need to examine it, because it refers to an obscure medieval source and a mix-up about the author of this legend.
III. The booklet of Lohengrin and the Luciferian legend of the Grail
William A. Ellis, in his appendix to the Life of Richard Wagner (1904), dedicates a full chapter to this phrase attributed to Wolfram von Eschenbach (all quotations in this section are from this source).6 Through reading and analyzing Wagner’s private correspondence, Ellis came to the conclusion that the printed textbook of the opera Lohengrin contains some misleading and inaccurate information that Wagner himself did not approve of. Ellis concludes in particular that the note about Wolfram von Eschenbach and the Holy Grail was not written by Wagner himself, but by Princess Carolyne Sayn-Wittgenstein, who was Liszt’s companion and a patron of Wagner.7 Here is the content of the extended note as printed in the original opera textbook:
In Wolfram von Eschenbach’s lofty poem “Parzifal” we read: “The Holy Grail was the cup wherein was gathered the blood that flowed from the wound in the Redeemer’s side; it was made of a dazzling precious stone that dropped out of Lucifer’s crown at the time of his fall. Whoso looked on the Grail, died not; and whoso served it, remained free from every deadly sin. But the Holy Grail chose its servitors itself, and gave them every earthly joy and heavenly happiness. It stood in a wondrous temple deep in a wood, and was tended by an elect pure knighthood.”
She claimed that she had taken the information from Wolfram’s epic Parzival, but in fact she had used a distorted version of the poem by San Marte (alias Albert Schulz), a German scholar who published an abridged and paraphrased version of it in 1832. In this version of the poem, San Marte describe the origin of the Grail this way:
The Holy Grail is a stone of the most wondrous and mysterious kind. A number of angels having remained neutral and inactive during the battle of Lucifer and the rebel angels against God and the faithful heavenly hosts, after Lucifer’s fall they were condemned by God to support this stone, which had dropped from Lucifer’s crown, hovering between Heaven and Earth till the hour of redemption of sinful mankind. Then they brought it to Earth, and, formed into a costly vessel, it served for the dish out of which Christ ate the Pascal lamb, and in which Joseph of Arimathea received the Saviour’s blood. When Christianity began to spread more toward the West of Europe, at God’s command an angel bore the Grail to the young and pious Prince Titurel.
Ellis concludes that these alterations are misleading and inaccurate, as they do not reflect Wagner’s own understanding of Wolfram’s work or his intention for his opera. Indeed, Wolfram’s account of the Grail in his Parzifal differs from all other medieval versions, as he describes it as a precious stone with magical properties, not a cup that contained the blood of Christ. According to Wolfram’s Parzifal, the stone was brought to earth by angels who guarded it in a castle called Monsalvat. The Grail knights were chosen by the stone itself, and had to follow its commands. The stone also provided food and drink for the knights and their guests. And most importantly, Wolfram does not explain the origin or nature of the stone in his Parzifal.
According to Wagner, San Marte thus invented a legend that the stone was a jewel that dropped from Lucifer’s crown when he rebelled against God, which was later found by Adam in Paradise, and Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein repeated this legend in her note for the textbook, without verifying its authenticity or accuracy. Wagner writes in his essay A Communication to My Friends (1851, p. 15):
Elective affinity must have drawn the princess to this jumbled primer, at a time when Simrock’s very close translation of the whole of Wolfram’s Parzival from ancient German into modern, stood at her disposal (1st ed. 1842). There she would have missed in the text that cup and crown-jewel, but found a long note on the “Myth of the Grail“ in Simrock’s appendix (quaintly called an Introduction), containing the following information about the nature of the Grail, and why the angels brought it to earth, has been transmitted to us, indeed, but neither in Parzival nor yet in Titurel: “Sixty-thousand angels who wished to drive God from Heaven,” we read in the Wartburgkrieg, “had a crown made for Lucifer. When the archangel Michael tore this from Lucifer’s head, a stone sprang loose from it, and that stone is the Grail.”
We will now examine the poem of the Wartburgkrieg, also known as the Wartburg Singers’ Contest, which is a potential source of the legend that links the Holy Grail to Lucifer. We will also explore the connections, whether historical or mythical, between this poem and Wolfram von Eschenbach, the author of Parzival.
