Nanteos Cup stolen – Was it The Holy Grail?

Few of our readers may have heard of the Nanteos Cup. In the last two days, this cup has been stolen, it is feared for some nefarious purpose, and we have been asked to bring this to the notice of a wider audience by a friend of the present owner of the cup. The owners house, in rural Herefordshire, was broken into and the chalice stolen – it is thought that this was the only item taken. Since it is quite unique, someone, somewhere might have some information which can be passed on quite anonymously to Crimestoppers; 0800 555111′

A brief history of this interesting cup, and its association with the Pre-Reformation monks of Glastonbury is detailed below:

One of the most interesting facets of Grail lore is the number of cups that exist that lay claim to being the Holy Grail. Lore of these different objects is as varied as theories of the Grail itself. The Antioch Chalice even was exhibited at the 1933 World’s Fair as the true Grail. Of these Grail contenders, the Nanteos Cup has generated as fair a claim to the cup used at the Last Supper as any other. As the cup exists today, it is a chipped olive wood bowl that measures five inches in diameter and two and a half inches tall. The following is a history of the cup and its lore. The legend of the Nanteos Cup begins during the reign of King Henry VIII. In the late 1520’s, Henry began making steps to separate England from the spiritual authority of the Catholic Church. The disagreement between the Church and King centered round Henry’s desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragorn. The Pope opposed Henry’s request for both dogmatic and political reasons.

In 1533, Henry took matters into his own hands and secretly married the pregnant Boleyn. Parliament then passed an act that dissolved Papal authority in England. The Parliament’s actions annulled Henry’s marriage and made Henry as the spiritual leader of the newly formed Church of England. The doctrine of the Church of England was the nearly identical to Catholic doctrine with the exception of the Pope’s absolute authority in matter of faith. By 1536, all public and ecclesiastical officials had to publicly denounce the authority of Rome in accordance with the Reformation Parliaments acts.

To Henry, the Catholic Abbeys and Monasteries represented pockets of resistance to his reign. Pragmatically, they also represented a stream of income to the crown. Most Abbeys had large tracks of farmable land and other material assets that could be put to the King’s use. At the King’s request, Thomas Cromwell organized groups of commissioners to ferret out those still loyal to the Catholic Church. These commissioners were task with also seizing assets of any Catholics they found.

It is during this back drop that the Nanteos Cup legend surfaces. In 1539, the King’s commissioners were sent to check on the Abbey of Glastonbury. The Abbot of Glastonbury had evidently never denounced Papal authority. Some loyal Catholic had tipped the Abbot off that the commissioners were in the area. Upon hearing this, the Abbot made plans to hide the Abbey’s most prized possession. Along with what ever gold and silver wares the Abbey possessed, an olive wood cup measuring about five by three inches was hidden. The legend states that the Abbot accompanied the monks and barely escaped the commissioner’s ravages of Glastonbury.

The monks then fled to the Abbey Strata Florida in Cardiganshire At the Abbey, the monks found momentary refuge. While there, the monks hid their treasure under a loose floor board in the Abbey’s main chapel. It wasn’t long before the commissioners picked up the monk’s trail. For a second time, the former Glastonbury Monks were informed that their position was in jeopardy. The group of seven could not go to ground forever. They had to find a patron to shield them from the King’s agents or leave the country.

The monks then made contact with the Powell family. It was also rumored that the Powell family was partners with the neighboring Stedman family in a rather extensive smuggling operation. There was said to be a tunnel running nearly a mile from the coast to the Powell’s manor. The local tavern talk was that the Powell’s loyalties to the King were bought with bribes to the local magistrates. Possibly it was the smuggler nature to turn a profit or secret Catholic ties that connected Lord Powell with the monks. For whatever reason Powell’s decisions, the seven monks were directed to flee to the Powell estate of Nanteos.

When the monks reached Nanteos, the terms of their safe haven was struck with Lord Powell. In exchange for sanctuary, the Abbot would become personal chaplain to the family and the remaining monks would become servants around the estate. Lord Powell agreed and let the monks remain at the estate for as long as they liked. This arraignment went along for years. The monks lived their days with little difference than they had at Glastonbury. The only exception being, hiding in the costal tunnel when prying eyes came to the estate. The monks kept their part of the bargain for a number of years. All the while, keeping the secret of the cup they had spirited away from Glastonbury.

