Secrets of Urgell

It may surprise Arthurian scholars who associate the Holy Grail with the "Matter of Britain" that the word grail originated in Urgell (Spain) according to the experts (1), and that nine churches in the Pyrenees above La Seu d'Urgell used to have paintings of the grail (2). The Canadian historian Joseph Goering writes that such images "are found nowhere else in Christendom: the Virgin Mary holding a sacred vessel." They were created fifty years before the poet Chrétien de Troyes invented grail romance who has a virgin holding the grail for the first time in literature (3). Joan Vallhonrat, a friend of Picasso, copied some of these paintings in 1908, but when reports about this unique treasure were published, the churches could no longer be protected at their isolated locations in the mountains (4). The frescoes were covered with a transparent glue and peeled off from the plaster and are exhibited today at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) in Barcelona and rated as the finest examples of Romanesque art in the world. The most famous of these paintings is the "Pantocrator" from Sant Climent de Taüll, which was created eight hundred years ago and features Christ with such a stunning facial expression that it equals the best of modern art! Because of objections to the removal of these masterworks, painters had to restore the empty walls with copies in the 1960s. These close-ups of the "grail virgin" show the difference between the original and copy, which explains why they were replaced by (fancy) projections of digital recreations:

Art historians connect the above fresco to grail romance, but independent of the etymological link of the word "graal" to Urgell. Chandler R. Post writes in History of Spanish Painting (Harvard, 1930, p.195) that the vessel in Mary's hand "has been tentatively explained as the Holy Grail because Montserrat in Catalonia is connected with this legend and because the vessel seems to be filled with the Sacred Blood emitting miraculous rays." Otto Demus supports this identification in Romanische Wandmalerei (München, 1968, p.160): "The Virgin... holds up a dish filled with the red glowing blood of Christ, a reminder that Catalonia was one of the centers of the cult of the Grail." While this one is rather light, they omit that the cult is about a Black Madonna, but it is an important painting because the others show Mary with vessels of differen shapes, the Holy Grail of popular culture (5). The bowl from Taüll confirms the etymology of "gradalis-gradal-graal" (6) and is mirrored at nearby Santa Maria where the wisemen use such bowls for their gifts, which are strangely unlike the traditional myrrh, frankincense and gold. (Some images can be enlarged by clicking on them.) We can also see that Mary tilts her bowl slightly to the left, towards Christ high above her left shoulder. This raises the question of what Mary might be signaling with her right hand, is it because the rays are hot or because her bowl has a secret message? Here are two details of foolish virgins (7) and apostles (8) that show how popular hand signals were at the time!

But why does Mary's facial expression seem so strained – is it because her lips are sealed? Someone without an art background wouldn't even notice the subtle effect. Sealing wax or glue are difficult to paint but stitches are easy! Her fiery bowl (9) relates to Christ in Majesty above her with the Book of Life announcing EGO SVM LVX MVNDI (I am the light of the world). He is surrounded by angels and animals, symbols of the Tetramorph, and ready to exit his dualistic mandorla. In view of such a dramatic scenario, it is understandable that a history professor wouldn't notice the subtle lines on Mary's lips. Goering reveals that he had neither studied art nor literature and admits humbly to "poaching" in an homage of his teachers at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto. We poached as well by copying the grail virgin from his book at first, where the stitches look like jpeg-distortions, but the MNAC provided us kindly with a better reproduction (10). The close-up of Mary's mouth at left is enhanced to show the actual brush strokes across both lips. It is an open question if the painter wanted to depict actual stitches as vertical lines would seal the lips as well. Although paintings with such lips have not been found in other Romanesque churches, most experts we were able to contact dismiss them as an artist's personal style to depict a mouth. (See Appendix for side-by-side comparisons).

The other church in the village, Santa Maria, features the traditional depiction of the Virgin Mary with little Jesus on her lap, which makes us wonder why she is only lined up with apostles at St Climent. This detail shows the wisemen at her side and, yes, below two (!) Stars of Bethlehem, as we can see at right. They wear exotic miters with three fleurs-de-lys on top that look like crosses, which is an interesting ambiguity because they could either be kings or Magi! The Church revised their image as heretic magicians in the early Middle Ages by renaming them ¨Holy Three Kings¨, and their royalty was preached from every pulpit until the Reformation when Bible translations became available to the public and restored them as Magi. By that time, they were celebrated in many parts of Europe as the "Magic Kings" (reyes magos, rois mages), but Sta Maria de Cap d'Aran and Sta Maria d'Aneu (11) show the Magi with conical caps, which makes them independent from Byzantine art where they usually wear Phrygian caps like in this famous mosaic in Ravenna. Here is another challenge for historians and a major break-through for our study: At Sta Maria d'Aneu, the Magi wear robes with designs of the "fiery" and "watery" triangles we feature since the 1980s. (At left is a detail which can be enlarged by clicking on it.) The Magi on the other side of Mary wears a design that could be interpreted as the sun within a planetary triange, which would symbolize the fiery triangle next to the evening sun on Feb. 25, 6 BCE. (One reason why scholars may have overlooked these paintings is that France and Spain were largely disconnected above the Val d'Aran until two tunnels were built in 1948 and 2007, see Viella Tunnel.)

