For 2,000 years the Holy Grail has been the most sought-after relic of the Christian world. Now one man believes he has traced the chalice used by Christ at the Last Supper to the heart of England. GRAHAM BALL speaks to the author EC Coleman about its journey through the hands of saints, kings and crusaders.
For millions of believers the Holy Grail is the most precious object on earth. The chalice, which Christ drank from at the Last Supper and was later used to collect some of his blood at the Crucifixion, is a priceless Christian relic.
For centuries the faithful have searched in vain to find it. Finally it has been discovered, overlooked and unrecognised, in the corner of a cathedral in the heart of England.
Retired Royal Navy officer EC Coleman has spent years studying ancient texts and believes he has at last solved the mystery of the Grail’s disappearance.
“I never intended to start out on a search to find the Holy Grail. I was interested initially in researching the links between the Crusaders, England and the medieval saints,” says Coleman.
“However the more I read the more I was led along a trail that explained the extraordinary journey this lost relic has taken.
“I am well aware that over the years there has been masses of speculation and there have been plenty of bogus claims by individuals who claim to have unravelled this secret, which has baffled researchers for more than 700 years. I don’t claim any special advantage over the others, I simply followed the evidence, the written evidence. Now I can confidently confirm that the Holy Grail is located in Lincoln Cathedral.”
Historians and academics will be astonished by the revelation that Christendom’s most prized historical object has been under their noses for decades.
In 1889 Lincoln Cathedral was undergoing repair. A group of workmen lifted a large Portland marble slab and revealed the tomb of Bishop Oliver Sutton, who died in 1299.
Inside the grave archaeologists found a chalice next to the skeleton; it was still standing where it had been placed almost 600 years earlier. It was made of silver, 4½in high and completely without decoration.
“This was the Holy Grail but no one acknowledged it. Subsequently it went on show on a shelf in the Cathedral’s treasury where you can see it today but there is nothing there to say what it really is,” says Coleman, who has just published The Grail Chronicles describing his quest.
“Finding such artefacts in the tomb of a bishop was not at all unusual and putting them there may well have been normal practice in the Middle Ages but this chalice was different,” says Coleman.
“Previously discovered examples were richly engraved but this one had a simple elegance rendered slightly homely by the use of plainly visible rivets to join the different parts of the stem. I have never touched it but it has been very nice just to be near it. In my own mind and in all good faith I am confi dent that the chalice recovered from Bishop Sutton’s tomb is the Holy Grail.”
How can he be so sure this is the vessel used by Christ at the Last Supper and mentioned in the Gospels by Saints Mark and Luke?
“I know some may disagree with my findings but that does not worry me,” says Coleman, who has led four expeditions to the Arctic and has written eight other historical books.
“I have published my reasoning and am perfectly happy to debate the facts with anyone.
“There are people who claim that the Holy Grail is in Italy, Scotland or somewhere else in the world but these claims have no evidence to support them. I am happy to share the evidence I used, which I believe is overwhelming.”
His search for the Holy Grail was not driven by dreams of fame or fortune. He simply wanted solve the riddle.
“I’ll just be perfectly happy for those that care and who are genuinely interested to go to Lincoln and see the Grail and know that the mystery has finally been put to rest,” he says.
“I know that the author Dan Brown made a good deal of money from his book The Da Vinci Code and the film. He created a very entertaining story but remember that was just fiction; I am dealing with the facts. I don’t expect to make huge amounts of money from my work and I don’t resent the fortune Dan Brown has made from his. Good luck to him. He twisted the story to suit his purpose but don’t confuse what he was intending to do with what I have done.”
Ironically scenes from The Da Vinci Code were filmed in Lincoln Cathedral, just yards from where what is claimed to be the real Holy Grail is on show.
In his book Coleman explains that the Holy Grail was discovered in the Holy Land and became the possession of the Crusader Prince Raymond of Antioch.
In 1149 Prince Raymond gave the Grail to his niece Eleanor of Aquitaine, who took it with her to England when she married Henry II.
She kept the chalice in the safe hands of the Knights Templar, an order of Christian warriors.
By 1280 the Templars’ powers were in decline and the chalice was passed by Edward I to Bishop Sutton of Lincoln Cathedral, where it has remained ever since.
Coleman says: “The true story of the Holy Grail is both long and fascinating. Over the centuries kings, avaricious churchmen, adventurers and speculators have tried desperately to get their Grail was there to be worked out. I’m grateful that it fell to me to be the one to do it.”
So what do the Church authorities make of Coleman’s discovery?
“I think it’s fair to say that the cathedral is somewhat sceptical about these claims,” says Roy Bentham, Lincoln Cathedral’s chief executive.
“Mr Coleman has put in a lot of hard work but in our view some of his conclusions require a few leaps of faith.
No doubt people will want to see the chalice, which is secured in the treasury, and we are very relaxed about people coming here to see it.
Our bishop said recently: ‘We know that people will come to Lincoln Cathedral for many reasons and perhaps some of them will find God’.”