IV. The Wartburg Singers’ Contest
The poem titled the Wartburg Singers’ Contest (Wartburgkrieg) recounts a semi-historical, semi-legendary event that allegedly took place in the thirteenth century and is well-known in Germany. The setting is the castle of Wartburg, in the grand hall that is still called the Singers’ Hall today (Fig. 1). There, Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia, a patron prince of the German poetic movement of the time, presided over a solemn feast with lords and ladies from nearby lands. At the back of the hall, on a platform under a triple arch known as the arbor of the singers, seven knight-poets, the most renowned of their era, competed in a novel kind of tournament: a poetic tournament. It was a deadly contest, for an executioner was present to kill the loser: this was the rule that the poets agreed upon when they challenged each other.
During the tournament, the poets praised the virtues of the princes who protected them, or they posed riddles that alluded to the mysteries of the Christian religion and moral teachings; one of them, Klingsor, used spells and invoked the support of the infernal powers against his opponent, Wolfram von Eschenbach, who triumphed over the devil with his intelligence and faith.
It is not surprising that Germany considered the Wartburg Singers’ Contest as an important event in the history of its literature and one that marked one of its most glorious phases. This poem is highly esteemed, and it has preserved the memory of the winner of the tournament, Wolfram, who thus proved that he was the greatest poet of his time.
Today, this poem has survived in the form of manuscripts, often incomplete, among which the best known are the Codex Manesse as well as the codices of Jena and Colmar. It was in the nineteenth century that these different fragments were assembled to form a coherent narrative, not without difficulties.
We must now show the link between the Wartburg Singers’ Contest, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and the Luciferian legend of the Grail mentioned in the booklet of Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin.
V. Wolfram von Eschenbach and Lohengrin
Wolfram Von Eschenbach was a German knight, poet and composer who lived in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. He is regarded as one of the greatest epic poets of medieval German literature and one of the most prominent Minnesingers, who wrote lyric poetry about courtly love. In the Wartburg Singers’ Contest, he is portrayed as the greatest of the Master-singers, a role that reflects his historical reputation. His most famous work is Parzival, a masterpiece of German poetry that has 86 manuscripts (complete or fragmentary) surviving today. Wirnt Von Gravenberg, the author of Wigalois (1204–1209), praised Wolfram as the most remarkable secular writer of his time. Parzival was also one of the first works of courtly classicism to be printed, as early as 1477.
In his poems, Wolfram shows himself proud of his quality as a knight and a man of war, and we will note that the famous miniature of the manuscript of Manesse represents Wolfram armed and wearing a coat of arms “of red with two silver knives”, the helmet closed, the lance in his hand, next to a horse that a squire holds by the bridle (Fig. 2). These were the arms of a Bavarian family from Eschenbach, near Ansbach and Nuremberg.
The Wartburg Singers’ Contest says that Wolfram was knighted by Count Poppo XIII of Henneberg at Masfeld (stanzas CLI, CLII). He also mentions his poverty in his Parzifal, which might explain why he, like many other poor knights, joined the households of powerful lords and patrons, to whom he offered his services as a fighter and a poet. He was thus honored in the early thirteenth century at Wartburg Castle by Landgrave Hermann (‘landgrave’ being a title of nobility in the Holy Roman Empire, similar to that of count), who wanted to attract the most renowned poets of his time to his court. He stayed there until Hermann’s death in 1215, when he wrote his Parzifal and another poem called Willehalm, commissioned by Landgrave Hermann. It tells the story of one of Charlemagne’s most famous vassals, William of Orange, but it was left unfinished.
It was during this stay that Wolfram would have taken part in 1206 and 1207 in the Wartburg Singers’ Contest, where the poem gives him a prominent role. In the first part of the poem, he is chosen as a referee, but in the second part Wolfram joins the tournament. He competes with the magician Klingsor (a character who also appears in Wolfram’s Parzifal ) in a contest of mystical-religious riddles, and even drives away a demon that Klingsor summons in despair, by invoking the Virgin Mary and making the sign of the cross.
We know that Wolfram did not live much longer than his patron Hermann because the Master-singer Reinbot de Dora wrote around 1225 that Wolfram had already died.
