Mary Magdalene: The Grail Bearer
by Margaret Starbird © 2001
Editor's note: Margaret Starbird is the esteemed author of "The Woman With The Alabaster Jar," "The Goddess in the Gospels," and "The Tarot Trumps and The Holy Grail," all published by Bear & Co., and is the most eminently qualified person to write about how Mary Magdalene relates to the legend of the Holy Grail. Please visit her web page for more information about her work.
Is there anyone in Christendom who has not heard of the sacred relic
known as the Holy Grail? Anyone who has not sorrowed for its loss? The
stories of the Holy Grail stir us with a poignant memory of something
vastly precious, now tragically lost. The land is a wasteland now, the
plants stunted, the rivers of living water reduced to a trickle. Only
the return of the Grail can heal the wounded Fisher-King and restore his
domain. The myth of the lost vessel inspired the knights of medieval
Europe to set out on their quests and bold adventures described in the
various legends of the Holy Grail. According to Emma Jung and Marie
Louise von Franz, the legends about the Holy Grail were circulated in
the oral traditions long before they appeared in the written stories of
medieval poets like Chretien de Troyes, Robert de Boron and Wolfram von
The myths and stories surrounding the lost Grail are very old--no one
can say how old!--but it is assumed that the Grail was the vessel that
once contained the blood of Christ. One story insists that the Grail is
a cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper, the Passover Supper
celebrated in the upper room in Jerusalem on the night he was arrested.
Another story says it was the cup held aloft by Joseph of Arimathea to
catch streams of blood flowing from the wounds of the dying savior.
Still another legend insists that it was Mary Magdalene who held the cup
at the foot of the cross and caught the blood of the savior in her jar.
One version of the story says that Mary Magdalene brought the Holy Grail
to the coast of France and that she travelled there under the protection
of Joseph of Arimathea and her brother Lazarus. On one point, many of
the legends seem to agree: the Grail was a sacred vessel, holy because
it once contained the blood of Jesus. For centuries this artifact has
been sought and several antique cups have even been claimed to be the
true Grail of Christ.
I am particularly intrigued by the legend, indigenous to the Southern
coast of France, that Mary Magdalene was the bearer of the "sangraal,"
the Old French word translated "holy grail." The story says that this
woman, the devoted follower of Jesus who was first to encounter him on
Easter morning, travelled with a group of family and close friends.
fleeing persecutions of Christians in 42 A.D. They arrived in a boat
with no oars after narrowly escaping death during a storm at sea. With
them on the boat was an adolescent girl named Sarah, who is commemorated
today with a statue and a celebration on her feastday, 24 May, in the
little French town of Les Saintes-Marie-de- la-Mer. This child is called
"Sarah the Egyptian" and her statue is black. The legend assumes that
this child was a serving girl to the three Maries-- Mary Magdalene, Mary
Salome and Mary Jacobi--who are celebrated for bringing Christianity to
the Roman province known as Gaul. A colorful Gipsy folk festival has
grown up around this legend which celebrates the arrival of these
refugees from Jerusalem, including Lazarus and Martha, the brother and
sister of the Mary known to Christians as "the Magdalene."
In 1985 I read a book that seemed to me at the time to be blasphemous.
The book was called "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" and it suggested that Jesus
and Mary Magdalene were married and that their bloodline survived in
Western Europe.1 The word "sangraal" had, it seems, been
misunderstood. When the word was broken after the "n" (san graal) it was
thought to mean "Holy Grail" but if it was broken after the "g" it
rendered "sang raal," which in Old French seems to mean "blood royal."
We are now faced with a legend that says that Mary Magdalene brought the
"blood royal" to the coast of France in 42 A.D. One does not carry the
"blood royal" in an ointment jar with a lid. The blood of kings is
carried in the veins of a child. And the "vessel" that once contained
the "sang raal" was not an artifact, but rather, a woman --the Magdalene
herself--the mother of a royal offspring.
