The apostles have gathered in this upper room in the night, with the incense and the candles, and chanted some psalms of David. After this chant, they have partaken “of pure [or venerated?] breads and the golden chalice that Simon the Leper has had given to Jesus Christ, and the wine after having mixed (it) with warm water, as we shall tell clearer elsewhere” (чистыя [this word is subtracted under the titlo and could be alternatively read as честныя] хлебы и чашу златую. юже бе дал симон прокаженыи иисус христу. и растворивше с теплою водою вино. якоже инде скажем яснее; B 87 / P 205-206, quote at 206). This sentence has a problematic syntax (the mixed wine is enumerated as if it is a separate item from the chalice) and ends exactly at the end of fragment 1. The most likely explanation of this irregularity is an insertion of the last phrase (about the warm water) by the anti-Latin Byzantine editor: indeed, in 1054 and shortly after, the Byzantine rite of zeon (pouring the hot water into the consecrated chalice) was an important part in the anti-Latin polemics.
The most precious detail in this account is, in every sense of the word, the golden chalice. Its first feature is that it was preserved in the upper room of Sion (where our account locates the apostolic liturgical gatherings). The chalice of the Last Supper preserved in Sion has a long tradition of its own. Our text does not claims explicitly that the gold chalice was that of the Last Supper, but it would not have been implied otherwise, because our text provides an account of the liturgical practice of the apostles between the Last Supper and the Pentecost located in the upper room where the Last Supper took place.
Indeed, this chalice is, in all branches of the tradition, precious. Nevertheless, in our particular case, the Sion chalice has other features that so far were never known from the documents of the first millennium: (1) this chalice belonged to Jesus personally, and (2) he acquired it as a gift from Simon the Leper. The earliest witnesses of these features known so far are the verse and prose recensions of the Joseph d’Arimathie romance ascribed to Robert de Boron (otherwise known under the modern title Le Roman de l’Estoire dou Graal) and approximately dated to 1200. This is already the second case where our Slavonic florilegium has a common source with the late twelfth-century French literature: the first case that became known already in 1886 is the chanson de geste dated to ca. 1190, Aspramont, which borrows in the seventh-century hagiographical dossier of St. Pancras of Tauromenium to which belong as well the Acts of Peter in our Slavonic florilegium (s. below, section 9). Therefore, French authors of the time of the Third Crusade (1189–1192) had an access to some of the seventh-century hagiographical legends
- Excursus: Some Jerusalem Legends in the Grail Cycle
Here we limit ourselves to the immediate context of the chalice motive in the Grail cycle. The chalice first appeared in two works whose mutual relationship is disputable, and the attribution to Robert de Boron, although traditional in modern scholarship, is not quite certain, namely, the prose and verse versions of the Joseph d’Arimathie. The prose version is known in numerous manuscripts, whereas the verse version in a unique. Probably, as Linda Gowans argued with new manuscript data in hands, the prose version was penned by Robert de Boron, whereas the verse version was created later by “…a poet who in the course of his search for rhyme and scansion both expanded his original and at times undermined its narrative cohesion”. I will quote the prose version first.
According to Robert de Boron’s story, Jesus was arrested at the very place of the Last Supper, and this place was not the Sion upper room but the house of Simon the Leper, which is implied to be located in Gethsemane. The localisation of the Last Supper at the very place of the arrest in Gethsemane, along with but alternative to the Sion localisation, appeared no later than in the early sixth century and continued to be known, at least, until the ninth century. There is no source mentioning Simon the Leper as the owner of the Gethsemane house, but, at least, one early sixth-century Jerusalem source witnesses that this alleged place of the Last Supper has been occupied earlier with sick people. If we still do not know the source attributing the Gethsemane house directly to Simon the Leper, this would hardly justify the view that all these details were invented by Robert de Boron.
The relevant part of the Joseph d’Arimathie is now rightly considered as inspired mostly by the Cura sanitatis Tiberii (CANT 69; approximately 6th cent.) and the Vindicta Salvatoris (CANT 70; approximately 7th cent.). These apocrypha, however, do not contain any motive related to the chalice.
As in our Evodius text, the chalice of the Last Supper belonged to Jesus. In the Joseph, it is not stated explicitly that Simon the Leper gave it to Christ, but it was used in Simon’s house. Thus, Robert de Boron followed the same tradition. The most relevant passages are the following:
|La ou Jesu fu pris chiés Simon si estoit laienz ses vessiaus la ou il sacrefioit. A la prise ot un Juif qui trova ce vaisel, si le prist… (p. 61).||Where Jesus was arrested, at Simon’s [home], there was his vessel in which he had celebrated. At the arrest was present a Jew who found this vessel and took it…|
|Leenz eut un veissel mout gent
Ou Criz feisoit son sacrement.
Uns Juis le veissel trouva
Chiés Symon, sel prit et garda,
Car Jhesus fu d’ilec menez
Et devant Pilate livrez.
(verses 395-400, p. 60)
|There was a very elegant/costly vessel
In which Christ had made his sacrament.
One Jew found the vessel
At Simon’s [home], then, took it to himself and kept,
When Jesus has been taken out of there
And brought before Pilate.
Then, this Jew gave the vessel to Pilate, and Pilate eventually gave it to Joseph of Arimathea. Passing the vessel to Joseph, Pilate stressed that this thing belonged to Jesus: …que je ne vel riens retenir de chose qui ce soe fust (p. 73, 75) “…because I do not want to keep anything what was his”; …qu’il o soe ne vouloit / Rien retenir qui Jhesu fust (vv. 514-515, pp. 72, 74) “…because he did not want to keep with him anything what belonged to Jesus”.
The existence of an apocryphal source behind these passages of the Joseph d’Arimathie was first supposed by Evgenij Vasil’evich Anichkov (1866–1937) in an article that has been completely rejected by the scholarly consensus almost immediately after its publication. Not that it did not deserve it, but Anichkov’s supposition of an apocryphon underlying this episode is now exactly confirmed.
Among the legends about the chalice of the Last Supper, we do not know the one that transmits this chalice to Joseph of Arimathea, even though it is unlikely that Robert de Boron arbitrarily handled the chalice to Joseph. The Jerusalem hagiographical dossier of a vessel containing the blood issued from the dead body of Jesus reached us in a much-distorted form within the dossier of martyr Baripsabas. His martyrdom is preserved in very short summaries and references that contradict each other. The modest figure of monk Baripsabas is paralleled in more than modest kind of vessel he used for Jesus’s blood, a pumpkin. Nevertheless, originally Baripsabas was, in Second Temple Jewish and Early Christian traditions, a figure of a divinised High Priest. His place in the actual Byzantine calendar, September 10, still refers to Yom Kippur, Tishri 1o, and, therefore, to a ritual involving the blood and performed uniquely by the High Priest. It seems that in the same manner as the divinised High Priest devolved into a humble monk, his precious chalice, preceding the fate of Cinderella’s carriage, turned into a pumpkin.
A Byzantine legend of Joseph of Arimathea keeping a vessel with Jesus’s blood must have existed being an alternative to the legend of martyr Baripsabas. The latter is available to us in scattered fragments, whereas the former is (still?) unavailable at all.