Wolfram of Eschenbach’s famous poem Parzifal tells the story of the hero, who is welcomed at Arthur’s court and swears to seek the Grail. He goes through many adventures and trials, until he finds the way to Montsalvat. There he heals the Fisher King Anfortas, his uncle, and becomes the king of the Holy Grail, ruling over the Holy Militia. In the last pages of his famous poem, Wolfram mentions Parzifal’s son, Lohengrin, and his ill-fated marriage to the Princess of Brabant.8
The novel Lohengrin, written anonymously around 1283–1290 after Wolfram’s death, expands on this brief account at the end of Parzifal. It adds more details to the story. Some scholars have suggested that the anonymous author of the Wartburg Singers’ Contest might have also written Lohengrin, because the novel begins with thirty stanzas that appear in different manuscripts of the Singers’ Contest. Twelve of these stanzas are in the Jena and Manesse manuscripts, thirteen are only in the Manesse manuscript, two are only in the Jena manuscript, and several are in the Colmar manuscript. The story of Lohengrin is woven into the Singers’ Contest as part of the poetic battle between Wolfram and the magician Klingsor. After Wolfram solves several riddles posed by Klingsor, he proposes a riddle of his own that refers to King Arthur and the Grail Knights. Klingsor fails to answer it, so Wolfram explains his riddle by mentioning the legend of Lohengrin more directly. Landgrave Hermann interrupts the tournament and asks Wolfram to tell this interesting story. Wolfram then sings about Lohengrin’s adventures to the whole court that attends the tournament. The general style of this poem, which can be seen as a continuation of Parzifal, since it follows the story of the Grail King and his family, and since it is attributed to Wolfram in the Singers’ Contest, has led some to think that Wolfram is the author. But this is very unlikely.
This anonymous poem was the inspiration for Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin.
VI. Lucifer’s Crown
We will now recount the legend of the Grail as a gemstone that fell from Lucifer’s crown during his fall, as it is told in the Wartburg Singers’ Contest.9 This legend is part of the contest between the poets Biterolf and Le Schreiber (stanzas CLIX to CLXIX).
LE SCHREIBER: A dream has brought me joy, although it often consumes my heart with sorrow. At Reinhartsbrunn, where the landgraves are resting, I saw six sad women standing. In front of them stood a maid of such wonderful beauty that all the intelligences of the world could not imagine a similar one. This graceful maid fixed her sparkling eyes on me, took me by the hand, and spoke to me: “Virtuous writer, it is the Holy Virgin, Mother of God, who sent us to you; now thank her for this favor, if you are wise.”
I examined this beautiful maid: O senses, remind me what was the precious garment that I saw her adorned with? Her clothes floated above her feet by the width of a hand. What was her shoe? It was decorated with jewels that shone with such a brightness, that one would have taken more than one for the morning star; such was her shoe. “Virtuous writer, go on: I would willingly hear the description of her cloak.”
What was her cloak? The fifth part of it was blue. A number of jewels, which adorned this cloak, threw brilliant sparks. These precious stones, which are called Klansion as I have read, an animal carries them without finding this burden too heavy: it is the unicorn that carries them in its head under its single horn. In this cloak also shone suns of jewels, so that the brightness shone through the walls. But, for the love of God, what crown did this young girl blessed by heaven wear?
It must be noted here that this crown was none other than the former crown of Lucifer, the fallen angel, as the anonymous author of the Singers’ Contest reveals. Le Schreiber continues:
So hear of the splendor of the crown: it was made after the wish of sixty thousand angels, who wanted to push God out of the kingdom of heaven. See, Lucifer, it belonged to you! All the venerable and learned masters who exist in the world know well that I sing the truth. The holy angel Michael saw God’s wrath ignite against such pride: he tore the crown from Lucifer’s head with his sword. Look, a stone sprang out of it! This stone was later entrusted on earth to Parzival.
Then God did as He often still does: a senseless pride arouses his wrath at last. Lucifer was thrown down from the heights of heaven, and with him a numerous troop of angels: their shining brightness turned into blackness, their sweetness became a bitter bile. All those who believed that Lucifer could make himself equal to the God of goodness, were instantly thrown down to the depths of hell, where they had to atone for their crime with pains that will have no end.
