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Medieval Europe

Chapter 4

Medieval Europe

In the Middle Ages, we are told through legends and stories of mixed heritage that Arthur conquered Medieval Europe. As a result, for the next three hundred years, Arthur as a King and a hero towers above all other contemporary legends of this time. The religious connections with the new versions of King Arthur troubled the church at the time, due to fact that many of the tales associated with Arthur clearly contained strong Pagan and Celtic symbolism.

It was now the 'Cistercian Monks' (founded in AD1098, an off shoot of the Benedictine Order, established on the Celtic foundations of 'Columbanus' : See Columbanus, & Mystical-WWW Mystical Time : Dates, 21 November) who, known to be associated with mysticism, attempted in the re-writing of the Arthurian legend, to remove any Pagan connotations by connecting Arthur to the philosophy of 'The Order of the Templars', later known as 'The Knights Templar'. The framework of this militant wing of the Cistercian Order, recognised by 'Pope Honorius II' in AD1128, is suggested to have been based to a large degree on the legendary 'Knights of the Round Table', (See Round Table). A new vision of Arthur and the Knights now emerged, firmly associated with the Christian belief in the 'Transubstantiation', and that the 'preserve of virginity' was an absolute for all concerned, therefore dismissing some of the associations that had grown to be analogous with Arthurian legend.

The concept of the 'Round Table' was not to fully swing into action until AD1155 with the assistance of the French. In Cistercian writing, this is the first time we see the 'Holy Grail' (See Grail) as an embodiment of these two new qualities, the Grail's appearance before Arthur being as a vision being described later in the French 'Vulgate Cycle' of the thirteenth-century as possessing the power to fill the room with the scent of fragrant spices and shining with a tremendous brightness, symbolic of purity, innocence and faith. The Cistercians re-wrote the adulterous union between 'Guinevere' (See Guinevere) and 'Sir Lancelot' (See Lancelot) in an interpretation, which clearly indicates from the start, that the relationship is doomed when viewed in light of the two central Cistercian beliefs associated with Arthur, as further extolled by the Order of Templars, that of valour, honour, integrity and central to their order, spirituality.

In the thirteenth-century 'Vulgate Cycle', the character of Lancelot is clearly depicted in a dilemma as a dual character, betraying not only the King but the Divine Order. Here it is inferred that Lancelot is trapped by the Knights into a liaison with Guinevere. Their hostility towards Lancelot is rooted in his unchaste nature and his actions. A once beloved Knight, here Lancelot is seen to demonstrate the sullying of the body and spirit by the root of all evil, a pagan influence.

Guinevere and Lancelot are disturbed at their moment of adulterous union by other loyal Knights of the Round Table, it is emphasised here before any sexual activity took place but the deceit is to signal his downfall from grace. Lancelot escapes from capture and flees. His actions here have been seen to initiate the beginning of the end of the Round Table. Although the Knights search for him, h e cannot be found and we see Arthur commanding that Guinevere be taken from him, convinced of her treachery. Lancelot returns to save her just before she is to be burnt to death. A war then breaks out between Arthur and Lancelot, which then gives 'Mordred' (now written in the Vulgate Cycle as Arthur's own son conceived by incest) the chance to build forces against Arthur in his attempt to usurp him whilst he is distracted on a noble cause. The 'Battle of Camlan', said to take place on 'Salisbury Plain', ensues (again an indication of the location of the Isle of Avalon). Lancelot suddenly appears to defend Arthur, and Mordred is killed, but in the midst of battle Arthur is mortally wounded.

Arthur is left alone with Griflet, (See Griflet) , a Knight of the Round Table. Griflet is ordered to take Excalibur and cast it into the lake. This is the first time we are introduced to the idea of the 'Lady of the Lake' (See Lady of the Lake). Griflet is said to have attempted to cast Excalibur out into the lake, returning to Arthur saying that he had done so, and Arthur asking him what he had seen, knowing that a hand would appear to catch the sword. (Griflet does not state this until the third time). We learn that Griflet was the last person to be with Arthur as he lay mortally wounded, who is left to take the body of Arthur to the boat which will take him to Avalon Here the disappearance of the sword, together with Arthur travelling to Avalon, was seen to indicate the end of the story of Arthur, and a lack of clarity as to whether there was clear possibility of his return.

Now although the Cistercian monks had attempted to remove the Pagan symbolism from the story of Arthur, it was still felt, years later, that if the legendary Arthurian Romances were to be associated with the purity of the Holy Grail, this connection could be held to be Pagan heresy. The Cistercian's were determined to fully exorcise any reference to Paganism and so 'The Knights Templar' were used as the vehicle. In AD1312 the Order of the Knights Templar was suppressed by Papal decree, and by the Renaissance period, the legends of Arthur were either looked upon with indifference or to be mocked.

The religious associations of the town of 'Glastonbury' (See Glastonbury), 'Glastonbury Tor' (See Arthurian Places) and the 'Chalice Well' (See Arthurian Places) with Arthurian legend is thought to have begun to gain pace in the twelfth-century. A monastery had been established in 'Glastonbury', Somerset (See Glastonbury Religion) since c.AD673, and now in the twelfth-century, the 'Benedictine Monks' seized on an earlier story, believed to have been first introduced by the French. It focused on 'Joseph of Arimithea' (See Joseph of Arimathea), indicating that he had come to Britain with the 'Golden Chalice', or the 'Holy Grail' (See Grail). The monks claimed that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was within the grounds of 'Glastonbury Abbey' (See Arthurian Places). The knowledge that a Christian place of worship had been established in Glastonbury circa AD636 added weight to the possibility of such claims being true. The earliest evidenced place of worship is the 'Old Wattle Church' referred to in the early Celtic Church, associated with 'Illytd' (See Mystical-WWW Mystical Time : Dates, 6 November) and 'Patrick' (See Mystical-WWW Mystical Time : Dates, 17 March). The 'Old Wattle Church' (See Glastonbury Religion) as described in records of the early Celtic Church is documented in the historical record written by 'William of Malmesbury' entitled 'On the Antiquity of the Church of Glastonbury', believed to have been written in AD1124.

The finding of famous historical figures by the Benedictine monks has been a matter of some dispute, as it appears they had a reputation for claiming to have found the tombs of many other people including that of 'Gildas' (See Mystical -WWW Mystical Time : Dates, 29 January), and even 'Dunstan, the Archbishop of Canterbury' (between AD959-988). In AD1191 the monks claimed to have found the bodies of 'Arthur' and 'Guinevere' and to have re-buried the couple in the grounds of the Abbey (See Avalon). Most historians now feel that this discovery was a monastic hoax, but why these associations were made as late as the twelfth-century is intriguing.