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Quest of the Holy Grail and Medieval Manuscripts

[Judith Shoaf, editor of our new edition of Quest of the Holy Grail, shares some tips from her experience finding medieval manuscripts online and incorporating images into her new Broadview Edition.]

In researching this translation of the Previous French Quest of the Holy Grail, I had the luxury of with the ability to consult, from the consolation of house, pictures of every web page of many manuscripts which protect not solely the textual content but a spread of illuminations suggesting what the artists—and those that paid them—thought of the adventures of Galahad, Lancelot, Perceval, and Bors. I used to be delighted that Broadview agreed to incorporate a number of my favorites in the new e-book; most of these are from a couple of manuscripts in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), which was indeed my richest supply for online material. The one I used most often was BNF MS FR (= manuscripts in the French language) 343, produced in Milan in the late 14th century; its delicate drawing and trace of perspective are interesting even to the trendy eye. This manuscript might be browsed online at

I’m taking benefit of this blog to supply instructors and college students some instruments for compiling their very own “illustrated” Quest of the Holy Grail, alongside the strains of Siân Echard’s painstaking work.

Footage in the Quest manuscripts

What pictures are you able to look forward to finding in these manuscripts? One robust impression I have is that an artist certified as an example chivalric romances if she or he might draw a horse (cheval in French), a person on a horse (chevalier) and two or extra men on horseback engaged in some deed of chivalry (chevalerie). To find out which specific episode of chivalry is being depicted, I’ve to confer with the textual content itself, since two knights preventing, or even a knight driving as much as a citadel/monastery, are recurring scenes in the Quest (as in most medieval romances). Probably the most useful bit of heraldry is that Galahad’s defend is described in the text as white with a purple cross, so he is all the time identifiable, as in Bodley MS Douce 215 f39v, the place he and Perceval watch a fort falling aside. One unusual chivalric scene that a number of illustrators embrace is the scene of Lionel killing a hermit who has fallen on Bors’s body to guard him: BN MS ARS 3480 p. 559.

Different widespread themes that each one the artists know the right way to convey is a lady chatting with a person or males, and a king on his throne holding courtroom in a stylized palace. These could also be combined in an illustration at the very starting of the Quest, through which a stranger, a lady, comes to Arthur’s courtroom on the lookout for Lancelot. An enthralling instance is from BNF MS Fr 342 f58v, accessible by means of the Mandragore database. Typically this primary illustration has a “comic strip” format, displaying the woman at courtroom, Lancelot knighting Galahad, and a number of other episodes from the first chapter; a pleasant example is BN MS FR 111 f236r.

There are specific gadgets peculiar to the Quest which demand lots of the artists. One of these is the Round Desk. The Quest specifies a round desk seating 150 knights, which cannot be illustrated successfully. British Library (BL) Royal MS 14.e.iii f90r, is one of many which show Galahad and the others seated at an oblong table. Others attempt for a spherical table seating half a dozen or a dozen knights, e.g. BNF MS FR 112 f5r. or the vigorous full-page image from Cologny Bodmer MS 105 d. The variability is a reminder that the illustrators weren’t necessarily literate and might not have felt sure to depict objects or individuals exactly as described in the text.

One other distinctive object is, of course, the Grail itself. In the Cycle romances, its description varies; all one can say is that it is convex (blood drips into it, you possibly can look into it, and in a single instance Jesus himself emerges from it). The inventive tradition appears principally to have agreed to point out a coated, footed dish, of the type of a ciborium (the coated container for blessed Eucharistic hosts). It typically seems in a scene where Lancelot falls into a sort of trance when the Grail heals one other knight.

  • This scene was well-known sufficient that it’s included in a four-panel presentation of Lancelot’s entire life in BNF MS FR 117 f1r.
  • In BNF MS FR 116 f621r, the scene exhibits the Grail healing another man who prays whereas Lancelot sleeps.
  • In BNF MS FR 112 f15v, he sits whereas the other man prays.

Later in the similar manuscript, the Grail knights kneel earlier than a extra elaborate depiction of the vessel, on f179v. One other scene the place the Grail may be depicted is when it is carried into the metropolis of Sarras on its silver table, as in BNF MS FR 116 f672r; however BNF MS Fr 112 f181r provides us the similar scene with out the Grail. I discovered only one image that displays the textual content of the Grail Mass near the finish of the Quest, with twelve knights assembled, Bishop Josephus attended by angels, and Jesus emerging from the Grail, and that is BN Ars 5218 f88r. A very totally different image, from a manuscript in Udine, Italy, exhibits Josephus being carried in the direction of the Grail table by angels, as in the textual content, but exhibits the Grail itself as a large double-handled ewer: Udine Bibl. Arcivescovile 177 (the upper of two footage proven; click to enlarge).

In my Appendix C1, I introduced the account of the first Mass, celebrated in the unique Grail ark earlier than the yr 100, from Historical past of the Holy Grail (the “prequel” to the Quest). On this sequence, the dish which Joseph of Arimathea has stored as a relic of Jesus turns into the vessel of the first Mass, carried out with divine instruction by his son Josephus.