The stone detached from the crown was found by Titurel, who acquired the highest renown by always fighting for glory, and whose hand overthrew more than one knight on the ground.10 He was seen by brilliant feats scattering a forest of lances, and everyone shouted: “Make way, here comes the indomitable fighter!” The most beautiful ladies turned their sweet eyes to him with love, seeing him rush into the fray and break whole battalions by the strength of his arm; and more than one rosy mouth said: “May God protect you!”
We have therefore found the origin of the phrase that was added to the booklet of the opera Lohengrin against Wagner’s will, as we saw above, and which was wrongly attributed to Wolfram:
The holy grail was a cup made of a dazzling precious stone, fallen from Lucifer’s crown at the time of his fall.
VII. Iconographic representations of Lucifer wearing a crown
Since a thirteenth-century legend mentions the crown of Lucifer in the anonymous manuscript of the Wartburg Singers’ Contest, we decided to investigate whether there are any contemporary or earlier representations of Lucifer wearing a crown. Jewish mystical literature, especially the Third Book of Enoch (5th century A.D.), already mentions angels with crowns. For example, the angel Metatron, Prince of the Face, receives “a royal crown set with 49 stones as luminous as the light of the sun” (Verdier, 1989). Another passage refers to ophanim (angelic beings in the form of celestial wheels, which appear in the vision of Ezekiel with the cherubim and seraphim), saying, “Four emeralds are set on the crown of each of them,” which shows that some angels wear crowns in later Jewish midrashic literature.
Lucifer himself is rarely depicted in medieval iconography, but when he is, he often wears a nimbus on his head, and he carries a scepter and a globe, which are symbols of his power.11 In a stained glass window of Chartres Cathedral in France (early 13th c.), nine angelic choirs are represented and the highest choir of the second hierarchy displays the Dominationes, angels that are shown with crowns (Fig. 3).
The fall of Lucifer, remarkably portrayed in the Missal of Saint-Nicaise of Reims (13th c.), shows Lucifer, depicted upside down, wearing a black crown as he falls into the flames of hell (Fig. 4); above him is God the Father, to whom the twelve angels offer twelve crowns.12
Lastly, and this example is perhaps the most stunning of all: an Anglo-Saxon manuscript of the 11th century, the Caedmon’s Hymn, shows Lucifer, who is crowned, with a scepter, the celestial prince par excellence (Fig. 5). Underneath him one can see a procession of four angels sporting four crowns.13
The passage from the Old Testament, Ezekiel 28:13–19, provides the elements that served as a basis for the literary description of the presence of precious and shining stones covering the crown of Lucifer. Although this text refers to a human being, the Prince of Tyre, he was considered in the Middle Ages as a type of the fallen angel. It should also be noted that Lucifer in this case is not simply an angel, but that he is called a cherub, a point on which medieval sources are all unanimous:
You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold.... You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor.... So I made a fire come out from you, and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching.
What better way to represent a cherub who is covered in precious stones than by having him wear a crown on his brow? All this to show that the iconographic representations of Lucifer wearing a crown, although they are rare, did exist at the time when the poem of the Wartburg Singers’ Contest was written, and that these representations were supported by mystical literature related to the Old Testament.14
VIII. The Crowned Virgin and Lucifer
It is mentioned by the anonymous author of the Singers’ Contest that the crown of the Virgin Mary was originally worn by Lucifer. Although the coronation of the Virgin is not a subject of a dogma recognized by the Church, it would be interesting to explore the significance of this coronation in the context of the fall of Lucifer, a coronation whose first representations became very popular in the 10th–11th and 13th centuries (Fig. 6). It is in the Book of Revelation (12:1–3, 7–9) that mention is made of the coronation of the Virgin:
A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant.... Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.... Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down, that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
Since the Singers’ Contest associates the crown of the Virgin and that of Lucifer, who wore the Grail stone, it is important for us to explore the possible meaning of this passage and, for this purpose, we will refer to the passage in Wolfram’s Parzival that relates the descent of the dove of the Holy Spirit upon the Grail stone:
Tis known to me, and tis no tale, that many bold warriors reside at Munsalvaesche, and forth do ride, in search of adventure, and whether they reap glory, or something other, for their sins, they must bear it well. With the Grail that company doth dwell, and I will tell you of the nurture they receive, each brave warrior. They are kept alive by a stone, and the name by which tis known if you have heard it not, is this, it is named there “Lapsit exillis”.... This stone they also call “The Grail”. On this Good Friday, a dove doth sail downwards from heaven, and doth bear that which governs the Grail there; a small white wafer it doth bring, and leaves it there, and then takes wing, all dazzling bright, and doth return to Heaven; of it the stone doth earn its highest virtue, for the dove I say brings a wafer each Good Friday, and then, of that, the stone doth yield all that is good from earthly field, though of paradisal excellence, all food and drink; from its presence men take the flesh of all wild things, that live upon the earth, with wings, or feet or fins, such the portion there the Grail grants, of its power; a share, to that brotherhood in chivalry.15
We will note in this passage the symbolic correlation between the Grail in Parzival and the horn of plenty symbol (Fig. 7). This horn of plenty, which has an axial symbolism, marks the point where all possibilities of manifestation are externalized, according to the Guénonian vocabulary. It is important here to emphasize the role that the Holy Spirit plays in the divine act of creation in Genesis 1:2. The Holy Spirit, or Paraclete, is one of the three persons constituting the divine Trinity with the Father and the Son. He is here the “intercessor.” It is through him that the will of the divine Principle is put into action.
