When Benedict XVI arrived in Valencia, Spain, on Saturday, July 8, he stopped at the cathedral to venerate the chalice that is traditionally considered the one Christ used at the Last Supper (sometimes also called the Holy Grail). The next day, he celebrated the Holy Mass with it, in front of a crowd of 2 million people.
According to Christian tradition, the cup is mentioned as being used by Jesus at the Last Supper: "...He took the cup when he had supped, saying,'This cup is the new testament in My blood'..." (1 Cor 11:23-25). Later known as the Holy Chalice, it was safeguarded by Saint Peter, who used it to celebrate Mass, and eventually took it to Rome.
After Peter's death, tradition states that the cup was passed on to his successor Popes, until Sixtus II in 258, when Christians were being persecuted by Emperor Valerian, and the Romans demanded that relics be turned over to the Government. Sixtus gave the cup to his deacon, Saint Lawrence, who passed it to a Spanish solder, Proselius, with instructions to take it to safety in Lawrence's home country of Spain.
The Santo Caliz, 17 cm high, is a set of three pieces put together in a whole Chalice: a cup (on top), a foot and a body or base. The Holy Grail is the upper piece, a hemispheric 9.5 cm diameter cup, carved out of a big gem of dark red agate; it was a individual piece, a very old cup built in Egypt, Syria or perhaps Palestine about the IVth — Ist B.C. century.
The foot is another cup in reversed position, semi-elliptic oval, with 14.5 and 9.7 cm axis, material'Chalcedony'. Cup and foot are made of similar material and color. Though the foot is a lower quality work, its edge is covered with a strip and four arteries made of gold probably at the 13th century. On this gold structure were incrusted 27 pearls, 2 rubies and 2 emeralds.
The two pieces, cup and foot, are joined with a body composed of a centered hexagonal section column with a rounded nut in the middle and topped by two small plates and two lateral handles, all of gold.
Only the stone cup section of the Holy Chalice of Valencia was used by Christ; the jewel encrusted gold base was added in the Middle Ages.
According to Salvador Antuñano Alea, doctor in philosophy and professor at the University of Francisco de Vitoria in Madrid, who wrote The Mystery of the Holy Grail: Tradition and Legend of the Holy Chalice, published by EDICEP in 1999, the Last Supper's holy chalice, kept in the Cathedral of Valencia, bases its probability on tradition and "very reasonable archaeological and historical evidence," but for Christians what is most important is "its condition as a sacred icon," as reported by Zenit Catholic news agency (zenit.org).
In 1960 the Spanish archeologist Antonio Beltrán studied the Chalice and concluded: "Archeology supports and definitively confirms the historical authenticity." Following his studies, Beltran concluded that science confirms the historical probability of the holy chalice, as well as that of "the mount as an Egyptian or caliphal cup of the 10th or 11th century which was added, with rich gold work, to the cup, toward the 14th century, because it was firmly believed then that it was an exceptional piece," Antuñano explained.
History and tradition
"The oldest written historical document which speaks with great clarity of the holy chalice is the writing for the donation of the chalice, done by the monks of Saint John of the Rock for the King of Aragon, Don Martin I the Human, dated September 26, 1399," Antuñano continued.
The text describes "faithfully the stone chalice that is kept today in Valencia. Since then its trajectory is completely documented," although "before that date we have no document that speaks of it," he said.
Therefore, to "the very material reality of the chalice" is added "an ancient tradition based on vestiges and reasonable evidence," he clarified.
Thus it is that an ancient tradition, which corroborates the archaeological foundation, points out that the chalice went from Jerusalem to Rome with Saint Peter, and with it the first Popes celebrated the Eucharist. It arrived in Spain around 258, in the region of Huesca, sent by St. Lawrence after the martyrdom of Pope Sixtus and before his own, with the intention of preserving it from the pillaging of the persecution against the Church decreed by Valerian.
"It remained there until the Muslim invasion, when the faithful saved it by hiding it in different points of the mountains."
The canon of the Mass
It cannot be forgotten that "the Roman canon of the Mass is elaborated on the rite used by the Popes of the first centuries," and "in one of its most ancient parts, the formula of the consecration, presents a slight variation with other liturgies," as it establishes the words:'in the same way, the supper being over, he took this glorious
chalice in his holy and venerable hands, giving thanks he blessed it and gave it to his disciples saying'(in Latin, `accipiens et hunc praeclarum Calicem in sanctas ac venerabiles manus suas') in such a way that it seems to insist on a particular and concrete chalice: the same one the Lord used in his Supper," noted Antuñano.
The historical itinerary, well documented since 1399, leads us to the city of Valencia, where in 1915 the cathedral chapter decided to transform the former chapter hall of the cathedral into the Chapel of the Holy Chalice, where the latter was installed on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of 1916.
It had to be taken out of there in great haste twenty years later with the outbreak of the Civil War, three hours before the cathedral was set on fire. "When the fire of the war was extinguished, the chalice was solemnly given to the chapter on Holy Thursday, April 9, 1939, and was installed in its reconstructed chapel on May 23, 1943," recalled Antuñano.
"For the Christian, a sacred icon is not only a pious image," not even a "representation of a religious motive; it is much more: it is a means for spiritual contemplation, for meditation and for prayer," noted the scholar.
And as "the data of tradition and history indicate seriously the possibility that it is the same chalice that the Lord used the night he was betrayed," Christians venerate it because "it carries one to the sublime moment when the Son of God left us his Blood as drink before shedding it on the cross" for our salvation, he specified. "That is why the core and foundation of veneration of the holy chalice is in the Eucharistic Mystery," he summarized.
For Professor Antuñano, one of the most important moments of the holy chalice's history was the visit of Pope John Paul II to Valencia on November 8, 1982. After venerating the relic in his chapel (see picture), the Pope celebrated Mass with it. 1,724 years after Sixtus II, a Pope was again able to celebrate the Mass with the Holy Grail.
On July 9, 2006, at the closing Mass of the 5th World Meeting of Families in Valencia, Pope Benedict XVI also celebrated with the Holy Chalice, on this occasion saying in Spanish "this most famous chalice", the words of the Roman Canon used for the first Popes until the 4th century in Rome, supporting this way its authenticity.