The Last Supper
No Chalice and the Missing Cup

One of the central themes to the Holy Chalice story and to many interpretations of the Last Supper is that there was one large cup that was passed around for everyone to drink from. However, if you look at the table, you'll see that each person has their own, small cup. Again, this would have been quite normal for the time. Wine was an extremely important part of the meal and needed to be drunk along with the food to aid digestion. You wouldn't want to share a single glass with 12 other people, passing it all around. Each person would have their own glass which would be kept full and used often.

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In the novel The Da Vinci Code, the author says that the Chalice talked about wasn't an actual, physical item. It was a metaphor for a pregnant woman. In any case, Jesus and his apostles were very poor. They wouldn't have had ruby-encrusted gold items. If anything, archeology shows they probably had small, pottery cups and perhaps would have had one large one more like a "pitcher" to pass around and fill each small cup with.

The rationale behind the pregnant-Mary theme is that the Holy Grail was called the "sangreal" - i.e. San Greal. But some say that should have been "Sang Real" - i.e. Holy Blood. So it wasn't a chalice - it was the royal blood of Christ. In any case, the FIRST Time this word is even used was in the famous Morte d'Arthur which was written by Thomas Mallory in the 1400s - i.e. LONG after the days of Christ. In his document, Mallory uses the word "sangreal". That spelling and word had never been used before. So either Mallory simply made a spelling error (which many historians believe) or he decided to foster this belief for some reason.

Interestingly, though, there's no pitcher here. And I think there aren't even 13 glasses. I'll ask someone to check ...

From a Visitor: I looked at a four-foot foldout of the restored painting and, sure enough, twelve wine glasses! That would work symbolically, though, since in the story Christ's blood is distributed amomg the Apostles in the form of the wine...why would Christ have a cup himself?

From a Visitor: Am i the only one that can see 12 modern glasses on the table? in 1400AD crystal glassware was invented and they were not produced as seen in the picture and at Christ`s time this was not the type of wine glass used, "Maybe they brought out the best of china for this occasion"

OK, here's a close-up of the glass by Jesus' left hand -

holy grail

Here's another view -

holy grail

It's a simple short cup. The shape is what the 'average person' back in those days of Roman Rule would have had. Remember, EVERYBODY drank wine at the time, even slaves. Water was considered dangerous to drink. The Romans invented glassware, so where the Greeks drank from metal, pottery or carved wooden cups, the Romans loved glass.

Note that some people claim the small glass container in the center of this image is the "pitcher". Look at its size!! It's barely the size of one glass. It's more likely an oil container.

For similar cups, here is a Roman-era mosaic close-up. In it, a slave is bringing a glass of wine to the nobles having a picnic. You can see the red wine half fills the glass.

So I think the Romans were quite capable of having short glasses on the table. My contention would be that glasses are what NOBLES used at the time, while common people were still using pottery and wood. Jesus was supposed to be poor. But Da Vinci gave them a bit of an upgrade for this meal. And actually he HAD to do it, to show the wine in the glass. If he just showed cups, they would be non-transparent and you wouldn't know what was in them.

The recent miniseries "Spartacus" was actually pretty well done, and here is an image of Spartacus' lover with typical Roman wine servingware. These are owned by nobles and are metal, but you can see the shape is similar.

I'll mention here that when the Last Supper was redone, an interesting addition was made. Here's the redone version of the painting.

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Look at the FIRST white column on the left. Doesn't it look like there's a grail shape in between the dark panels?

Holy Grail History

From a Visitor:
Dan Brown claims that there is not one chalice but rather 13 chalices in the painting, a historical inaccuracy that Leonardo purposefully intended in order to symbolically indicate the real meaning (according to Dan Brown) of the Holy Grail. I don't see them. Maybe I'm not looking in the right place but I just can't see it. Did Dan Brown invent that for his book or am I blind?

My Response -
Dan's point was that there were 13 "drinking vessels" rather than one that was passed around from person to person. Those are the glasses / cups / chalices / whatever that we're discussisng above :)

From a Visitor -
Everyone would have had their own glass of wine at the "Last Supper" because it was, first and foremost, a Passover Seder, a ritual Jewish meal in which the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold. On this night Jews eat reclining (in the fashion of the wealthy), use their very best plates and glasses, and drink four ritual glasses of wine at four pre-determined points in the ritual. It was the ritual use of red wine and matzoh ("the unleavened bread that our forefathers ate in the land of Egypt") that prompted Jesus to say "This is my body and my blood." Thus the Christian communion ritual is directly based on the Passover ritual.

My Response -
Ah, but if you read my page on Passover and the Last Supper you'll find that the contention is that this is NOT a Passover feast. Look closely at the painting. Those are NOT unleavened breads - they are fully risen breads, and fish. They're not eating the lamb of passover. This is a pre-Passover feast, because the next day (the day Jesus is caught) is Passover. He is in fact the Passover sacrifice.

I definitely agree they would eat reclining, that's just the way people ate back then. And they would have drunk wine, that's what people drank back then. The water wasn't healthy to drink. Wine was *normal*. And everyone would have had their own glass. So those things are because it was normal, not because it was special or a Seder. But I do agree that being Jewish, their way of understanding their history would have influenced what they did on any night - especially an important night when Jesus knew he was about to die.

From a Visitor -
u do state that Mary M was actually quite wealthy...if so could she not been able to afford the 'pricey' chalice that we like to believe exists?

My Response -
There's a difference between saying she's "a well to do woman - not a prostitute" and saying "she can afford a pure gold chalice embedded with precious stones". Just about anyone who lives in the US is "well to do" in the sense that they can afford a home to live in, a car to drive, and a TV and other luxuries. Much of the world struggles just to feed itself daily. But most people in the US - even though they live a life of pure luxury compared to the tribesmen of Ethiopia - cannot afford pure gold chalices with gems embedded into it. It's a matter of scale. She wasn't a Bill Gates of the ancient world. She was more like a single mom in a city that could afford an apartment, compared to the rest of the people who were struggling fishermen barely able to feed their own families with what they brought in from their nets. She was probably the reason they had a nice feast with glass cups - which WAS a luxury back then (if we assume they even got glass cups as in the painting). Normal families would have just plain carved wooden cups or pottery cups that they made themselves.