The Grail Trail

Anglesey is an island off the coast of Wales which seems to be surrounded in myths and legends, one such legend involves a life sized wooden head of Christ which was said to be an exact likeness of him. It was said to have been carved by Nicodemus and brought here by Joeseph of Arimathea and perhaps this explains the town named Holyhead which can be found on the island. There is also circumstancial evidence that points to the fact that Joseph of Arimathea and the Virgin Mary travelled to Great Britain after the cruxifiction. This idea is supported by two books in the Vatican library and also the twelfth century Grail Romances, also according to the British monk Gildas writing in the mid sixth century he claimed that some of Jesus’s original disciples came to Britain in the last year of Tiberius’ reign which was AD 37.

In 597 St Augustine came to Britain as an envoy of the Roman Catholic church. He wrote to the Pope telling him that on an island in the West of the country there was a church where some of the original disciples of Christ had worshipped, this church had been dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Until the eigth century churches were dedicated to Saints whose tombs they were said to house, however this church suggests that there was a very real link to the Virgin Mary in person.

The medieval accounts of Joseph of Arimathea’s journey to Britain say that he founded his church on the isle of Avalon, and here resided for fifteen years with the Virgin Mary. It was on an island in the West of Britain that Augustine was shown the mysterious church which was said to house Mary’s mortal remains. It would seem therefore that Augustine’s island and Avalon are one and the same.

It has been speculated that King Arthur was based on a historical person, a fifth century warrior ruler of Powys named Owain Ddantgwyn, his name in battle would have been known as “the Bear” which would have been translated as Arth. Owain’s Father’s name would have been known as “Terrible Head Dragon” which in Welsh can be translated as “Uthr Pen Dragon” which is very similar to Uther Pendragon who was Arthur’s Father in the Arthurian legends. The twelfth century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that Arthur’s final battle was at Camlan. It was apparently a historical event which the Dark Age Welsh annals record in 539.

The Camlan valley where Arthur fought his final battle.

The most likely site for this battle was along the Powys-Gwynedd border as it existed at the time. In precisely this location can be found the only place in the British Isles that is still called Camlan, a bleak and remote mountain pass 8 kilometres East of Dolgellau. It was at this battle when Arthur became mortally wounded and it is said that he was taken to the isle of Avalon, this would mean that the isle would have had to have been somewhere close by. In one of Augustine’s letters to the Pope he states that,  “in the western confines of Britain there is a certain Royal island of large extent, surrounded by water, abounding in all the beauties of nature and necessaries of life”. There is only one island anywhere near Camlan that fits the description, the island of Anglesey about fifty kilometres to the North West. Apart from being a large island it was also a Royal island as it was the seat of the Dark Age Kings of Gwynedd. Furthermore it was in the “White Land”, which is where the Grail romances say that Avalon was to be found. In Old Welsh the name Gwynedd actually means “White Land”. It is thought that Arthur would have had to have been taken to Penmon Priory on Angelesy for his wounds to have been treated, this is thought to have been the” Nine Maidens sanctuary” in the Grail romances.

Penmon Priory where Arthur may have been taken after he was mortally wounded at the battle of Camlan.

If Joseph of Arimathea’s church was on Anglesey and it housed Mary’s remains then it would be the most hallowed shrine on the island. The two most important Christian leaders on Anglesey just prior to Augustine’s visit would have been Abbots Seiriol and Cybi, they are said to have made a daily pilgrimage to a holy well at the centre of the island. The well at the village of Llanerchymedd seems to be central on the island and it is thought the church here could be the oldest on the island, and it could stand on the site where Joseph of Arimathea built the first church, also this church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Llanerchymedd church – the word Llanerch refers to a clearing containing a chapel or monastry, the word medd means mead. Mead is made from honey, and we learn from the Folie Romance, “In the chapel of St Mary that is fair, where the abundant vessel (Grail?) did bring abundant honey to the bees…”

According to the twelfth century historian William of Malmesbury, Agustine left his assistant Paulinus behind at the church to help with its repair. Near Tre-Ysgawen House, just 4 kilometres from Llanerchymedd is a marker stone dating from the period of Augustine’s visit. On it is an inscription which confirms Paulinus presence in the area. If Mary’s remains were once housed in Llanerchymedd church they would probably have been removed when the Vikings invaded the East of the island in the tenth century. The remains of Pabo, a sixth century King of Gwynedd had also seemingly been buried at Llanerchymedd church and had been removed to nearby Lanbabo. Perhaps Mary’s remains were removed at the same time.

The small isolated church at Llanbabo, were the Virgin Mary’s remains taken here along with St Pabo’s remains for safe keeping?

Romantic literature of the Middle Ages portrayed Joseph of Arimathea as the Grail Guardian. Although many different artefacts were depicted as Grails in medieval works, in the Joseph story the Holy Grail was the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. It was said to have contained a few drops of Christ’s blood, and Joseph had been charged by Jesus himself to care for it after his death. In the Bible Joseph of Arimathea is seemingly charged by Jesus not with the safety of the Grail but with the safety of his Mother. In the legend Joseph flees Palestine with the Holy Grail. It is possible that the Grail was being used to symbolize the Virgin Mary – the vessel that brought Christ into the world.

There is a Grail legend associated with Llanbabo church where Mary’s bones may have been relocated. According to an account originally compiled by the Flemish writer Willem van Hulst around 1200, Madoc, a Prince of Gwynedd discovered the Grail at Llanbabo church. When the Normans threatened to invade his kingdom he evidently removed it to a new place of safety. It is possible that this tradition of Madoc and the Grail may mean that he was responsible for laying Marys bones to rest. In the story he is said to have rehidden the Grail at the place where the sixth century Abbot Cybi was believed to have ascended to heaven. The Dark Age tradition of Cybi’s ascension seems to place the event at a now overgrown holy well at Llanerchymedd, the same well where he and Seiriol are said to have met at.

After many hours searching I was able to discover the holy well, the Virgin Mary’s resting place is thought to be 3 metres to the side of this well.

Beside the well is what appears to a grave marked with two stones, a head and a foot stone. The smaller of the stones is inscribed with the astrological glyph for Virgo the Virgin, perhaps this does indeed mark Mary’s final resting place! A recent geophysical survey of the site confirms a disturbance resembling the dimensions of a grave!

On the shores of lake Alaw can be found Lanbabo church which was dedicated to St Pabo. Madoc ap Owain joined the monastry at Penmon and later became priest of Llanbabo church, it is at this time when it is claimed he discovered the Holy Grail. “When Madoc was in old age he discovered here the most illustrious Grail, and fearing the English would lay waste to the island returned it to the Cornu Copia where the blessed St Cybi ascended”. Aslo at this church a rectangular slab was unearthed in 1730 and upon it was a carving of St Pabo, he was depicted holding a rose in his hand which is a clear reference to the Virgin Mary (Rosary), this was said to represent Pabo’s Queen, could this be another reference to the Virgin Mary.

After cleaning the dirt and slime off this stone a greek glyph can be seen which represents Virgo the Virgin. I apologise to any Catholics who may read this, and this is just an assumption but could this be the footstone of the Virgin Mary’s grave, marking the resting place of her earthly remains?


5 Responses to “The Grail Trail”

  1. This is really interesting, its so nice to hear about all the history and finding , well done gary.

  2. Everything you’ve said is right except St cybi’s ascension place, and I think I know where that was.

  3. I will be visiting Wales in a few days. Can you provide instructions of how to find the holy well where Mary may be buried? Thanks

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