The Grail in Shropshire?

Whittington Castle which can be found on the border between England and Wales, situated between the towns of Oswestry and Ellesmere was in the early 1300s the home of Fulk Fitz Warin and his wife Eleanor. It was they who transformed the castle from a fortress into a palatial home. However what is less known is that it is claimed that at one time the Holy Grail was kept here, this would not have been the Grail used at the Last Supper by Jesus, but the Grail used by Mary Magdalene to collect Christ’s blood after the Crucifixion.

Entrance to Whittington castle. photo by Gary Tacagni

Entrance to Whittington castle. photo by Gary Tacagni

Graham Phillips book The Chalice of Magdalene (ISBN 159143038-0) covers the research that he has done on this subject, the back cover of his book gives us an insight into what is contained within. “The popular Arthurian stories of the Middle Ages depict the Holy Grail as Christ’s cup from the Last Supper, which was believed to have been endowed with miraculous healing powers and the ability to give eternal life to whoever drank from it. A much earlier tradition, however, claimed the Grail was the vessel used by Mary Magdalene to collect Christ’s blood when he appeared to her after rising from the tomb. While many vessels were claimed to have been the true Grail, there was only one thought to have been the chalice used by Mary.. From Jesus’s empty tomb, where it remained for almost 400 years, this holy relic known as the Marian Chalice was taken to Rome by the mother of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great. It was then smuggled from Rome in A.D. 410, according to the fifth century historian Olympiodorus, to save it from the barbarians who sacked the city. Well into the Middle Ages legend persisted that it had been taken to safety in Britain, the last outpost of Roman civilisation in Western Europe.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Graham’s book goes on to say,” That after his death Fulk became the focus of many legends and folk tales and in later years a romance of his life was composed by an anonymous author. John Leland references the romance in his collectanea, during the reign of Henry VIII, referring to it as “an old French history in rhyme of the acts of the Warines.” This seems to be the romance Fulke Le Fitz Waryn, which still survives in the British Library in a manuscript known as the Historia Rerum Anglicarum. From the Anglo-Norman style of its French, it appears to have been composed in the mid thirteenth century, probably before the death of Fulk’s son at the Battle of Lewes in 1265, as he is said in the author’s preface to still be alive.

Fulk le Fitz Waryn focuses mainly on Fulk’s life in the three years between 1200 and 1203, when he was engaged in a guerrilla campaign against King John. The story opens with Fulk being portrayed as a descendant and rightful heir of King Arthur.

He shall have such great force and virtue,

But we know that Merlin

Said it for Fulk Fitz Warine;

For each of you may be sure

That in the time of King Arthur,

That was called White Land.

We are told that Fulk must repossess the White Land of the Welsh Borders that was once the land of Arthur, but that to accomplish this he must first recover the Grail. Fulk eventually discovers the Grail in a chapel adjoining his castle at Whittington, and on his deathbed asks for it to be placed in a priory he founded in nearby Alberbury.


1st view of the chapel where the Grail was found. Photo by Gary Tacagni.

We have seen how Grail romances describe the Grail kingdom as the White Land, and how the kingdom of Powys was called the White Land in Dark Age Welsh poetry. It is therefore not suprising to discover that Fulk’s castle at Whittington stands in what was once the heart of Dark Age Powys, about twenty mies northwest of Shrewsbury. This reference to the White Land suggests that the author of Fulke le Fitz Waryn must either have been familiar with the Grail romances, written just a few years before, or have had access to some separate, earlier material. Moreover, we are told the name of Arthur’s capital:

It was the White Town

Which is now called Whittington.

The author of Fulk le Fitz Waryn is telling us that Whittington, where Fulk’s castle stands, is the White town. Whittington is now in Shropshire, and until the seventh century the whole of Shropshire formed part of the British Kingdom of Powys. Although the Roman city of Viroconium was the original White town, it seems that the same name was applied to the new Powys capital once Viroconium was abandoned in  658. From the Tribal Hidage, the Saxon Taxation document compiled in the 660s, we find reference to the new capital of the reduced kingdom of Powys. It is described as being near Oswestry, at the head of the Great March. This is precisely the location of Whittington, in the Welsh border marches, about three miles east of Oswestry. We know from the Domesday book, compiled for William the Conqueror in the late eleventh century, that Whittington had been the name the Saxons had used for the town. Indeed, Whittington is derived directly from the English words “White Town.”


2nd view of the chapel said to have been the location of the Grail. photo by Gary Tacagni.

Fulke le Fitz Waryn does not portray Fulk merely as the heir of any Powysian King, however, but of King Arthur himself. Just like Arthur, the coming of Fulk has been prophesied by Merlin:

From the country the wolf issued,

As the wise Merlin says,

And the twelve sharp teeth

we have recognised by his shield.

He carried a shield indented,

As the sayers have devised;

In the shield there are twelve teeth

Of gules (gold) and of argent(silver)

Fulk’s shield bears a design of twelve teeth, six above and six below, resembling the open mouth of an angry wolf.This, says Merlin, is the hero’s mark:

A wolf will come from the White land;

Twelve teeth he will have sharp,

Six beneath and six above.

To find out more regarding this subject you will need to buy a copy of Graham Phillips book, “The Chalice of Magdalene” published by Bear and Company ISBN 159143038-0 priced at $16.00

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