THE VAULTS of the Maundy Grail are a glittering treasure-chest of the history and legends surrounding the Holy Tub, captured from the far corners of time and space. Below is a brief list of the various eras along with some of the more important writings of the different periods. See the timeline and Document Index for more information.
Biblical Origin, A.D. 33
The Most Holy Footbath of Christ has been revered for nearly two thousand years, though for much of that time its location has remained unknown to all but its keepers. Whether the one recovered in Bellegraal in 2005 is real or not cannot be said with utter certainty even with the most rigorous scientific tests, for ultimately it all rests on faith. But during that long stretch of time, the fortunes and condition of the pot anciently attested to have been “the” Sacred Basin have changed dramatically a number of times.
Biblically, the story of the washing of the disciples’ feet is only found in the Gospel of John which refers to a “basin” in the King James Version, with no other details. (The cup, by the way, is not mentioned by John at all.)
But that simple stoneware vessel has picked up a lot of names in its long career: first called the “Labrum Sanctum Verum” (True Holy Washtub), during Middle Ages, the Latin Church generally prefered the ecclesiastical term, “Pelluvium Sanctissimum” (Most Holy Footbath), and so on. In English, when considered along with its precious reliquaries, the whole thing is known as the “Maundy Grail” – reflecting its origin. But the vessel itself is properly known as the “Sacred Basin,” or commonly, the “Holy Tub,” although other terms have been used, even the irreverent “Jesus Pot.”
Christ washing Peter’s feet in the Sacred Basin while John and the other Apostles look on.
By whatever name this plain but singular expression of the potter’s craft is known, it has had an effect behind the scenes on all the major periods it has passed through during its long and spectacular history.
Apostolic Memento, 33-326
At quite an early date, the Holy Tub was identified with the bowl – not even actually mentioned in scripture – that Pontius Pilate washed his hands in. The “father of heresy,” Simon Magus, and his first wife, St. Bernice, were also added to the tale.
Though there is no mention of the Sacred Basin in the apocryphal tales devoted to Simon and his magical contest with the Apostle Peter, there is a definite emphasis on the need to keep the bowl secret throughout all these early stories of the Holy Tub. Such precautions would be absolutely necessary during the Age of Martyrs, as it was clear from the Passion of Prunella that pagan authorities sought to sieze holy relics as eagerly as Christians’ scriptures.
Already, however, the Holy Tub had been cracked – and the blame put on St. Peter, for wishing to use it against the Magus over the objection of the other Apostles. He was thus shamed into leaving it behind. Providentially, no doubt, although the desire for the Holy Tub was present from the very start of the papacy, it would never be satisfied.
Imperial Heirloom, 326-1250
Once Constantine became sole Emperor and legalized Christianity, his mother, the Empress Helena, scoured the Holy Land founding churches and seeking out sacred relics. She retrieved the Most Holy Footbath along with much other loot, including many items with far more doubtful provenances. Convinced that the Sacred Basin cured her gout, she brought it back with her to Constantinople. The tale of how it was kept safe through those perilous times and how she came to “discover” it is told in an early miracle tale, The Golden Legend of the Holy Basin.
A century and a half later, along with a bone from her toe, the Holy Tub was at last housed in an ornate reliquary glittering with gold and jewels befitting the Sacred Basin’s great sanctity and growing reputation for miracle-working. For almost half a millennium thereafter, the Holy Tub was used in the rites of the imperial court, generally as a pointed liturgical reminder of the patriarch's proper place under the emperor.
Somehow acquired by Charlemagne from the Empress Irene and brought to the West, the Maundy Grail would prove most inspirational to the German emperors in their epic contests for power against the pope. According to a detailed account in his Inventory of Imperial Treasures, the smiths and armorers apparently also found the springs and screws of the reliquary quite inspiring, too.
Templar Talisman, 1250-1307
To keep it out of the papal grasp, the Knights Templar were given charge of the Holy Tub by the aging Emperor Frederick II, but that only seemed to excite the popes’ avarice even more. But what really got the order into trouble was charging money for a mere peek of the relic, which they said was enough to instantly cleanse the beholder from all sin. This they claimed on the authority of St. Thomas Aquinas in a dubious document, On the Well of Forgiveness, attributed to him.
The knights encased the Holy Tub in a wooden Ark, reliquaries and all, and hauled it around a grand circuit throughout Western Europe, reaping great fame and wealth in the process. The envy it also provoked perhaps made their spectacular downfall inevitable.
Mystery and Marvels, 1307-1379
Eventually, the greed the Maundy Grail excited was too much for King Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII. The king ordered the arrest of the Templars, but was unable to obtain the Holy Tub when it vanished from their midst in a town in France called “Bellegarde” in highly-unusual circumstances.