We have therefore a subtle principle, a purely divine essence, that hovers over the waters that symbolize the original chaos (a passive principle), described as formless and empty. These formless waters will receive the creative “spark” of the divine Word, the Fiat Lux (Gen. 1:3), through the action of the Holy Spirit. It is from this action that the universe will be created and that the divine infinity will be manifested in the indefinite multitude of created things: rocks, plants, animals, stars, beings, etc. This multitude of things and beings represents the abundance of forms in manifestation, a meaning that is also found in their potential aspect in the symbols of the seed and the egg, which contain the potential of the possibilities of manifestation in the plant and animal realms, or in Noah’s Ark, which contains all that is necessary to repopulate the world after the Flood. We then find this symbol of abundance and infinite multiplicity in the emblem of the horn of plenty.
The act of creation in Genesis has its symbolic equivalent in the holy conception of Christ. This equivalence is also symbolized in the representations of the Stella Maris, which is an ancient title of the Virgin Mary that seems to date from the beginning of the Middle Ages.16 In some icons that represent the Stella Maris, Mary stands on a crescent moon shaped like a cup and floats on an ocean. She presents us with the baby Jesus, and a six-pointed star illuminates both the ocean and Mary, seemingly with two different rays.
It is hard to avoid seeing both the representation of the Word, the Fiat Lux, by the action of the Holy Spirit on the formless waters of Genesis and the generation of Christ, the Incarnate Word, by the operation of the Holy Spirit. There is indeed an ontological identification between the creation of the universe and that of Christ’s generation.
The Grail symbol in Parzival shares its symbolism with the universal Christ conceived by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, who is sometimes symbolized by the cup, as in the Litany of the Sacred Heart, where she is referred to as a vessel filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.17 Therefore, the reunion of the Grail stone with the dove can symbolize either the Paraclete hovering over the primordial waters or the Virgin who became pregnant with Christ by the operation of the Holy Spirit. When the dove places the white host on the stone every Good Friday, the Grail becomes a horn of plenty, just as the world is created by the Fiat Lux or as Christ is anointed by the Holy Spirit at baptism.
Lastly, the bearer of the Grail in the Parzival, Repanse de Schoye, is a noble lady free of all sin, of which the Virgin Mary is an archetype:18
Following them, came the Princess, her face revealing such brightness, to all it seemed the light of dawn. This maid, as fair as is the morn, wore costly stuffs of Araby. She bore, on green silk Achmardi, the perfection, here, of paradise, root and blossom, before their eyes; a thing it was they called the Grail, beside which Earth’s perfections fail. She whom the Grail did there allow to bear itself, bound by her vow, Repanse de Schoye was her name. Such was the nature of that same, the Grail, that she who had its care was required, that she might it bear, to be of perfect chastity, renouncing all mere falsity.19
The Virgin, being the bearer of Christ, who can be symbolized by a cup containing the blood of Christ, is also the bearer of light. It is therefore logical that the Singers’ Contest would award her the crown of Lucifer, who was himself a bearer of light before his fall.20
We have seen that, according to the medieval poem The Wartburg Singers’ Contest, which inspired Wagner’s Lohengrin opera, the Grail was a precious stone that fell from Lucifer’s crown. We have also shown that there is evidence in Judeo-Christian mystical literature, as well as in iconographic representations contemporary to the poem, that support a crowned Lucifer. What about the modern version of the legend, perhaps the most widespread today, according to which the Grail is a cup dug into an emerald that fell from Lucifer’s brow? We think that, first of all, the mention of “Lucifer’s brow” is a derivative of meaning and that the crown and the brow are here poetically confused, since it is often said that a crown is placed on a monarch’s brow. We could not find, in fact, any literary or iconographic mention of a precious stone set in Lucifer’s brow before the end of the nineteenth century, which seems to confirm our hypotheses. In any case, and this is the most important point, the identification of the crown on Lucifer’s brow and his brow itself does not change the symbolism.
