The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, 1950. (50.4 )Photograph © 1978 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Holy Grail? Jesus and the 12 disciples are depicted among the spreading branches of a vine in this elaborately gilded, 8-inch-high silver chalice, found near Antioch in 1910. Inside the chalice was a plainer silver cup, which some early 20th-century scholars identified as the Holy Grail. Both the silver cup and its exquisite gilt silver container, however, have since been dated to the Byzantine period.

Why such wishful thinking in the first place? Because of Antioch’s great importance as a center of early Christianity. It was in Antioch that followers of Jesus first described themselves as “Christians.” Antioch was the base for the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys in the mid-first century A.D.; in the early Byzantine period (fourth and fifth centuries A.D.), it was one of the places where basic Christian doctrines were decided. Antioch was also the home of numerous monastic sects, such as the Stylites (monks who did penance by living atop pillars).