Back to Goering who ignores the esoteric symbolism of the Grail Virgin and simply links her to the Gregorian Reform. He interprets the red-hot rays as "The grace of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost," but concedes that "sacraments of oil, chrism and consecration; the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist; each and all of these meanings, and others too, might be represented..." After insisting that the poet Chrétien had no idea what a grail really was, he goes on to feature the consecration of the churches in Taüll by Bishop Ramon of Roda and Barbastro. Almost an entire chapter covers the life and works of this extraordinary man, which allows him to reconstruct the ceremony of the consecration. However, Goering admits "One might even imagine that the Grail processions as described by Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach owe something to this public liturgy" and naming a church after "St. Clement, the famous first-century bishop of Rome and successor of St Peter" and adding the relics of St. Cornelius are "meaningful choices," and he concludes:

"Whatever the message intended by this choice of patron saint and of precious relics, there can be no doubt that the consecration of the church of St. Clement in 1123 was an event of even more than usual importance in the valleys of the Pyrenees." (12)

Goering would have been more enlightened about the consecration had he checked the vita of Ramon in Spanish sources. The article "San Ramón, el obispo desterrado" reveals that he refused to support the wars of king Alfonso the Battler (13) and protected the Muslims, Jews and heretics in his diocese. Based on the accusation that Ramon "allowed the Muslims and Jews to prosper," the king gave the bishop of Huesca a detachment of soldiers who killed the entourage of Ramon and expelled him from Barbastro. He was able to hide in a cave near Roda where he lived for three years as a hermit until the bishops of Urgell and Barcelona restored him to Roda, at least. Only then could he consecrate the churches in Taüll and include the alleged messages for posterity. He may have saved them from destruction afterward by joining the blood-thirsty king against the Muslims in the South to tend to injured and displaced victims. These acts of wisdom and compassion are quite a grail message, which Goering seems to have overlooked!

Visitors can buy a booklet in the major languages at the MNAC, which was published by the University of Lleida (14) and offers pictures of St Climent's apse which are available on-line. We learn that nine Romanesque churches of the region became part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 2000, and that the inferior copies of the early 1960s were removed during a major restoration between 2008 and 2010. During the process, many new images were discovered which have remained on site. They show also a photo from 1904 when the apse was still covered up by a 17th century altarpiece. The detail at left is interesting for several reasons: Only Christ is visible below the ceiling, but the saints with Mary and the grail are masked by a wide band. (Based on our research, Jeroni Pujades or Pierre de Marca could have arranged this cover-up because the Spanish Inquisition was still active at the time.) Surprisingly, this altarpiece seems to have inspired the towers of the "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona, the famous church of Antoni Gaudi, yet none of the experts bring it up!

It is also strange that the authors of the booklet explain in chapter 8, "Reading the Artwork," some of its messages down to specific details, but avoid anything controversial. They feature the garments of Jesus "with edges simulating pearled adornments performed with detail and refinement, as if an exquisite goldsmith had made them to dress a king" (15), yet ignore that both garments have a wide border similar to the belt, with diamond-shaped rhombuses of two triangles. The same decorative band is worn by each apostle on either side of Mary, but only the rhombuses of James are divided openly into triangles! This symbolism is mirrored at Santa Maria and on the robes of the Magi at Santa Maria d'Aneu, which suggests that their esoteric symbolism is related. These experts don't even mention that most saints hold up books, which may allude to gospels that didn't make it into the official bible. They don't even dare to mention the row of colorful swastikas below the apostles at Sant Climent, which are on pp. 24/25 of the booklet, and can be reviewed at the above sample of the digital recreations. In spite of its abuses during the holocaust, the swastika has always been a sacred symbol of spiritual principles in Buddhism and Hinduism, and pertains to the revolving sun and continued creation in the Zoroastrian religion! Yet without even mentioning the Magi and their astrology, these authors came up with the simplistic suggestion that Bishop Ramon wanted to "remind medieval society – and thus our own – that the light to successfully lead and direct human existence is found in Christ in Majesty, represented in this apse;  almighty, the beginning and end of all things. And its pedagogy and teachings are very clear and basic: be like Abel (practice good) and go to heaven, or be like Cain (practice envy and badness) and go to hell."

How could Chrétien have heard about a grail mystery?

Chrétien's references to countess Marie de Champagne establish him at her court in the 1170s when Troyes was an important commercial and cultural center, and his choice of the word "graal," which Wolfram reduced to "gral," links to Catalonia in the south where "grala" is still used today. Troyes was also a religious center where Louis the Stammerer in 878 received the imperial crown from Pope John VIII, and where Pope Honorius II convened a Church Council in 1129, attended by Bernard of Clairvaux and the Knights Templar, which established their famous order. However, three other "major chivalric orders" existed already: the Knights Hospitaller (Order of Saint John), the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Knights of Saint Lazarus.

