THE SEARCH FOR THE HOLY GRAIL
N Arthur's Court there were many virtuous knights and
ladies, but the best of all was a beautiful maiden,
sister to Sir Perceval. She was so good that the evil
in the world oppressed her, and she could be happy only
when she was praying for all people to be made better.
Once a good old man told her what was meant by the Holy
"Grail," he said, "is the word for the cup out of
which our Lord Jesus drank, the night that he held the
last supper with his disciples. Therefore, it is called
holy. There is a tradition which says that for a long
time after the death of Christ the Holy Grail remained
on earth, and any one who was sick and touched it was
healed at once. But then people
grew to be so wicked that it disappeared from earth. It
is said that if a person in our day were only good
enough, he could see the Holy Grail."
"Really see it?" asked the maiden, eagerly, "or see it
in a vision?"
"I do not know," answered the good old man, "but either
one would be a great happiness. For a real sight of it,
or a vision, would show the person who saw it that he
Then the beautiful maiden prayed more than ever. She
became so thin and pale that it seemed as if she were
almost transparent, and at last she lay dying. One
morning she sent for her brother, Sir Perceval, and for
his friend, Sir Galahad.
Sir Perceval and Sir Galahad were the two best knights
in Arthur's Court. They were not so powerful as Sir
Lancelot or Sir Geraint or Sir Gareth, but they had
purer souls than these. When they came to the bedside
of the maiden, she said:
"Oh, my brother and my friend, I have seen the Holy
Grail. Last night I was awakened by a sound like the
music of a
 silver horn across the hills. It was more beautiful
music than any I have ever heard. Then through my
window shone a long cold beam of silver light, and
slowly across that beam came the Holy Grail. It was red
like a beautiful rose, and the light reflected from it
covered all the walls with a rosy color. And then it
vanished. Now I beg you to seek it; and go to the hall
of Arthur and tell all the other knights to take the
quest. If they can but see the Grail, it will be a sign
that they are good, and that the world is growing
As she spoke, Sir Galahad's face wore an expression so
like her own that Sir Perceval was amazed. But the
maiden took from the side of her bed a sword-belt, and
gave it to Sir Galahad.
"Fair knight," she said, "I have made this golden belt
of my hair, and woven on it, in crimson and silver
thread, the device of the Holy Grail. Put on this belt,
bind your sword to it, and go forth; for you, too,
shall see the Holy Grail."
Then Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval went away quietly,
for they saw that the
 beautiful maiden had not long to live. That night they
went to Arthur's hall. The king was absent with the
queen, but most of the Knights of the Round Table were
there, and to them Sir Galahad and Sir Perceval told
the vision that Sir Perceval's sister had seen.
As they spoke, suddenly the torches in the hall were
extinguished; there was a loud sound like thunder and a
sudden cracking of the roof. Then a beam of light,
seven times stronger than day, streamed into the room.
Across the beam stole the Holy Grail. But it was
covered by a luminous cloud, so that its shape could
not be seen. Slowly it vanished away.
There was silence in the hall for a long time; the
knights were awe-struck and could not speak. At last
Sir Perceval rose in his seat and said in a low tone:
"My sister saw the vision of the Holy Grail, but I,
because I am more sinful, have seen it covered with a
cloud. Yet because I wish to see it, I vow to spend
twelve months and a day in search of it.
 I will pray, and live as holy a life as I can, and
perhaps this vision will be mine."
Then good Sir Bors, the cousin of Sir Lancelot, made
the same vow, as did also Sir Galahad and Sir Lancelot
and Sir Gawain and many others. After the vows had been
taken, King Arthur entered. When all had been explained
to him, his face grew sorrowful.
"If I had been here," he said, "I should not have
allowed you to swear the vow. None of you really saw
the Grail; you say it was covered with a cloud."
Then Sir Galahad cried out:
"My King, I saw the Grail, all crimson like a ruby, and
I heard a voice which said, 'O Galahad, O Galahad,
follow me!' "
"Ah, Galahad," said the king, tenderly, "you are fit
for this quest, this search, but the others are not.
Sir Lancelot is our strongest warrior, but he is not
like Sir Galahad. Most of you, my knights, are men with
strength and will to right wrongs; that is the work you
are fitted for. You have fought in twelve
 great battles with the heathen, but only one of you is
fit for this holiest of visions. Yet go, and fulfill
The faces of the knights were downcast. The king
"While you are gone, I shall need your strength here at
home, but you will be following a wandering fire. Many
of you will never return."