The ravages of age or disease began taking their toll on the monks, until only one remained. On his death bed, the lone Glastonbury monk called for Lord Powell. It was there he entrusted Powell with the olive wood cup and it’s secret. Lord Powell was told that this was the cup used at the Last Supper. It had been brought to Brittan by Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion. It must have been with some trepidation he took the cup from the dying monk. Viewing what he had been told was the Holy Grail. The monk charged the Powell Family to guard the cup, until the “Church shall claim her own.”
Lord Powell must have taken his charge seriously, because it stayed in the family for nearly 400 years.

In 1739, the Nanteos House was rebuilt by Thomas Powell. The cup was housed in a glass container of an upstairs room. Visitors to Nanteos were even told the generations old tale of how this cup came into the family’s possession. The cup stayed there for another 200 years, attracting pilgrims hoping to receive miraculous healing from the cup. Water that had rested in the cup was sent to serious ill friends and family members all over the world. Richard Wagner made a trip to Nanteos in 1855 to see the cup while writing Parsifal, at the invitation of George Powell. George recounted tales of the cup’s healing powers to Wagner.
The pilgrims that traveled to Nanteos House to drink from the cup have taken a physical toll on the artifact. Those desperate enough to receive the blessings of the cup took to taking bites out of it. Hoping that by ingesting some of the cup, they would be made well again. At some point a silver ring was placed around the rim to hold the cup’s cracked pieces together. Some say that it was then the miraculous benefits of the cup ceased.

 

The veracity of these claims have been put in question by Welsh historian Juliet Woods. Woods article Healing Cup of Nanteos, Dyfed – Is the Holy Grail in Wales? theorizes that the Nanteos Cup is a common Mazer bowl made of witch elm. However Wood’s evidence to this claim in the article is simply theory. She never mentions examining the cup. Wood’s also knocks the legends saying that there are no connections that can be made by the monks at Strata Florida and the Stedman/Powell family. But given the circumstances of the monks’ flight, why would there be any records?

So is the Nanteos Cup the cup used at the Last Supper? That’s for you to decide. Other cups make similar claims with equal veracity. In the end, it’s up to each of us to find out what the truth of the Grail is for him/her self.

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About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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6 Responses to Nanteos Cup stolen – Was it The Holy Grail?

  1. Mimi says:

    I hate to hear of the theft of antiquities, particularly religious ones. How very sad.

  2. johnhenrycn says:

    An fascinating story. More history in it than in a Dan Brown novel, I dare say. I, too, hope this object is recovered and restored to the people who have been faithful stewards of it all these centuries. Whether or not it is The Chalice, it is undeniably a priceless sacramental treasure.

  3. Gertrude says:

    I am more inclined to believe it probably a medieval chalice, but I have a friend who has seen it (being a friend of the owner) and firmly believes its authenticity. Whatever its provenance, it is a cowardly theft from a lady in poor health, and as it was the only object stolen someone knew what they were looking for. Its religious background, and the fact that over the years some very strange people have coveted it, not for Christian purposes, makes this a most horrid crime. If the legend is true, then it should have been restored to the Order of monks who entrusted it to the family during the penal times, and who one would like to think would have at least kept it safely, and probably available to scholars who might have been interested in this and might be able to confirm or disprove its antiquity.

  4. John Matthews says:

    There are quite a few errors in this. First it’s not a chalice and never was. Second Wagner I’d not see it and was not ibspired to write Parsifal because of it. The worst thing about this is that it up a priceless artefact which may never e seen again!

  5. johnhenrycn says:

    John Matthews: a little pre-post editing of your comment would not have been amiss, but that’s a minor point, and I should certainly take my own advice sometimes. Why do you say “it’s not a chalice”? I would have thought that cup and chalice and goblet are interchangeable. Perhaps you’re referring to some technical or liturgical definition of ‘chalice’ when you say this cup isn’t one?

  6. Ian Pegler says:

    A lot of 20th Century mythology presented as fact here. Is there a single document older than the 20th Century which labels the Nanteos Cup as “the Grail”? From whence cometh this story of the seven monks from Glastonbury? Is there a written source for this story which is older than the 20th Century? Name the book.

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