As for the choice of emerald for this gemstone, we have seen that this stone is one of the stones that “cover” Lucifer in Ezekiel’s vision of his fall. We have also seen that in Jewish mysticism, some angels wear crowns set with emerald, and that the green of the emerald is also the color of the cloak of the maid who bears the Grail in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival. The medieval lapidaries do not offer a specific quality for the emerald that would justify its use as a Grail stone.21 One possible reason for the choice of the emerald as a Grail stone might be its green color. For indeed, the green of the emerald symbolizes the plant kingdom and the dawn of life in spring. This color and stone were also associated with Venus and fertility. It is therefore the color of fertility, abundance, rejuvenation, and these are indeed the qualities of the Grail stone that Wolfram mentions in his Parzifal:
It is by virtue of this stone that the Phoenix dies alone, burns to ashes, and is reborn — moults and rises with the dawn; for then it shines as bright as ever, fair as before, in every feather. Further, all mortals, however ill, on seeing the stone, live on still for a week, and from that day lose not their colour in any way; if any, maid or man, could view the Grail for a hundred years or two, then their colour you would confess was as it had been, and just as fresh as in their prime, though it would grey. Such power the stone confers, I say, on mortals, that their flesh and bone renews, for young they have grown. This stone they also call “The Grail”.
Although we have not been able to trace the exact origin of the identification of Wolfram’s Grail stone with the emerald, and this identification is after all of secondary importance, it seems to us that from the symbolic point of view, the emerald, a green and translucent stone, is indeed the stone that best describes the wonderful properties of the “lapsit exillis” described in Parzifal. Finally, we will quote a passage from St. John in the Book of Revelation that describes the vision of the supreme God: “And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne” (Rev. 4:3). In a remarkable symbolic resolution, as a true archetype of the legend of the Holy Grail, in this vision of St. John, the green color of the emerald surrounds and contains the red color of the jasper and the carnelian of the essence of God, in the same way that the vase of the Grail will contain the divine blood of Christ…
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1. Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, translated by A.S. Kline, pp. 403–4. Available at www.poetryintranslation.com/eschenbachparzival.php.
2. René Guénon mentioned this legend several times: “The cup was fashioned by angels from an emerald that fell from Lucifer’s brow at the time of his fall…”, cf. “Le Sacré-Cœur et la Légende du Saint Graal” in Regnabit, Aug.–Sept. 1925, p. 187; Insights into Christian Esoterism (Sophia Perennis, 2004), p. 85; see also The Lord of the World, ch. 5, “The Symbolism of the Grail” (Coombe Springs Press, 1983), p. 26; Fundamental Symbols: The Universal Language of Sacred Science, ch. 46, “Lapsit Exillis” (Quinta Essentia, 1995), p. 198 and ch. 73, “The All-Seeing Eye”, p. 296.
Louis Charbonneau-Lassay did as well: “When therefore Lucifer, having revolted against God, was vanquished by Michael in the heights of heaven, the Almighty, before hurling him into the abyss, made the incomparable emerald, appearing on and protecting his brow as a dazzling diadem, fall at his feet. Then, when God created the first human couple in Eden, He placed there, among other marvels, a matchless cup shaped from Lucifer’s emerald by the jewelers of heaven...”, cf. “Le Saint Graal” in Rayonnement Intellectuel, Jan.–March 1938, pp. 2–3; The Vulnerary of Christ, ch. 15, “The Holy Grail” (Angelico Press, 2021), p. 187; see also The Bestiary of Christ, “The Griffin” (Penguin Books, 1992), p. 405.
