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The Holy Grail: Imagination and Belief

Richard Barber's book traces the history of the stories surrounding the Holy Grail, beginning with Chrétien de Troyes, who in the twelfth century first imagined the famous scene in which a mysterious golden vessel adorned with jewels was paraded before the eyes of an untested youth. The author died before he could complete his tale, and the unsolved mystery of the grail has haunted us ever since. In the middle ages it was intimately linked with the central ritual of the Christian faith. By a long series of imaginative transformations, the grail has moved beyond the sphere of romance, and in twentieth century popular culture has become an emblem of mysticism and man's highest aspirations, Richard Barber tells this extraordinary story; a journey, involving theology, history, literature and art, and ranging across most of Europe and the Near East. The diversity of concepts involved shows the wealth of the Grail's cultural influence: from the beginning of prose romances - precursors of the modern novel - to the hotly disputed theological ideas of the medieval period and the passions of popular religion. In later centuries, the grail leads us through the rise of literary scholarship and the fashionable ideas that shaped it, the nineteenth-century enthusiasm for all things medieval, and twentieth-century New Age. The search for the grail has always been described as a quest; in this book, Barber goes on his own quest, brilliantly exploring the richness of the Holy Grail's cultural impact.

What the reviewers say:

"... fascinating and comprehensive account ... Its combination of scholarship and clarity might itself be described as an intellectual Holy Grail" Michael Arditti, Daily Mail

"Richard Barber's splendid new book .. taps into a seemingly unending well of meaning"  Juliette Wood The Times

Guardian Book of the Week

Sunday Times Paperback of the Week

Marina Warner's Book of the Year (TLS)

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Grail jacket

Italian Grail jacket

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