In the Middle Ages, when most people could neither read nor write, "knowledge meant power" (Nietsche) and the role of our electronic media was played by interest groups. Information was secure because of language barriers, which "heretics" could use to their advantage. Academics and churchmen used Latin to communicate,  Jews Hebrew and Yiddish, and travelling tradesmen like carpenters or masons developed secret hand signals. A representative of any of these groups (16) could have attended Chrétien's presentations at Marie's court and mentioned during an intermission a secret tradition near the Pyrenees, which may have even launched the so-called Cathar heresy.

According to our findings at St Pere de Rodes, the French master based his "Conte du Graal" on the symbolism of Peter's relics and vessel with Christ's blood, which were allegedly lost at the site of the monastery. Based on his description of the "Magic Sword," we concluded that the poet visited the site around 1177, the Peace of Venice, and learned from the monks that pope Alexander III had ordered the removal of all traces of the centuries-long search for the relics (17). However, because these searchers profited spiritually from their loss, they had apparently become iconoclasts and withdrew to the High Pyrenees.

If Chrétien followed their trail, he had to start with the monastery Sta Maria de Ripoll in the Pyrenees, which was the major, cultural center at the time. He would have learned about its founder Guifré el Pilos and the legends of Montserrat, which was under its jurisdiction. After questioning the twisted legends of the Black Madonna, including the one about Guifré in Flanders, he crossed the Pyrenees to St Miquel de Cuixà near Prades, where this famous knight of the ninth century was allegedly born. Guifré was a son of the celebrated count Sunifred of Urgell and Barcelona, which would take the poet to Urgell next. He learns there about the "Arianism" of the Visigoths and the "adoptionist heresy" of Bishop Felix, and would have wondered if later documents about "gradals" connect to dualism, connecting St Pere de Rodes, which was formerly known as "de Roda", to Roda in the High Pyrenees. During this search, he would have visited another church by the name of St Pere in Urgell and studied Christ in Majesty in the apse, with his mother Mary below him and also lined up with the apostles, which eliminates Mary Magdalene as promoted by current novelists. (The above detail includes St John).

Perhaps, a Cathar revealed to him that there is another riddle about two churches, which are not named "Sant Pere," and which can only be solved by travelling "per-ce-val" through a valley named "Val d'Aran" (valley of valleys) in the High Pyrenees to the "Val de Boi" where Taüll is located. This conjecture allows us to imagine what the French poet was thinking when he approached these odd looking churches:


He would have been riding per-ce-val for days with the idea of a Fisherking going through his mind, because Peter's bones and a cup with blood were rotting in a cave which no one could find. He may have had visions of a "Perceval" and the castrated papacy, and didn't believe his eyes when he saw the phallic towers of the tiny churches! This didn't make sense if the Vatican had lost the reliquiae insignes, the main relics of St Peter, which excavations under Pius XII confirmed in the 1940s. Chrétien learned apparently on site that three similar churches were constructed at the same time, Sta Eulàlia in Erill la Vall, and Sta Maria and St Climent in Taüll. These pictures reveal that they are almost identical which suggests that the poet would have asked why each tower was added on a different side. (Climent is on top, Eulàlia at left and Maria at right.)

The oversized towers reminded him probably of the phallic symbolism of the tall pinnacles at Montserrat and he wondered if the cult of its "Black Madonna" had found refuge in the Pyreenees. He questioned therefore why the "trinity" of three churches completes with the martyrdom of a virgin and why the "Descent from the Cross" is celebrated in her name. But before Chrétien could develop a meaningfull concept, he had to start with "dualism" because the churches in Taüll link Jesus to Mary and celebrate Epiphany with the Magi. He noticed that two colorful birds at Sta Maria are marked "PAVO" (peacock), a symbol of eternal life, yet lack the usual peacock eyes. They are seen drinking from a colorful chalice between three eight-pointed stars, which is a direct connection to the Magi next to Mary (18). Hence, this version of the Holy Grail, which seems to combine the Last Supper with the phoenix legend, culminates in the fiery bowl at St Climent and may have inspired the cosmic concept of Chrétien's last work.

As far as we know, grail romance started about fifty years after Bishop Ramon consecrated these churches at Taüll, which is a strong indication that there was a secret tradition the poet could draw on. A grala emitting rays at St Climent could relate to Plato's "divine mixing bowl of life" and the above chalice anticipates the Eucharist symbolism of Robert de Boron! Hence, the original seekers who had come from Sant Pere de Rodes, which is located between the town of Roses and the Cap de Creus (Cape of Crosses), may have called themselves "Rosicrucians." Furthermore, it is quite telling that Chrétien opens his grail poem with ambiguous riddles. – If the towers were inspired by the Gregorian Reform, their phallic symbolism would have to be explained as "papal Machtkunst" (19), which could reduce the ambiguous nom de plume "Christian of the Trinity" as scheinheilig." – Nevertheless, the art historians of the MNAC attribute the paintings of Taüll to the Gregorian reform (20), which the poet seems to confirm on the surface, but he plays with "Alexander" in his foreword to force his audience to either identify the Mazedonian conqueror or the controversial pope, who are both mentioned in the annals as Alexander III the Great. If this interpretation is correct, bishop Ramon was not only a protector of the Muslims, Jews and heretics in his diocese, which would include the Cathars, but initiated in the so-called "grail cult" himself. Hence, a poet of Chrétien's caliber would have been able to "read" the esoteric messages of Ramon much better than anyone today, as we'll explore next.