Trapped in an unfinished cathedral, the knights claimed the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared, who said she had taken it back to Heaven. This amazing and still debated occurance was but the start of a cycle of miraculous visions that continued for hundreds of years. But the most important – and memorable – event happened in 1337, when she appeared again, this time before the entire town.
According to the first account, Miracles of the Scolding Virgin, written many years later by an eyewitness, the whole community witnessed an irate apparation believed to be of Mary returned again. Armed with the “fire of Heaven,” she roundly cursed them for desecrating her church, direly predicting plagues and other disasters a mere decade before the Hundred Years War and the Black Death fell upon them. Remembered as the “Scolding Madonna,” the Virgin Mary in that form is still feared, celebrated, and invoked to this day.
Yet modern scholarship has shown that there was a human hand associated with these marvels. For behind the scenes lurked “the Da Vinci of France,” a peculiar genius known as Maitre Heronimo le Mage. Deciphering his role and achievements would be a major step in solving the mystery. Apart from his notebooks, his testimony recorded by the Inquisition’s secretary is our only record of some of his most spectacular achievements.
Hunters and Heretics, 1379-1875
That secretary eventually became baron, and then later joined the Church where he rose to the highest position in the curia in Avignon. Cardinal Gilles, often suspected of involvement with the Holy Tub, confirmed that suspicion in a most dramatic way. To prevent a crisis that might destroy the Church, he avowed to his fellow cardinals that he would bring it to Rome to avert the disaster. His letters to his granddaughter clearly show his desperation. The plan badly backfired, leading to the Great Schism and the devastation of Bellegarde, but the Holy Tub was not found.
Later, during the Wars of Religion, the town was again threatened, this time by Huegenots, then taken over briefly by radical ascetic Catholics. However, the episode affirmed the region’s underlying liberal, and somewhat libertine, values, not to mention diversity.
And diversity there would be for the next several centuries at least. The Flagellants and Pedilavists who had been drawn by the Scolding Madonna's call for penitence united into a mysterious forbidden sex and bondage cult, the Endurists. Their most notorious leader, Tobias the Shoeless, wielded immense influence by using his devoted followers for corrupting leaders of Church and State for twenty years before his sudden fall. But not even being walled up for the remaining wretched years of his life kept him from writing a strange mystical manifesto, The Tears of the Virgin and the Garden of True Delight, that is studied by tubbers to this day.
The skepticism of the Enlightenment brought an increase in the numbers and kinds of searchers looking for the Holy Pot. Pot-hunters earnestly sought it everywhere but particularly in the limestone caverns beneath the cathedral where it had disappeared. Adventurers like the famous Don Yago the “Reliquarian” made a career off the dinosaur bones he found down there.
That was not all he reported was in the dark depths below. For there still lurked the Endurists, patiently awaiting the return of the Holy Tub, and who jealously regarded the underworld as their own realm. To counter these, the three remaining factions of seekers came together to form the dreaded Triple Knot.
Painter and Priest, 1875-1914
In the Nineteenth Century, Silviano Alfini, a pious artist hired to renovate the cathedral, uncovered many of its secrets and became the very last person known to have seen the Vision of the Holy Tub, which he alluded to in his Diary. His employer, the Abbé Dupre, a depraved priest but tireless promoter of the Scolding Madonna, also sought it, although only for his own gain.
Protectors Unknown, 1914-2005
When the priest was murdered the morning after the start of the First World War, many wondered if mysterious forces still guarded the Holy Tub. There were enough other strange deaths that made it seem likely. Yet even before the Second World War, the Nazis already were searching for the Sacred Basin. But in 1943, the OSS sent in a team to oppose them – with assistance from several secret factions in the region.
A key US Army officer that went in was Doc MacLantis, who becomes a celebrity archeologist in the post-war era. Despite his early, highly-regarded TV science show for kids, Doc had an unorthodox and very controversial scientific career. Helped both by the man who later became his most severe critic, Professore Raimondo Fatamorgana, as well as the woman who would be his wife, Maureen Masterson, Doc wrote the first book on the mystery in English, popularly called Holy Tub, Holy Pail.
Present Day, 2005 –
After an epic search and struggle climaxing in June of 2005, Doc and Maureen’s adult children, Skip, Gus, and Allie, finally seemed to solve the mystery, and uncovered what most authorities – although certainly not all – recognize as the Maundy Grail.
Their quest is related in Hunters of the Holy Tub. However, certain disturbing circumstances gave grim weight to dire prophesies that the Sacred Basin would lead to the End of the World might actually come true after all.