The Art Archive

A naked Jesus (front center), “bleeding from his hands and feet and side,” rises from the Holy Grail before an assembly of knights who have successfully proven their spiritual virtue in this 1351 manuscript illustration of the climactic scene of The Quest of the Holy Grail, an anonymous romance penned sometime in the 1220s. Presiding over the astonishing spectacle is the bishop Josephus (far left), the son of Joseph of Arimathea, the original keeper of the Grail, according to legend. Beside the Grail is the spear used to pierce Jesus’ side on the cross (John 19:34).

Here, as in most of the romances, the Holy Grail appears as part of a Mass-like procession, signifying the church ritual of the Eucharist and recalling Jesus’ sharing of his body and blood at the Last Supper. In thhis case, Jesus steps out of the holy vessel, distributes communion wafers from it to the knights and ascends back to heaven.