What could Chrétien have experienced?

We used Google earth to visualize the "crime scene" at Montserrat and will attempt the same with the valley of Boi. Until our field research we have to rely on Goering (21) who describes how bishop Ramon "and his entourage travelled" in 1123: "Following the right (west) bank of the Noguera de Tor River, they came to the village of Erill la Vall in the Boi Valley... There they crossed the river, passed through the village of Boi, the traditional political center of the region, and climbed another three kilometers to reach the village of Taüll at the head of the valley... Raimund had come to dedicate two churches, one at the outskirts of the village, and the other about 400 meters (450 yards) further up the road, in the central plaza. He began with the church on the outskirts, which was destined to be the recipient of an important endowment..." The historian makes the trip of Ramon seem a bit grandiose by using terms like "entourage" and "plaza," because the three kilometers are, according to Google, a direct line. Ramon had to take his group up a long winding road, with mules pulling heavy carts and many people following on foot. The use of "plaza" would remind the superficial reader of a town in Italy, while these were tiny villages of about twenty, primitive buildings with few windows because of the harsh climate. Only if we consider their location can these oversized church towers in a remote part of the Pyrenees tell us their message!

Chrétien would have ridden up the same winding path to Taüll, and read on a column at St Climent, which is still preserved, that the church is named after this pope of the first century and that the relics of St Cornelius were placed in the altar during the consecration in 1123 (22). As a man of culture, the poet knew that pope Clemens was a successor of St Peter who had introduced the phoenix legend to Christianity (23), and that pope Cornelius (d. 243) praised the power of the Church to reconcile apostates (see Franciscans), which Bishop Ramon practiced with substantial opposition and is confirmed by the message of love, compassion and pluralism in early grail romance.

The poet realized that the bishop had a special "dramaturgy" in mind by consecrating St Climent first and Sta Maria on the next day to separate the different messages of the churches. By celebrating Christ in Majesty, he used OT Prophecy to establish that the "Cosmic Christ" reaches from the alpha to the omega at St Climent. Yet with his humble self-description as the "Son of Man," which Ezekiel uses 97 times, Jesus defined himself as human. Hence, Jesus is shown before his incarnation (24) and not during the Second Coming, which is developed from Epiphany, the Cucifixion, and the Last Judgment at Sta Maria. This is signaled clearly by Bishop Ramon because he has the "agnus dei" (Lamb of God) depicted as a wild beast with seven eyes at St Climent, and as a sacrificial lamb at Sta Maria.

In fact, these walls tell stories that were as entertaining eight hundred years ago as "Jesus Christ, Superstar" or Mozart's "Magic Flute" today! There are actually so many ambiguities going on at St Climent that Ramon would have raised his hands and replied to critics that any questions will be answered the next day at Sta Maria! This takes us to the painting of Lazarus at right which looks like a masterpiece of Picasso. It is not the sick man Jesus raised from the dead in John 11:1-43, which would belong to Santa Maria and the New Testament. It is the beggar Lazarus who dies and stays dead, according to Luke 16:19–31. What's interesting about this ambigous challenge by Ramon is that the parable proposes that identity and memory would remain after death, which could explain where Jesus might have been before he was born in Bethlehem! The cosmic theme continues with  the Tetramorph to the right and left of Christ where the Evangelists are still angels with wings and eyespots, and paired with the man, lion, ox and eagle of Ezekiel's prophecies.

Until now, January 2018, our conjectures have to rely on a visit to MNAC in Barcelona and images from the internet, pending our updates in the future. The above painting of Lazarus may link to the Order of Saint Lazarus, founded around 1119 at a leper hospital in Jerusalem, and later renamed Knights of Malta. This could relate to the peacock at the upper left of the apse, according to the chart, which symbolizes eternal life. It would be consistent with our theories that it has eyespots because those at Sta Maria have none. Until they are checked in situ, another ambiguity remains unresolved: there is apparently one exception at Santa Maria (at left), which may have been added during or after the consecration in 1123. We can only speculate that the missing of "God's eyes" caused a discussion and the master of St Climent may have been asked to add them himself, as the style suggests. Although it is difficult to interpret paintings that are damaged or incomplete, one entertaining ambiguity stands on firmer ground: The Magi reappear in a painting with King Herod to the right of the apse:

It is the famous scene in the gospels when Herod meets the Magi secretly and asks for "the exact time the star had appeared" (Mt. 2:7). All four men wear identical crowns and any fool could be persuaded that the Magi are kings, which one wiseman seems to prove by pointing at Herod's crown, as the detail at right shows. However we take the "fiery triangles" (or pyramids) of these crowns as a secret message and spend more time with the paintings: The first Magi at right holds a red bowl which may be a way to explain away its fiery version at St Climent. The cup in the middle is scratched out for some reason, which leaves the wiseman next to Herod. Had he held his gift in the left hand like the first Magi, it would have been easy for him to point at Herod. However, the painter got creative here; He almost breaks the left arm of the poor Zoroastrian by forcing it across his chest to the right so he can point that way. His contortion makes us realize that he is not pointing at Herod at all! It is a trompe l'oel because the detail at left reveals that he points at the two birds with the stars and chalice above the arch, which closes the circle with the epistle of St Clemens by confirming that the Magi followed the phoenix to Bethlehem. (Our Phoenix Myth offers this theory since the 1980s!)  

