How the Holy Grail Came to Valencia: Sacred History in Post-Tridentine Aragon

Friday, January 7, 2011: 10:10 AM
Wellesley Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Laura A. Smoller , University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, AR
As Simon Ditchfield has shown for early modern Italy, one of the important tasks of Counter-Reformation hagiography was to demonstrate that an unbroken chain linked the present-day Catholic church to the heroic days of early Christianity.  In the case of Aragon, while there was no shortage of late medieval and early modern saints to extol, the Muslim invasions of the seventh century, and the intervening years of al-Andalus, made it difficult to trace a continuous sacred history in the region.  Accordingly, early modern authors, such as the Dominicans Vicente Justiniano Antist and Francisco Diago, penned a series of lives of local saints, carefully detailing contemporary manifestations of their miraculous power.  But Diago—historian as well as hagiographer—also elaborated a tradition that tightly linked Valencia to the beginnings of Christian history.   This talk explores the creation and subsequent elaboration of that legend.  According to this narrative, the early Christian martyr St. Laurence, himself now a native a Valencia, prior to his death entrusted the Holy Grail to a fellow countryman to be spirited away to Spain for safekeeping.  From 1437, a chalice said to be the cup used at the Last Supper had numbered among the treasures of the cathedral in Valencia.  Later versions provided  forged sixth-century documentation of Laurence’s role in bringing the Grail to Spain, described the marvelous preservation of this record despite Muslim destruction, and made Laurence and Valencia’s own patron-martyr Vincent first cousins.  In a time when Aragon had been subsumed into the larger world of Golden Age Spain, the story of Laurence and the Holy Grail did not simply answer Protestant attacks on the validity of the Catholic church, but also tied the region to the monarchy’s religious mission, all the while establishing Valencia’s pre-eminence as a sacred place and in sacred history.
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