  • Josephus is proven saying Mass in BNF MS FR 95 f18r; except for the hand of God, it is pretty typical.
  • Much less typical is the illumination in Cologny Bodmer 147 f31v, where Josephus finds himself holding a child as an alternative of the bread host (vividly described in the text).
  • In BL MS 14.e.iii, f15v, Josephus struggles a bit together with his father Joseph of Arimathea, in entrance of an altar holding both a coated chalice and a shallow, grayish dish—the Grail.
  • A really elegant image is that this one from BNF MS FR 113, f. 18v, but it’s more durable to find out whether the ciborium-like (Grail-like) vessel or the little dish on the other aspect is meant to be the Grail.

A third specialty of Quest illustrators can be the depiction of ships. The story has no fewer than four ships (the ship constructed by Solomon, a heavenly ship, a diabolical ship, and a ship constructed by the Grail knights to carry the embalmed corpse of Perceval’s sister). I have not discovered many illustrations of the diabolical ship by which the satan, disguised as a phenomenal woman, arrives to tempt Perceval, but the artist of BN MS FR 343 tackles the episode with brio on f. 64, and also depicts the saintly ship with its sensible advisor a couple of pages later. Right here is one other model of the “good” ship: Beinecke MS 279 f. 217v. The Ship of Solomon is tackled by most illuminators

  • BNF MS FR 343, on the cover of the Broadview translation!
  • BL MS 14.e.iii fol. 125v , the place, as in the BNF MS FR 343 image, a party of four in the “saintly” boat uncover Solomon’s ship.
  • Dijon MS 527 f115 (for a better view click right here), which incorporates the particulars of the mattress, the crown, the spindles, the sword with its hempen belt, and the beginning of the warning inscription on the boat itself (in French, not “Chaldean” as specified in the textual content).
  • Beinecke MS 279 f257v.
  • BNF MS FR 111 fol 262v.
  • Bodley MS Rawl Q6.
  • Cologny Bodmer 147 f334r.
  • BNF MS FR 344 (displaying Solomon and his wife getting ready the ship in Biblical occasions).

The final two of these depict the whole scene inside the letter “O” of the word “Or,” which means “Now,” which begins many chapters of the Quest

The ship during which Perceval’s sister’s lifeless physique travels appears in numerous photographs, maybe because Lancelot himself travels in it for quite a while. Right here he is praying in the boat: Bodley MS Rawl Q6 f355v. Here the woman’s body is visible as Lancelot is about to disembark at the Grail Citadel in BNF MS FR 111 f265v. Earlier, on this ship, Lancelot and Galahad met for the first time in full recognition of their father-son relationship, as right here in the Dijon manuscript, or in this equally late image from BNF MS FR 112 f175r. Here is a touching depiction of the two men parting, six months later, for the last time, in BNF Fr fol. 667r; nevertheless, in BL Royal MS 14.e.ii, the similar moment is unemotional.

How one can find medieval manuscripts on-line

My online explorations began with Alison Stones’s listing of manuscripts presently held in numerous libraries at the University of Pittsburgh’s Lancelot-Grail Challenge. This consists of manuscripts of the numerous elements of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, of which the Quest is the penultimate part; the record supplies context for the romance—did its audience assume of it as Half 1 of 2 (as we frequently do now, since the final two sections are the ones most often read), 2 of 3, or 6 of 7? The record also notes the quantity of illustrations in every manuscript—and the ones with illustrations are more likely to have been photographed in shade for on-line viewers.

The subsequent cease is the online collections of numerous libraries which personal manuscripts. Some of them solely have one or two pictures online, whereas others have photographed every page at excessive decision, so that I can read the text better, I feel, than if I had it in entrance of me. Some have tried out several tools in order that illuminations from a set may be discovered on totally different sites. The richest online source by far is the Gallica collection, which includes a vast number of public-domain works held in French libraries. Unfortunately, the indexers of the collections have, over the years, labeled and relabeled manuscripts, so that a variety of titles, authors, and numbers seem. That’s why the Lancelot Venture record is useful: it offers manuscript numbers and contents lists that may help find a specific ebook.

So: the first step, go to; step two (or perhaps two and three), “rechercher” a French keyword, similar to “Graal,” in the category of “manuscrits”; then maybe try to slender the 97 hits down by century and by adding the manuscript number or different additional phrases. Or just start searching the decisions, in search of shade thumbnails (since many of these books are introduced in each a shade and a black-and-white version). A useful icon on the left menu is a bit page, which might be opened to decide on one-page or two-page show, or thumbnails of each web page, set out in rows, to be able to look for illuminations, and open solely those pages.

Notice: an enormous monitor helps. Different websites have comparable tools (some solution to browse thumbnails, zoom choices) but they don’t seem to be standardized.

Word 2: Usually manuscripts are named by the library the place they are held, a set in that library, a manuscript number, and a folio quantity (that’s, the sheet with each side, r for the entrance and v for the again) or a page number.