MADRID, Spain, JULY 7, 2006 (Zenit.org).- When Benedict XVI is in Valencia on Saturday, he will stop to venerate the chalice that is traditionally considered the one Christ used at the Last Supper.
According to author and professor Salvador Antuñano Alea, 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.”
The Christian people venerate it because it “represents for them and takes them back to the sublime moment in which the Son of God left us his Blood as drink before shedding it on the cross,” explained Antuñano to ZENIT.
A doctor in philosophy and professor at the University of Francisco de Vitoria in Madrid, Antuñano became interested in the holy grail given the conjectures, its alleged magical powers and the confusion between history and reality.
He wrote “The Mystery of the Holy Grail: Tradition and Legend of the Holy Chalice,” published by EDICEP in1999.
From the archaeological point of view, the ensemble of the holy chalice “is composed of three parts: two stone cups and a gold mount.” The latter “can be dated, according to its artistic style, between the 13th and early 14th centuries,” while “the cup which serves as a setting for the chalice” “may be dated in the Azahara Medina of Almanzoor, in the 10th century, or, if it came from another workshop, between that century and the 12th.
The cup itself, however, is much older,” said Antuñano, following the studies of Antonio Beltran, professor of archaeology at the University of Zaragoza.
His scientific precision, the comparison he made with similar objects and the critical analysis of the documents “point to an original workshop — Egypt or Palestine — and to the last moments of Hellenistic art (2nd century B.C. to 1st century A.D.). It corresponds to the type of vases used for solemnities or belonging to wealthy homes,” commented Antuñano.
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“The oldest written historical document which speaks with great clarity of the holy chalice is the writing for the donation of the chalice, done by the monks of Saint John of the Rock for the King of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 mountain. In the measure that the reconquest of Spain advanced, a discreet veneration was also consolidated in different churches,” and “it is very possible that in the mid 11th century it was in Jaca, kept by the bishops and that, on the establishment of the Roman rite in the Kingdom of Aragon in the year 1071, it went to the Monastery of Saint John of the Rock,” in whose silence “it was kept for more than three centuries.”
New Testament evidence
“Evidence that is sufficiently probable” is deduced for its part from the New Testament: “it is possible that Christ celebrated the Last Supper in St. Mark’s house”; the latter was like a “secretary of St. Paul and St. Peter, with whom it seems he went to Rome,” so that it “would not be strange that the Evangelist would have kept the cup — a cup of his crockery — in which the Master consecrated the Eucharist,” nor would it be odd “that he gave it to Peter and the latter to Linus,” and from one to the other to Cletus, Clement and so forth.
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 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.
Since then, worship and devotion to the holy chalice has intensified. And “the present archbishop, Agustin García-Gasco, has succeeded in spreading the veneration beyond the limits of the Valentian community,” he said.
“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.
Far from harboring any “magical property,” “the icon is sacred because its image evokes a salvific mystery and, in a spiritual but real way, has as its end to place the one who contemplates it in communion with that mystery, making him a participant in it,” he underlined.
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, the Pope celebrated Mass with it.
“The history of the holy chalice will continue, as does the history of the Church herself,” Antuñano concluded, “but the gesture of John Paul II on consecrating in it the Blood of the Lord may be considered as the landmark that introduces the relic in the third millennium.”