Some of the other authors who mentioned this legend are Victor-Émile Michelet, Le Secret de la Chevalerie (Didier et Richard, 1930), pp. 27–30; and Arthur E. Waite, The Holy Grail: Its Legends and Symbolism (Rider, 1933).
3. These letters from René Guénon to Patrice Genty are part of the archives of Mr. Claude Gagne (1932–2021). They are available on the website www.index-rene-guenon.org.
4. Franz Liszt, Lohengrin et Tannhaüser de Richard Wagner (F.A. Brockhaus, 1854), p. 62.
5. Richard Wagner, booklet for the opening of the opera Lohengrin und Tannhaüser, 1851. See also Franz Liszt, op. cit., p. 46.
6. William Ashton Ellis, Life of Richard Wagner, vol. 4 (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1904), pp. 478–82.
7. Princess Carolyne from Sayn-Wittgenstein (1819–1887) was a Russian-Polish noblewoman who became Franz Liszt’s companion for 14 years, from 1847 to 1861.
8. See Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, pp. 689–92.
9. L.C.E. Artaud-Haussman, Le tournoi poétique de la Wartburg, poème allemand du treizième siècle (Firmin-Didot, 1865), pp. 273–80.
10. Titurel is the first king of the Holy Grail according to Wolfram, who invokes “legends of Provence” as the source of this information, and not Joseph of Arimathea as Robert de Boron claims.
11. See Colette Mahnes-Deremble, Les vitraux narratifs de la Cathédrale de Chartres (Le Léopard d’Or, 1993), p. 351, and Yves Cattin and Philippe Faure, Les Anges et leur image au moyen-âge (Zodiaque, 1999), p. 102, plate 43.
12. Information from Philippe Faure. See also Tamara Voronova and Andreï Sterligov, Manuscrits enluminés occidentaux, VIIIe-XVIe siècles (Parkstone-Aurora, 1996), plate 20, p. 53. It is worth noting that the person on the throne could also be assimilated to Christ, or to be exact, to a prefiguration of Christ, because of the symbolism of the twelve angels offering him twelve crowns.
13. Caedmon’s Hymn, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Junius XI, folio 6.
14. René Guénon also mentions that “Lucifer, before his fall, was the ‘Angel of the Crown’ (i.e. Kether, the first Sephirah), in Hebrew Hakathriel, a name which also has a numerical value of 666.” See The Lord of the World (Coombe Springs Press, 1983), p. 26, note 5.
15. Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, pp. 401–2.
16. “Mary ... was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18); “…what is conceived in [Mary] is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20).
17. “Heart of Jesus, formed by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mother” (“Cor Iesu, in sinu Virginis Matris a Spiritu Sancto formatum”). Excerpt from Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, approved by Rome in 1899 by Pope Leo XIII. We also find the Qualified Virgin of “Temple of the Holy Spirit” in the Litanies of the Blessed Virgin (16th century).
18. The Virgin is also called “Cause of our joy” in the Litanies of the Blessed Virgin. Repanse de Schoye has exactly the same meaning in medieval French (Répanse de joie).
19. Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, pp. 207–8.
20. From Latin lux (light) and ferre (to carry). This relationship between the Virgin and Lucifer, two bearers of light at opposite extremes in their function and symbolism, reminds us of the symbol of the amphisbaena that Louis Charbonneau-Lassay describes in his Bestiary of Christ, introducing in particular the emblem where a white and black amphisbaena is depicted: the upper snake that has wings wears a crown, and is attached to a lower snake, all black. Cf. Louis Charbonneau-Lassay, The Bestiary of Christ, “The Ouroboros and the Amphisbaena” (Parabola Books, 1991), p. 437 (see Fig. 8).
21. Lapidaries are texts that describe the physical properties and virtues of precious and semi-precious stones, often with medical or religious applications. They often took the form of medieval manuscripts and were very popular in the Middle Ages, when people believed in the power of gems for various purposes. Some lapidaries also included information about the origin and formation of stones, or their symbolism in the Bible.
22. Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, pp. 401–2.