Suddenly the "Grail" myth takes on an entirely different shape. No
wonder the knights in armor sought in vain for the elusive artifact.
The mistaken object of their search was an artifact when it should have
been a woman. It is in restoring the "Bride" that the sacred King is
healed. The "chalice" is an ancient symbol for the sacred feminine and
the ancient goddesses are often associated with the "Vesica Piscis"--the
() shape that is identified in the Greek New Testament gematria with "h
Magdalhnh," the epithet given to the Mary who was identified with "the
tower/stronghold" in the prophetic book of Micah.2
A number of legends associate the Merovingian kings with the royal
bloodline of Jesus and Magdalene. One of their myths is that the
ancestress of the Merovingians was a mermaid and another says that the
mother of Merovee' was impregnated by a sea monster. In each of these
myths, the prevailing kernal of truth seems to be that this ancestry is
"half man, half fish." Since Christ was known to early Christians as the
"ICHTHYS" and Mary Magdalene was identified with the shape known as the
"Vessel of the Fish," I believe that the ancestral mythologies of the
Merovingians refer to their royal heritage. Bizarre as this conclusion
may seem, it rests on the fact that myths are often vehicles for veiled
truths that are too dangerous to be revealed literally.
If the legends of the bloodline of the "sang raal" are true, then we
must ask if there is any evidence of a child. What child of the union of
Mary Magdalene and Jesus might have survived in Western Europe to be the
eventual ancestress of the Frankish kings. Where is there a child
mentioned in the legends of Mary Magdalen? And this quest brings us back
to the adolescent girl on the boat, whose name Sarah means "Princess" in
Hebrew. Might she not have been the forgotten child of the "sang
raal"--the blood royal of Israel's kings? Her age is right. In 42 A.D.
she was described as "adolescent"--between 9 and 12 years old. But her
face is dark in legend and tradition. She is called "Sarah the
Egyptian." How can she be the daughter of Mary Magdalene?
My own (I admit highly speculative!) view is that this child was born
after the Crucifixion of Jesus, probably in Egypt where the friend of
Jesus would have taken Mary Magdalene to ensure her safety and that of
her child in the aftermath of the turmoil in Jerusalem following the
news of the resurrection of the crucified King. Possibly they returned
briefly to Jerusalem in the interim years and were reunited with Lazarus
and Martha, the brother and sister of Mary, and with other close family
and friends.3 Then, according to the legend, faced with severe
prosecutions, probably those of Saul/Paul, they boarded a small boat and
fled across the sea to the relative safety of Gaul.
So the child called "Sarah" might very well have been the "little lost
princess" of western fairytale, who is eventually found and united with
the handsome prince. In the book of Lamentations (4:8) we encounter an
interesting passage that describes the plight of the royal princes of
the house of Judah, the lineage of the Davidic kings: "their faces, once
white as milk, are now black as soot. They are not recognized in the
streets." Might this passage be reflected in the dark visage of the
saint called "Sarah the Egyptian." I believe her darkness is a symbolic
reference to her royal bloodline, the "sangraal."
The Holy Grail is a powerful symbol on many levels. The chalice is
intimately connected with the "sacred cauldron" of creativity so
explicitly illustrated by the "Vesica Piscis" which is also the symbol
irrevocably associated with Mary "the Magdalene" by the gematria of her
epithet. When the Bride is restored, the wasteland is healed and the
crops and herds thrive. This is the age-old promise inherent in the
paradigm of sacred union--the partnership of the archetypal Bride and
Bridegroom. The "Grail" promises are echoes of this 'sacred reunion' so
long repressed in Christian mythology. It is my own view that the "royal
bloodline" is not important in order to establish the claims of an elite
family or king to a modern throne. Its importance lies in its proof of
the "sacred union" at the heart of the Christian mythology--that of
Christ and Magdalene--which provides a paradigm of partnership for the