.Sometimes great treasures are kept where you least expect them. The Chapel of the Holy Chalice in València Cathedral is one such place. Since 1916, it has displayed the cup that has generated the most legends, artistic and literary works; and one of the most admired and acclaimed relics by the Catholic Church: the Holy Grail, guarded since 1437 in the reconditorium of the Valencian Cathedral. Until its arrival at the Royal Palace of València in 1424 by King Alfonso the Magnanimous, the venerated piece had been changing hands and residence over the centuries in what is an interesting pilgrimage route.
Archaeological, documental and historical data on the journey made by this relic to the Cathedral of Valencia indicate that it is the vessel used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI officiated masses with the Holy Chalice of the Cathedral in their respective visits to València in 1982 and 2006.
In 2015, Pope Francis granted València the celebration of the Jubilee Holy Year, which will be repeated every five years in the city of Turia, making it one of the holy cities of the world. The second Jubilee Year of the Holy Chalice was held in October 2020 and València welcomed all those pilgrims who wished to obtain the plenary indulgence in its Cathedral.
But the relic, what does it look like?
The Holy Chalice is placed in a glass urn, so you will not be able to contemplate its small details. But you won’t miss anything, because we tell you about them here.
The cup that is kept in the Chapel of the Holy Chalice in Valencia Cathedral has three different parts. The relic itself is the polished agate goblet at the top. Thanks to the archaeological studies carried out by the researcher Antonio Beltrán, we know that the cup dates back to the period between the 4th century BC and the 1st century AD, and that it was carved in an eastern workshop in Egypt, Syria or Palestine itself. Research shows that the foot is an Egyptian or Caliphal vase from the 10th or 11th century, added to the cup around the 12th century, as an estimation of its exceptional importance. And that the pearls and precious stones that ornament it are later and could have been superimposed when the Holy Chalice was venerated in San Juan de la Peña.
Finally, the city of Valencia has an explanatory and didactic museum to publicize one of the greatest relics of Christianity: the Holy Grail, guarded in the cathedral since 1437.
Located in the city center, in a stately building from 1880, the grail classroom is the first space in the world dedicated to the Holy Grail. It is an interpretation center where you can learn about its history, its journey to Hispania and its arrival in Valencia and understand why the València chalice could be that of the Last Supper.
Visitors can also enjoy the history in multimedia format, learn why the Holy Chalice could only be made of wood, what foods could be on the table at the Last Supper, see how the monks dressed or learn about other relics from history. And of course, admire a replica of the Holy Grail to see all the details up close.
The Grail Route, an itinerary of culture, landscape and nature
Beyond the spiritual sense that the Grail route may imply, the path that this relic took is also a very attractive route to discover the heritage, the landscape and the nature of the journey that the most venerated cup in the world took.
Although the route could start from San Juan de la Peña, in Huesca, we are going to focus on 10 of the Valencian villages through which the route passes. It can be done comfortably on foot in 17 stages of 12 kilometres each, crossing two natural parks, going through Roman and medieval vestiges, participating in festivals full of tradition and enjoying a local gastronomy of kilometre zero.
And so, the Grail Route in the Valencian Community passes through Barracas, Jérica, Segorbe, Torres-Torres, Gilet, Sagunto, El Puig, Massamagrell, Alboraya and València. The beginning and end of the route are marked by two sculptures by the artist Antonio Peris Carbonell made of Corten steel.
The route allows you to experience the “Entrada de Toros y Caballos” (Entrance of Bulls and Horses) of Segorbe, a festival that dates back to the 14th century and has been declared of International Tourist Interest. Also enjoy the experience of sleeping in the monastery of Santo Espíritu de Gilet, founded in 1403, in the heart of the Sierra Calderona. You can feel the greatness of Roman civilization in the Sagunto Theatre, built in 50 AD, and in its imposing castle-fortress, declared a National Monument in 1931. Or travel back to medieval times by visiting the Monastery of Santa María del Puig or the Ara Christi Charterhouse.
Don’t forget to visit the church of Massamagrell, known as the “Cathedral of l’Horta Nord”, and the Capuchin Convent, from the 15th century, which houses a library with numerous incunabula.
Activate your body and mind by walking the paths of the two nature parks you will find on the Route: the Sierra Calderona and the Sierra de Espadán.
Get your strength back with the varied gastronomy of these two mountain ranges and stop by the Cooperativa de Viver to taste or take home one of the best extra virgin olive oils in Spain.
There are an infinite number of monuments, guided tours and places on this route.
What you can see in the Holy Chalice Chapel
Enter through the Cathedral’s Puerta de los Hierros and head to the first chapel on your right. To house such a jewel, the Holy Chalice chapel is a room without great luxury or stridency, surrounded by serene silence. Behind the altar you can contemplate, in a glass urn, this mysterious piece of incalculable value for everything it represents and the myths and legends it has generated throughout History.
Take a seat in one of the pews of the chapel and stop to contemplate the details. Just in front, embracing the Holy Chalice, you will see an impressive alabaster altarpiece made by the Italian Giuliano Poggibonsi, disciple of Lorenzo Ghiberti, author of the Gates of Paradise in the baptistery of Florence. It is the ancient choir door of the Cathedral from the 15th century, with twelve reliefs of scenes from the Old and New Testament.
If you look up, you will discover the ribbed star-shaped vault. In its keystones are the twelve Apostles and in the central one, the scene of the coronation of the Virgin in heaven after the Assumption.
On your left, those huge chains hanging from the wall, are the ones that closed the port of Marseille and that Alfonso V the Magnanimous brought with him in 1423 after his passage through the city of Provence. On the 226 links, the canvas “Expulsion of the Moors” by the artist Vicente López. And on the other side, the fresco of the Adoration of the Kings painted by Nicolás Florentino.
How the Holy Chalice came to València
The cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper was brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Peter and used since then by him and the successive Popes of the Church in Rome in the Eucharistic celebrations until the year 258, when Pope Sixtus II, commissioned his deacon St. Lawrence to take the cup out of Rome to protect it from the persecution of Emperor Valerian.
St. Lawrence brought the relic to Huesca, where his parents lived. The chalice ended up hidden in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña and in 1399 it was given by the monks of the monastery to King Martin I of Aragón, from whom three letters insistently claiming the relic are preserved. Once in his hands, Martin I took the grail to the chapel of his residence in Zaragoza, the Palacio de la Alfajería. And another king, Alfonso the Magnanimous, moved the Holy Chalice in 1424 to the Royal Palace of Valencia, his residence at the time.
The conquest of the kingdom of Naples meant the Magnanimous had to undertake costly military campaigns for which he needed loans, one of which he contracted with the church hierarchy. The king backed him up with all his relics, including the Holy Chalice, which he had to hand over in 1437 to write off his debt to the church. It was preserved and venerated for centuries among the relics of the Cathedral, and until the 18th century, it was used to contain the consecrated form in the “monument” of the Holy Thursday, until it was finally installed in the old Chapter House, enabled as the Chapel of the Holy Chalice in 1916.
Check out this award-winning video to learn more about the Holy Chalice.
Information courtesy Visit Valencia