The Nanteos Cup
June 3, 2007 | 0 comments
One of the most interesting facets of Grail lore is the number of cups that exist that lay claim to being the Holy Grail. I can think of at least a dozen different cups and dishes that are in existence now that lay claim to the mantel of the Grail. Lore of these different objects is as varied as theories of the Grail itself. The Antioch Chalice even was exhibited at the 1933 World’s Fair as the true Grail. Of these Grail contenders, the Nanteos Cup has generated as fair a claim to the cup used at the Last Supper as any other. As the cup exists today, it is a chipped olive wood bowl that measures five inches in diameter and two and a half inches tall. The following is a history of the cup and its lore. The legend of the Nanteos Cup begins during the reign of King Henry VIII. In the late 1520’s, Henry began making steps to separate England from the spiritual authority of the Catholic Church. The disagreement between the Church and King centered round Henry’s desire to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragorn. The Pope opposed Henry’s request for both dogmatic and political reasons.
In 1533, Henry took matters into his own hands and secretly married the pregnant Boleyn. Parliament then passed an act that dissolved Papal authority in England. The Parliament’s actions annulled Henry’s marriage and made Henry as the spiritual leader of the newly formed Church of England. The doctrine of the Church of England was the nearly identical to Catholic doctrine with the exception of the Pope’s absolute authority in matter of faith. By 1536, all public and ecclesiastical officials had to publicly denounce the authority of Rome in accordance with the Reformation Parliaments acts.
To Henry, the Catholic Abbeys and Monasteries represented pockets of resistance to his reign. Pragmatically, they also represented a stream of income to the crown. Most Abbeys had large tracks of farmable land and other material assets that could be put to the King’s use. At the King’s request, Thomas Cromwell organized groups of commissioners to ferret out those still loyal to the Catholic Church. These commissioners were task with also seizing assets of any Catholics they found.
It is during this back drop that the Nanteos Cup legend surfaces. In 1539, the King’s commissioners were sent to check on the Abbey of Glastonbury. The Abbot of Glastonbury had evidently never denounced Papal authority. Some loyal Catholic had tipped the Abbot off that the commissioners were in the area. Upon hearing this, the Abbot made plans to hide the Abbey’s most prized possession. Along with what ever gold and silver wares the Abbey possessed, an olive wood cup measuring about five by three inches was hidden. The legend states that the Abbot accompanied the monks and barely escaped the commissioner’s ravages of Glastonbury.
The monks then fled to the Abbey Strata Florida in Cardiganshire At the Abbey, the monks found momentary refuge. While there, the monks hid their treasure under a loose floor board in the Abbey’s main chapel. It wasn’t long before the commissioners picked up the monk’s trail. For a second time, the former Glastonbury Monks were informed that their position was in jeopardy. The group of seven could not go to ground forever. They had to find a patron to shield them from the King’s agents or leave the country.
The monks then made contact with the Powell family. It was also rumored that the Powell family was partners with the neighboring Stedman family in a rather extensive smuggling operation. There was said to be a tunnel running nearly a mile from the coast to the Powell’s manor. The local tavern talk was that the Powell’s loyalties to the King were bought with bribes to the local magistrates. Possibly it was the smuggler nature to turn a profit or secret Catholic ties that connected Lord Powell with the monks. For whatever reason Powell’s decisions, the seven monks were directed to flee to the Powell estate of Nanteos.
When the monks reached Nanteos, the terms of their safe haven was struck with Lord Powell. In exchange for sanctuary, the Abbot would become personal chaplain to the family and the remaining monks would become servants around the estate. Lord Powell agreed and let the monks remain at the estate for as long as they liked. This arraignment went along for years. The monks lived their days with little difference than they had at Glastonbury. The only exception being, hiding in the costal tunnel when prying eyes came to the estate. The monks kept their part of the bargain for a number of years. All the while, keeping the secret of the cup they had spirited away from Glastonbury.
The ravages of age or disease began taking their toll on the monks, until only one remained. On his death bed, the lone Glastonbury monk called for Lord Powell. It was there he entrusted Powell with the olive wood cup and it’s secret. Lord Powell was told that this was the cup used at the Last Supper. It had been brought to Brittan by Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion. It must have been with some trepidation he took the cup from the dying monk. Viewing what he had been told was the Holy Grail. The monk charged the Powell Family to guard the cup, until the “Church shall claim her own.”
Lord Powell must have taken his charge seriously, because it stayed in the family for nearly 400 years.
In 1739, the Nanteos House was rebuilt by Thomas Powell. The cup was housed in a glass container of an upstairs room. Visitors to Nanteos were even told the generations old tale of how this cup came into the family’s possession. The cup stayed there for another 200 years, attracting pilgrims hoping to receive miraculous healing from the cup. Water that had rested in the cup was sent to serious ill friends and family members all over the world. Richard Wagner made a trip to Nanteos in 1855 to see the cup while writing Parsifal, at the invitation of George Powell. George recounted tales of the cup’s healing powers to Wagner. It even convinced Tom Mac Donald of Western Mail and South Wales News to write an article on the cup. On 5 July 1934, he recounted the story of an 80 year old man who was healed of some unnamed sickness after drinking from the cup.
The pilgrims that traveled to Nanteos House to drink from the cup have taken a physical toll on the artifact. Those desperate enough to receive the blessings of the cup took to taking bites out of it. Hoping that by ingesting some of the cup, they would be made well again. At some point after the 1934 article was written, a silver ring was placed around the rim to hold the cup’s cracked pieces together. Some say that it was then the miraculous benefits of the cup ceased.
When the last of the Powell family passed away in 1952, the Nanteos House was sold to the Mirylees family. The Mirylees were somewhat private about the cup. They no longer publicizing the fact they were the owners of the “Holy Grail”. The family did allow a few interviews regarding the cup. One was a 1997 BBC Television documentary and another was an interview granted to the Martinist Review in 1959. In the Martinist Review article, Marjory Mirylees hinted that the cup was still being used to some extent to heal the sick. She also mentioned that sometimes the water that was poured in the remaining portion of the cup turned a yellowish color, and tasted almost like wine. Mrs. Mirylees also assured the reporters that experts had told her the wood had absolutely nothing to do with the color change.
The Mirylees have moved from Nanteos House. The once proud House has turned into a run down bed and breakfast. Choosing to preserve both the cup and their privacy they moved to Herefordshire and deposited this contender for the true Grail in a Lloyd’s Bank safety deposit box. The only time the Nanteos Cup has been displayed was in 2001, at the launching of a book Nanteos and their Families. At that time, Mrs. Mirylees said that she still sends water out from the cup to heal those with life threatening illnesses.
The veracity of these claims have been put in question by Welsh historian Juliet Woods. Woods article Healing Cup of Nanteos, Dyfed – Is the Holy Grail in Wales? theorizes that the Nanteos Cup is a common Mazer bowl made of witch elm. However Wood’s evidence to this claim in the article is simply theory. She never mentions examining the cup. Wood’s also knocks the legends saying that there are no connections that can be made by the monks at Strata Florida and the Stedman/Powell family. But given the circumstances of the monks’ flight, why would there be any records?
So is the Nanteos Cup the cup used at the Last Supper? That’s for you to decide. Other cups make similar claims with equal veracity. In the end, it’s up to each of us to find out what the truth of the Grail is for him/her self.
Brian Kannard is a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason that lives in Nashville, Tennessee. His keen interest in topics on the Holy Grail, the Knights Templar, and Freemasonry are also chronicled his blog Grail Seekers
. Brian can be contacted here at Unexplained Mysteries under the user name of Grail Seekers.