All the company felt sad. The next day when the knights
departed upon their quest, the king could hardly speak
for grief, and many of the knights and ladies wept.
Those who had sworn the vow went together to the great
gate of the city of Camelot, and there they separated.
During the next twelvemonth many a poor laborer who had
been wronged came to Arthur's Court to find a knight
who would fight for him, and many a poor widow and
maiden. But because so many of the Knights of the Round
Table were absent there was little help to be had, and
Arthur's face grew sadder and sadder as time went on.
At last, after the twelvemonth and the
 day had passed, those in Camelot began to look for the
return of the knights who had taken the vow. Alas,
though they waited all day long, only Sir Gawain, Sir
Bors, Sir Perceval, and Sir Lancelot returned. In the
evening the Knights of the Round Table assembled in the
great hall. When each was seated, the king rose, and
said to those who had been upon the quest:
"My lords, I need only look at your faces to know that
you have fared ill. I dare not think of those of you
who have not come back. And now, Perceval, my knight
who next to Galahad, has the purest soul, tell me what
has happened to you."
Sir Perceval rose slowly from his chair and said:
"Dear my liege, when I left your court on the sad
morning that we all set forth, I did not feel the grief
that many of the other knights felt. I had been
fighting so well, so many lances had gone down before
my stroke, that I was full of confidence in what I
"I rode happily, planning all the great
 victories I should win. I was sure if I righted a great
many wrongs, I should soon see the Grail. But after
many days I began to grow weary. I was riding through
rough forests, and the branches bruised me and my
horse; there seemed to be no great deeds to do. I could
not even slay wild beasts, and so be of use to the poor
country people. My bed was on the hard ground, and my
food was wild berries.
"One day I came to a great castle, and here I decided
to rest. When I entered, I was warmly greeted and
brought to the princess of the castle. I found her to
be one whom I had loved long ago in her father's court.
I was but a young squire and she was a great princess,
and so I had gone away without telling her how dear I
"She greeted me kindly, and after a time she began to
love me. Soon I wondered whether I was fit to see the
holy Grail. I thought perhaps I was one of those who
were pursuing a wandering fire. And then the people of
the castle begged me to marry their princess, and
 be their lord and live a happy and easeful life.
"One night I awoke, and thought longingly of the Holy
Grail. Whether I were fit to see the vision or not, I
had at least sworn to seek it for a year and a day.
And yet, I had not tried two months! I rose hastily,
dressed, and left the castle. Then for many days I
prayed and mourned. At last I sought a holy hermit, and
told him all I had done and thought since I had left
"The good hermit, after a short silence, said: 'My son,
you have not true humility. You have been proud of your
strength, and too sure in the beginning that you were
fit for the vision. You have always thought first of
yourself and your own glory, and not of the good you
"I went into the chapel of this hermit, and prayed to
be relieved of the sin of pride. As I prayed, Sir
Galahad entered. He was clad in silver armor, and his
face looked like that of an angel.
" 'Oh, my brother,' he said, 'have you
 not seen the Grail?' And after I had answered, he said:
" 'From the moment when I left the court of our king,
the vision has been with me. It is faint in the
daytime, but at night it shines blood red. I see it on
the mountains, and in the lakes, and on the marshes. It
has made me so strong that everywhere I am able to do
good. I have broken down many evil customs. I have
fought with pagan hordes and been victor all because of
this blessed vision. Perceval, I have not long to live.
I am going to the great city above, which is more
beautiful than any earthly city. Come out with me this
night, and before you die you shall see this vision.'
"Then I followed Sir Galahad out of the chapel. We
climbed a hill which was steep and rugged, Sir Galahad
going first, and his silver armor guiding me. When we
came to the top, a storm broke over us, and the
lightning seemed to follow us as we descended the hill
on the other side. At the bottom of it there was a
great black swamp, leading to the sea. It was crossed
by a huge bridge built by some
 forgotten king. Here Sir Galahad left me and ran over
the bridge till he reached the sea. His armor shone
like a star, far away at the edge of the water. And
then I saw him no more.
"I knelt on the black ground and wept, and wished that I
were as good as Sir Galahad, and could do deeds as he
did, not to win glory, but to help those who needed
help. And as I wept, I was aware of a great light over
me. I looked up and saw a silver beam, and across it
slowly moved the Holy Grail. It was no longer muffled
in a cloud, but shone crimson as a ruby.