In the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate, Biblical stories were often displayed in churches the way comic strips communicate, and the paintings at Taüll confirm it. Hence, when Chrétien began to "read" the paintings like a book, he entered from the "peacock" at the upper left of the apse of Sant Climent to reach pope Climent and Peter, and contemplated before the vision of Christ if there is any difference between reincarnation and resurrection? He wondered what the hand of God above his head could mean, and even higer the "Agnus Dei".  He had never seen the Lamb of God with seven eyes and without the cross on its back and got curious. Revelation 5:6 came to mind, where the seven eyes signify the seven spirits of God, but this lamb is jumping and neither bleeding nor with seven horns, which evokes Ezekiel. His prophecies start with God opening the heavens in Babylon, revealing cherubs with faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle with wings that were "spread out upward: each had two wings, one touching the wing of another creature on either side, and two wings covering its body" (Ez. 1:1, 10-12). When Ezekiel saw the cherubim later "Their entire bodies, including their backs, their hands and their wings, were completely full of eyes... (Ez. 10:12). Ezekiel is dated around 597 as the first exiled prophet in Egypt, but his visions are inspired by Isaiah (5:1-3) from a hundred fifty years earlier: "I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his glory." (25)


Chrétien looked at the hand of the Almighty, reaching through the painted window below the seven-eyed beast, and began to search for a symbol of the Holy Spirit like the usual dove or a flame. He studied Jesus and the row of apostles below him, and the red dots on their cheeks and foreheads made them look strangely lifelike. When his eyes reached Mary's vessel, he began to meditate because the flames seem like radiation and not like fire. After some time has passed, the red dots in her face made her seem to come alive and inspired the higher, cosmic theme of "Le Conte du Graal" where this transfiguration returns in Perceval's trance, which we´ll address below. He develops his basic concept from Perceval's father, who is wounded between the legs, and his "spiritual father," the Fisherking, who suffers from the same wound. The dualism continues with Perceval's failure at the Grail Castle and Gauvin's problems at the Castle of Wonders. These are two sides of a coin, so to speak, that need to be fused into one to find the truth, as Wolfram will clarify! The wise hermit is apparently fashioned after Joan Gari at Montserrat and fused with Ramon who preached this from his cave. Hence, Chrétien seems to have based the hermit's wisdom and grail procession on Ramon's writings, as Goering suggests, but what the Canadian historian failed to realize is that the French poet preserved the grail mystery. 

In the poem, the procession begins also with "two acolytes (assistants) carrying candelabras," but instead of priests with crosses and oils, a virgin follows with a grail – a first in literature! Although the poet names the object a "graal," he uses the red radiation on the painting to transform the simple bowl into shiny gold and decorates it with "the most precious stones on earth and in the seas" from Revelation. To strengthen the symbolism of the macrocosm, Chrétien notes that the grail shines so brightly, the light of the candles at the Grail Castle faded like the stars when the Sun or Moon are rising (26). To make sure his audience gets the point, that the grail is about Sun symbolism and that the precious stones represent the planets, a second virgin follows with a silver platter, which adds the Moon. The red color is separated from the bowl and symbolized by a ¨blanche lance¨ during the banquet, which a knave brings from another room. Perceval notices a drop of blood that flows from the metal point of the lance and runs down the shaft to the knave's hand, which distracts him from asking the all-important question. It is obviously a reference to Longinus and the crucifixion, which links to the red dots in Mary's face and inspires the most enchanting scene in the poem, when Perceval falls into a trance and has a vision of his beloved Blanchefleur. A falcon had attacked a flock of white geese and injured one, and three drops of blood melt the fresh snow – forming a triangle that transforms into her face. 

From our current point of view as "history detectives," the Tetramorph and many wings and eyes represent the astrology of the ancients. Therefore, Wolfram's adapation of Chrétien's poem features the phoenix and some planetary positions as major aspects of the grail secret. This culminates in a metamorphosis of "melting" in the Sun, by three drops of blood in the microcosm and by a planetary triangle in the macrocosm. Our study of the Star of Bethelehem establishes that this triangle formed at the horizon in the evening of Feb. 25, 6 BCE, and disappeared in the setting Sun. 

A comparison of independent sources shows that the planetary triangle was interpreted by different cultures as Phoenix or Christmas Star, which could have worried the successors of Pope Clemens. They may have promoted the Magi to Holy Kings, prohibited the study of planets and stars, and ordered the learned monk and scholar Dionysius Exiguus in 525 CE to separate these events by four years (27) – but Wolfram understood the alleged "error" and proposed that the powers of the grail enable the reincarnations of the phoenix. This would mean that he interpreted the red rays of Mary's grail as its symbol! If our conjecture is valid,  an unknown radiation during certain line-ups of our solar system could have triggered the birth of Jesus, which the Church simplifies with the doctrine of a virgin birth. Whether true or false, this was apparently the opinion of Bishop Ramon and his followers! That the radiation fertilized an egg in Mary's body may be implied by the gifts of the Magi, a secret wisdom they could have shared in Bethlehem. How else could we explain the egg-shaped objects in the bowls of the Magi, at Sta Maria d'Arneu at left and Sta Maria de Taüll at right, which don't look at all like gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Mt. 2:11) in the gospel?

