Jan 17 2006 Molly Watson, Western Mail
THE Da Vinci Code might name Scotland as the home of the Holy Grail, but according to a Welsh academic, Wales' claim to the relic is much stronger.
Since Dan Brown's bestseller was published in 2003, hundreds of thousands of visitors have flocked to Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh, which the book claims is the Grail's final resting place.
But, Grail expert Dr Juliette Wood of Cardiff University said theories linking the Grail to Scotland were relatively new compared to the claims which Wales has on the ancient relic, which stretch back to the 14th century.
The Holy Grail is believed to be the cup which Christ drank from at the Last Supper and is thought to have magical powers, but its location, and whether it ever actually existed, has captured the imagination of adventurers throughout history, from the Knights of the Round Table to the imaginary Indiana Jones.
Stories suggesting the existence of a Grail first appeared in the 12th century and according to Dr Wood, who specialises in Welsh folklore and Celtic literature, evidence of the relic having travelled to Wales can be traced back to the 1300s.
In contrast, the theory which Brown's novel relies on, that the Grail was discovered by the Knights Templar who buried it beneath one of the pillars of Rosslyn chapel, did not develop until the 1960s.
The evidence shows Wales has just as much right to such a prized position on the Grail seekers trail as Rosslyn, which has experienced a 100% rise in visitor numbers since the publication of Brown's novel.
Dr Wood said, "The story of Rosslyn Chapel is only about 20 years old.
"Wales' link is much stronger. Wales has Arthurian romances which refer to the Grail, but Scotland doesn't have that. There are a number of Holy Grail romances written in Scotland but currently there hasn't been anything found in Gaelic."
First reference to the Grail having travelled to Wales can be found in the story of Peredur the Son of Evrawc, which appears in the Mabinogion book of Celtic stories. In the story a knight, Peredur of Wales, sets out on a quest to find the Grail, although when he does it appears not as a shining beacon, but in the form of his cousin's head, floating on a platter in a pool of blood.
Other theories which link the Grail to Wales include:
An ancient Celtic myth called the Nanteos Cup, about a sacred life-giving cauldron. It is thought to have been the basis for many of the later Grail stories, and was found near Aberystwyth. It is believed to have healing powers;
More recently a theory put forward by former Western Mail journalist and bard, Owen Morgan, who claimed the Grail was not an object but the landscape of Wales.
Dr Wood admits that she doesn't believe the Grail ever existed but she said the legends and myths which have grown up surrounding it are an important part of Welsh cultural history.
She said, "I don't think there are any academics who would argue the Holy Grail actually existed. It's a medieval fiction that developed in the context of Christianity.
"But there are a lot of things, although nothing concrete, which link it back to Wales. It's a very interesting part of Welsh heritage."
A film adaptation of the Da Vinci Code, due out in May, is expected to renew interest in the search for this holiest of relics.
As to why such a search for a cup should have captured the imagination of so many generations, Dr Wood said, "We like mystery and the Grail is so very compelling because there is just not enough information to tie it down and that's what we like about it."
Dr Juliette Wood will be giving a lecture, The Holy Grail in Wales, on January 25 at Cardiff University's Centre for Lifelong Learning at 7.15pm