AND ACROSS IT
SLOWLY MOVED THE HOLY GRAIL
"I made my way back to the chapel and prayed all the
rest of the night. In the morning I found Sir Galahad's
body by the sea. He was beautiful as a saint, though he
was worn and thin from long self-sacrifice. I buried
him and then turned my steps to Camelot.
"And now, my lord Arthur, I shall never fight again. I
shall become a monk and pass my life in prayer as my
sister did. Among my brother monks, there will be very
many little deeds of
 service I can do. Thus will I spend my life."
All the knights were very much moved and the king
looked affectionately at Sir Perceval, but he did not
speak to him. He turned to Sir Gawain and said:
"Sir Gawain, was this quest for you?"
Then Sir Gawain, always light-hearted and easily turned
away from one thing to another, said:
"Nay, my King, such a search is not for one like me.
In a little time I became tired. I talked to a holy man
who told me that I was not fit for such a vision. So I
journeyed till I came to a field with silk pavilions
and very many knights and ladies. And with them I lived
happily for the year."
The good king looked displeased, but his face grew
tender as he turned to Sir Bors.
"Bors," he said, "good, faithful, and honest you have
ever been. Tell me what you have seen."
Sir Bors, who stood near Sir Lancelot, said:
"My lord Arthur, after I had started
 on the quest, I was told that madness had fallen upon
my kinsman, Sir Lancelot. This so grieved me that I had
but little heart to seek for the Holy Grail. Yet I
sought for it. I believed that if God meant me to see
the vision he would send it.
"I traveled till I came to a people who were heathen.
They knew much of magic, but nothing of God. I stayed
with them, and tried to teach them our faith, but they
were angry because I would not believe in their gods,
and they put me into prison.
"I was there many months in darkness and cold. But I
tried to be patient, and prayed that my patience would
count for something, although I could not do any good
deeds. I had at least been faithful though I failed.
"One night a stone slipped from my prison wall, and I
could see a space of sky, with seven stars set across
it. Then slowly across the space glided the Holy Grail.
My happiness was great, for I had seen the vision.
"The next morning, a maiden who
 had been secretly converted to our religion released me
from prison, and I came hither."
Then the king spoke to Sir Lancelot.
"My Lancelot, the mightiest of us all, have you
succeeded in this quest?"
Then Sir Lancelot groaned.
"O, King!" he cried, "your mightiest, yes; and yet, far
better it would be if I were like Sir Galahad. A great
sin is on my soul, and it was to be rid of this sin
that I undertook the quest of the Holy Grail. A hermit
told me that only by putting this sin away should I
ever see the vision. I strove so hard against it that
my old sickness came upon me. I became mad, and rode up
and down among waste places, fighting with small men
who overthrew me. The day has been when the very sound
of my name would have made them tremble.
"At last I came to the sea and saw a boat anchored near
the shore. I stepped into it, loosed the anchor, and
floated away. For seven days I sailed, and at last I
came to an old castle. I entered and heard a voice
singing. I followed it
 up, up for a thousand steps. At last I came to a door,
which burst open before me. Perhaps I dreamed, and yet
I believe I saw the Holy Grail, though it was veiled
and guarded by great angels. I thought I saw all this,
and then I swooned away. When I came to myself, I was
alone in the room. It was many days before I made my
way back to Camelot."
For a long time there was silence in the hall, and then
Sir Gawain said:
"Sir King, I can fight, and I always shall fight for
you. But I do not believe in this vision. All the
knights were mad, like Sir Lancelot. They did not
really have the vision; it was but fancy."
Then the king spoke gravely to Sir Gawain.
"Sir Gawain, you are indeed not fit for such a vision,
but you should not doubt that others have seen it. I
was right, my knights, when I said that most of you
would follow a wandering fire. How many of those who
left me have not returned, and never will!"
The knights looked at the empty chairs. The king went
 "Sir Galahad was the only one who completely saw the
vision. He was indeed blessed, and fit for such a
quest. You who were unfit should have stayed with me to
help govern this land."
The knights were silent and sad; then the king said:
"My dear knights whom I love, always remember this:
whether you seek for a vision, or do humble service as
Sir Perceval will for his fellow-monks, or fight to
right wrongs as Sir Lancelot does, whatever you do your
aim must be to make yourself useful to the world by the
work for which you are best fitted."
The king rose from the Round Table and left the
company, Sir Lancelot following him. Then the other
knights departed, one by one, and the great hall was
left empty, with its shields glimmering in the