Back to St Climent, where the "peacock" at the upper left of the apse could be a phoenix linking to pope Clement who introduced the magic of this bird to Christianity. If we are on the right track, the German poet could have meditated before the image of Mary like Chrétien,  and then decided to celebrate her as "Lady Adventure" (frou âventiure) and praise "Meister Kyot" (laschantiure) for identifying her fiery vessel, who may have been Michael Scot. Both names happen to line up nicely! True or false, this is persuasive evidence that both poets interpreted Ramon's messages accordingly. What we don't know is how many of the paintings had been white-washed, and where the lance of Longinus was depicted, which preceeded the grail in both poems as a major element of the mystery. There are many white spaces at both churches, although there is a fragment of David and Goliath at Sta Maria, which alludes to the lineage of Jesus according to Matthew. Some depictions of the Last Judgment have also survived, yet there are none of the Crucifixion as far as we know until our field research.

Another unsolved mystery

According to Goering, there are no records of Ramon's consecrations, only an inscription on a column at St Climent, which identifies December 10, 1123, the pope of the first century and the relics of St Cornelius. This takes us to another esoteric message, which may be the greatest mystery of all: Why did Ramon ignore Sunday and then consecrate two churches on two subsequent days? This makes us question his dramaturgy and wonder what happened on the "third day," which could symbolize Christ's resurrection. In view of the phoenix myth, which is alluded to with Climent, it may be about reincarnation and a third consecration where the records are missing. This takes us back down the hill to Boi and the third identical church: Sta Eulàlia, consecrated to the patroness of Barcelona, which doesn't quite seem to fit our scenario. It is also strange that Goering ignores a church which is almost identical to the other two! If Chrétien used the symbolism of the Magic Sword to expose pope Alexander III, as we contend, the poet would have questioned the bare walls (as seen at left) and wondered why the frescos are missing, and why only wood carvings remain that could be from the other churches. Perhaps, he learned that the locals remembered its consecration to a virgin, which would imply that Sta Eulàlia replaced the Black Madonna of Montserrat. Even the "Descent" from the cross is a fitting theme because it would include Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea's recycling of the grail. This may be the missing scenario from Chrétien's grail procession about the drop of blood on the lance, which could mean that Longinus stopped a "Passover Plot." This mystery will be a focus of our studies in 2018 with field research in the Boi valley with the intention to document it in detail at this website.

Goering comes to different conclusions by ending his book with the trivial pursuit of a count Rotrou of the Perche as the most likely candidate for Chrétien's Perceval. If he is right, we came to the wrong place and should be heading North to follow up with his lavish praise of Helinandus, one of the most ardent preachers of the Albigensian Crusades. However, the magical mystery of the sealed lips and esoteric triangles keeps us in the Pyrenees a while longer to study Mont Verdera and the Val de Boi. In addition to the usual questions, we'll try to find out if the frescos relate to a Second Coming in the 9th century, what Jesus might really be signaling with his hand, and why a painting at Sant Pere de Burgal depicts the fiery grail as an enclosed relic – with Peter signaling exactly like Jesus and holding up two keys like Mary the Holy Grail. This grail parallels Peter's keys because her fiery relic is made up of two chalices, with the top one reversed – as if both Saints are posing for a poster to promote the kind of "dualism" Chrétien features in his poem. Hermetic messages that require a detour to the Pontifical Institutions at the Vatican and a closer look at the Christian "history" (éstoire) of Robert de Boron, whom we honor as the third originator of grail romance.

If you have enjoyed our wild speculations until here, even if they entertained you only like a medieval joust, you might be interested in the mystery of Santa Eulàlia! Pujades has left us many esoteric messages about the Urgell region, which led us even to suspect he had the apsis of Sant Climent covered up with the help of Pierre de Marca in the 17th century. When Eulàlia came to our attention in August, 2017, we realized that this virgin is featured repeatedly by Pujades as his favorite saint, yet we paid no attention to his comments at the time! This means that his entire work of eight volumes needs to be read again because there should be other hidden messages.



Every scholar we contacted about the vertical lines on Mary's mouth, at the MNAC and in other parts of Europe, is of the opinion that they are an artist's personal style to depict a mouth and that there is no indication that the lips are "sealed." (The only exception is Anita Rutz, an expert of icons in Germany and close friend!) However, the widespread criticism is easily disproven with close-ups of John, Jesus, and James (below) in the same fresco and by the same painter. For a better comparison we framed the refined head of Christ with two apostles who are painted in the same style as Mary, but enhanced by a higher contrast and tint to emphasize the details.

We have added this close-up of Bartholomew, who is next to Mary, to show there are no vertical lines over his lower lip either. Some critics pointed out that John´s lips have such lines, but they are caused by fine cracks in the plaster which run from his ear across the lips to the chin – and only the corners of the mouth have lines because he is beardless. Obviously, neither Jesus nor his three disciples have lines over their lower lips like Mary, which is conclusive evidence that her lips are meant to be sealed! In fact, it is probably the subtleness of the effect that preserved the fresco over the centuries, because the image would have been removed or whitewashed long ago! That so many depictions of Mary with a vessel survived in the Pyrenees could be an indication that some Church reforms never reached them.


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1. C. du Fresne du Cange; Glossarium, L. Favre, Niort 1885, Tom. IV, p. 91, and Joan Coromines, Diccionari Etimològic Complimentari de la Llegua Catalana, Vol. IV, Curial Edicions Catalanes, Barcelona, 1984, p.637.

2. Joseph Goering, The Virgin and the Grail, Origins of a Legend, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005), p. 70. It is rather curious that the historian accepts that "Mary is portrayed here as as first among equals (prima inter pares) in the Apostolic college" (p.101), yet the Council of Ephesus in 431 established her as "Mother of God" and the Romanesque period saw the construction of major Marian churches. That Ramon had her lined up with apostles at Sant Climent could mean they are still unborn at the time of the Old Testament.

3. Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurien Romances, tr. William W. Kibler, (London, 1991), pp. 7-8

4. Montserrat Pagès, the curator of MNAC, offers in Romanesque mural painting in Catalonia (2012) a most informative introduction, but without any references to the controversial grail context.

5. Chrétien described the grail as a "golden platter" as bright as the sun, Robert changed it to a "Paschal dish" from the Last Supper, and Wolfram reduced it to a "lapsit exillis," a stone from paradise. Decades later, other poets changed the grail to the Cup of the Last Supper, which was probably meant to enhance the myth with the transubstantiation treatise of Thomas Aquinas.

6.  Joan Coromines, ‘Apèndix sobre Greala i el Greal’ in idem, Diccionari Etimològic Complimentari de la Llengua Catalana (Barcelona 1980-), 10 vols to date, IV, pp. 637-641  at p. 637: ‘del cat. Greala “escudella” (cat. arcaic gradal, f.). La dada més antiga que es té del mot en qualsevol país es troba en una escriptura catalana, i més concretament urgellesa en latí en l’any 1010 (du C.): “ad Sancta Fide coenobio gradales duas de argento” […], d’Ermengarda, filla del comte Borrell de Barcelona, any 1030, tornem a trobar “vexela de auro et de argento, id sunt enapos V, et gradals II”’.

7. Sant Quirze de Pedret, see Romanesque Heritage by Peter Hubert whose spectacular website has been discontinued because of his death in 2017, which is a great loss. We are fortunate to have saved one of his files in pdf, which deserves some serious study! You'll note that he was one of the many experts who disagree with our theory of the "sealed lips," but kindly credits our website as one of his references.

8. Santa Maria de Mur, now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. See above, no. 4, the report of Montserrat Pagès to see how the preservation of Romanesque Art originated.

9. The fiery bowl may symbolize Plato's "Krater," a divine mixing bowl of life. See Henry Kahane, Renee Kahane, The Krater and the Grail: Hermetic Sources of the Parzival (Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, Vol 56), 1985.

10. Manuel Castiñeiras and Jordi Camps, Romanesque Art in the MNAC collections, in collaboration with Joan Duran-Porta, photographs by Matías Briansó, (Barcelona, 2008). They acknowledge the "Holy Grail" only once, in a reference to Sant Pere de Burgal (p. 28). It is difficult to explain why they single out an enclosed relic and ignore the well-known Virgin of Taüll.

11. The mural of Santa Maria de Cap d'Aran is now at the The Cloisters in New York, the one from Santa Maria d'Aneu at the MNAC in Barcelona.

12. Goering (see above No. 2), p. 78. He writes in footnote 13, p. 172, that "it is enough to repeat that nowhere else in Christian art, ouside this small area of the Pyrenees, do we find images of the Virgin Mary holding a fiery vessel, or a vessel of any kind." Aware of the fact that this argument disproves his own identification, he admits in the next footnote: "Some have asked whether it might not be Mary Magdalene rather than the Virgin Mary who is depicted here... Such a view would not affect the hypothesis of this book in any material way, but I am persuaded by authority (all art historians seem to agree) and by argument (for example, that Mary Magdalene is almost universally distinguished by her long, flowing hair with which she anointed Jesus' feet) that the figure represented here is indeed the Virgin Mary and not the Magdalene."

13. The Knights Templar had been received with enthusiasm by the Crown of Aragon. King Alfonso I the Battler, having no direct heir, bequeathed his dominions to be divided among the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, but this bequest was annulled by his subjects in 1131.

14. Ximo Company, Clara Lopez, Marina Bellmunt, Isidre Puig, Eloi de Tera, The Pantocrator of Sant Climent de Taüll: the light of Europe, English ed., (Lleida, 2016). An erudite theologian and art historian like Company is certainly qualified to address the message of St Climent. We find it rather suspect that the grail myth is not even brought up, which warrants research of his ties to the Bishop of Lleida and questions why he is so kind to Cain?

15. Ibid., p. 39. Their chart with the numerical identifications, p. 34, confuses the symbolism and has Luke with the eagle and John with a bull. We should add that the whole idea of the Tetramorph, of winged creatures that symbolize the alleged authors of the synoptic gospels as winged creatures with animal features, is somewhat incomprehensible. This was adopted by the Church in the fourth century and may have been an attempt to validate Ezekiel and eliminate the phoenix legends.

16. A visiting Cistercian or Templar would have been a good informant . The Catalan knight Arnau de Torroja (1118-1184) comes to mind, who was born near Urgell, joined the Knight Templars 1162 in Lleida, and became Grand Master when Chrétien worked at Marie's court. There is also the curious case of Jacob ben Meir (d. 1171) in Troyes, a leading participant in the rabbinical synods since about 1160. He is best known as Rabbenu Tam and one of the most renowned Ashkenazi Jewish rabbis and leading French Tosafists. When the famous philosopher Abraham ibn Ezra, who may have been one of Wolfram's sources, was traveling through France R. Tam greeted him in verse, whereupon Ibn Ezra exclaimed in astonishment, "Who has admitted the French into the temple of poetry?".  He could have been inspired by Chrétien and might have been in the company of Benjamin of Tudela.

17. According to Chrétien, the sword is covered by a scabbard of fancy Venetian gold-brocade, and breaks into three pieces if used wrongly, which Wolfram confirms. He adds that they can be fused by "Trebuchet" (three books?) where the source lies in darkness, which might identify the forgeries of St Pere de Rodes, St Miquel de Cuixa and Sta Maria de Montserrat. Our hypothesis gets independent support from German researchers in 2016: They write that "a good third" of the documents until the late 12th century about Louis the Pious are forgeries which misled historians in the past. (See link.)

18. The birds are clearly marked PAVO and "pavo real" is in modern Spanish a peacock. This makes it difficult for us to call it an ambiguity, but the signs of the Zodiac are depicted below Mary which Peter Hubert has documented, see above, No. 7, p. 68. And why is there a peacock in the far upper left of Sant Climent, see 33 on the chart, which we haven´t been able to verify on site yet? If Company is not confusing the two churches as he did Luke with John, the duality could be rather meaningful!

19.  Ernst Kitzinger, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 22, (Cambridge, 1972), p. 101. He doesn't mention the towers and applies "papal Machtkunst" to some art of the period.

20. Manuel Castiñeiras, et al., (see above No.10), p. 14

21. Goering (see above No.2), p. 77

22. Ibid., pp. 90-91. He offers the Latin text and an English translation.

23. Clement's only existing, genuine text is a letter to the Christian congregation in Corinth, often called the First Epistle of Clement or 1 Clement. The history clearly shows Clement as the author of this letter. It is considered the earliest authentic Christian document outside of the New Testament, and may pre-date the Gospel of Matthew. We mention in our study of the phoenix myth that Tacitus is a contemporary of Clement who writes that around 6 BCE "a bird called the phoenix, after a long succession of ages, appeared in Egypt and furnished the most learned men of that country and of Greece with abundant matter for the discussion of the marvelous phenomenon." Herodotus had studied the phoenix five hundred years earlier at Heliopolis and by the time Clement joined the discussion he was probably thinking of the Magi because he writes that the phoenix burned itself not only with myrrh, but also with frankinsense and other spices, and is reincarnated as a worm. Plutarch is another contemporary of Clement who adapted a riddle of Hesiod and allows us to calculate that the lifespan of the phoenix is 854 years, which identifies it as the same astronomical event in 6 BCE, commonly known as Star of Bethlehem.

24. Elaine Pagels, The gnostic Paul: gnostic exegesis of the Pauline letters, (Philadelphia, 1975). The noted scholar found evidence that a "secret wisdom" existed before the birth of Christ, which suggests that the first Christians had some unrecognized Gnostic beliefs, including St Paul and pope Clemens. Another valuable resource is her Penguin pocket book REVELATIONS, Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, (New York, 2012).

25. All our Biblical quotes are from Holy Bible, New International Version, (New York, 1978).

26. Chrétien vv. 3225-3229: “Atot le graal qu’ele tint, Une si granz clartez i vint Qu’ausi perdirent les chandoiles Lor clarté come les estoiles Quant li solauz lievre ou la lune.”

27. It was Kepler's genius that he, a Lutheran, could gain the support of a few Jesuits during the Counter Reformation, which not only saved his life but also his mother's, who was almost burned at the stake for witchcraft. Hence, he could only suggest that the Church miscalculated the birth of Christ by quoting the doctoral thesis of Laurentius Suslyga, a Polish Jesuit and astronomer: See Max Caspar, Johannes Kepler, Dritte Auflage, (Stuttgart, 1948), p. 179. English tr. by C. Doris Hellman: Max Caspar, Kepler, (Dover Edition, 1993 by Owen Gingerich and Alain Segonds), pp. 156, 228. Kepler could not dare to mention how widely the phoenix was discussed during early Christianity (see above, No. 23), and that an expert like Dionysius Exiguus would not miscalculate the birth of Christ, unless it was ordered by the Church. Part of the scam is Herod's date of death, which is kept as ambiguous as possible. It's almost a Polish joke that every modern astronomer, who writes about the Star of Bethlehem, perpetuates the alleged error!




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