Sunday, August 14, 2016


                                            Gundestrup Cauldron


The Grail of the Mare and
the Raven

The quest for Arthur’s Holy Grail properly begins with the cauldron of the Irish king Odgar son of Aodh and his steward Diwrnach. This cauldron, which in the Arthurian poem The Spoils of Annwn belonged to the Chief of the Underworld, was stolen from Odgar by Arthur and his men in the early Welsh Mabinogion tale, Culhwch and Olwen.

Odgar’s cauldron is taken to the house of Llwydeu son of Cil Coed at Porth Cerddin in Dyfed. Llwydeu is the magician Llwyd son of Cil Coed, the owner of an Otherworld basin in Manwydan Son of Llyr. Pryderi or, rather, Mandubracius of the Trinovantes and his mother Rhiannon become stuck fast to this basin, which resides in a typical fairy-mound castle.

We have seen in Chapter 6 above that there is good reason for identifying Rhiannon, ‘the Great or Divine Queen’, with the mother of Mandubracius, herself a human incarnation of the Roman period horse goddess Epona Regina or Epona ‘the Queen’. Epona’s ‘basin’ was actually a patera or offering dish. In her iconography, she is shown feeding foals from such a container. The patera can be depicted over an altar and it is known that libations could be poured from a patera onto an altar.

The importance of the Culhwch and Olwen story for the evolution of the Grail legend is obvious, but what has often been overlooked is that it most certainly predates the later French romances that drew upon the story of Bran’s cauldron (see below). In the Culhwch and Olwen cauldron-stealing episode we have what some have claimed is a rationalization of The Spoils of Annwn poem. This poem is indisputably ancient.

Here the Otherworld cauldron is said to be warmed by the breath of nine maidens who are, of course, actually goddesses. The number nine is almost always indicative of the presence of the moon, as nine is the premiere sacred number of the moon.

According to The Spoils of Annwn, the Otherworld is given several names:

Caer Siddi

‘The Fort of the (Fairy) Seat’ (A fairy hill like the Irish sidhe. The Arthurian Siege Perilous or Perilous Seat/Chair, supposedly patterned after the chair of Judas Iscariot, actually has its origin in the ‘uneasy chair’ of Taliesin, where the poet sits ‘above’ Caer Siddi. There have been attempts to identify this chair with all sorts of things, but only because those seeking to do so fundamentally misunderstand the word Siddi. This word is cognate with Latin sedes, which not only means ‘seat, chair, throne, that which is sat upon’, but ‘the abode of the dead’, ‘a burial place’. Thus the ‘uneasy chair’ is itself the fairy mound. There are several Celtic and Norse stories of kings sitting upon burial mounds and having supernatural experiences.)

Caer Pedryfan

‘The Four-Cornered Fort’ (A Neolithic cist or ‘chest’ tomb, in which the burial chamber itself is constructed of stone in a square or rectangular shape large enough to hold a body or cremated remains. Or this could refer to any rectangular or square chamber inside a chambered tomb.)

Caer Feddwid

‘Fort of Drunkenness’ (A description of the Otherworld as a place of endless revelry.)

Caer Rigor

‘Fort of Stiffness/Numbness Due to Cold’ (From Latin rigor, which among its meanings has ‘the stiffness produced by cold, for cold itself’. The dead and the place that housed them was invariably cold.)

Caer Wydr

‘Fort of Glass’ (Later identified with Glastonbury; the idea of glass as a designation for the Otherworld castle or barrow mound came about when Welsh glas, meaning ‘green, grass-coloured, bluish green, verdant; covered with green grass, clothed with verdure or foliage’, was mistakenly associated with English glass. Hence the Glass Castle is actually the Grass-covered Castle. This fact is made plain in the Middle English Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, where the Green Chapel is described as a grass-covered barrow mound.

The first mention of the Glass Castle in British tradition is found in Chapter 13 of Nennius’ History of the Britons. In this tale the son of a warrior of Spain who is on his way with his fleet to conquer Ireland sees a Glass Tower in the sea, with men upon the tower, but when spoken to these men are unable to reply. Such silence is a hallmark of the dead, who indeed dwell silently in the Otherworld. This same silence is exhibited by the slain warriors reanimated by Bran’s cauldron, and accounts for the otherwise bizarre inability of Perceval while inside the Otherworld to ask the Grail King the question that will heal, i.e. resurrect, him.)

Caer Goludd

‘Fort of Riches or Abundance’ (For the treasure often found in barrow mounds, i.e. the burial goods of dead royalty.)

Caer Bandwy

‘Fort of the Peak/Mountain/Hill/Summit Goddess’ (The fort of the banshee or ‘woman of the [fairy] seat’.)

Caer Ochren

‘Fort of the Sloping Sides’ (An apt description of a barrow mound. This name is derived from Welsh ochr, ‘slope, hill or mountain side’.)

Three shiploads of Prydwen went with Arthur to the Otherworld, and only seven individuals returned. These seven are, of course, symbolic of the seven planets that regularly descend into the Underworld and then rise from it again.

The proper identification of Diwrnach (variants Dyrnwch, Dyrnfwch, Drynog, Tyrnog) is of considerable importance, in that it would help us gain understanding of this particular cauldron.

Citing first the work on these names by Patrick Sims-Williams (see Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literature, Oxford University Press, 2010), Dr. Simon Rodway of the University of Wales nicely summarizes the possible developments as follows:

1.       Diwrnach represents a late borrowing in an oral context from Old Irish Díugurnach (13/14 c, or perhaps earlier if the fricative g was pronounced lightly enough in Irish not to register with a Welsh ear, Welsh having long ago lost the relevant sound.

or the original name was Dyrnog, cognate with Irish Dornach < Celtic Durnācos (attested in Gaulish) ‘fisty’, adapted to Diwrnach under the influence of the OI name mentioned above.

or the name is a derivative of Dwrn ‘fist’ (cf. Irish Dorn used as a name) + the negative/’Irish-sounding’ suffix –ach, suitable for a barbaric giant, with intrusive i, perhaps again under the influence of the OI name.

2.       Wrnach was abstracted from Diwrnach under the mistaken assumption that the former included the negative prefix di-.

3.       Eurnach is a rationalization (possibly by Iolo Morganwg) of this name, containing the element Eur- ‘gold(en), splendid’, common in personal names.

Sims-Williams discusses a theory proposed by John Carey which nicely accounts for Diwrnach’s cauldron.  From Irish Influence on Medieval Welsh Literature:

 As for Gwrnach’s castle (= Caer Urnach in the Historia Brittonum's List of Cities?), said in CULHWCH AND OLWEN to be the largest in the world, we should look to Maiden Castle at Dorchester, the largest hill-fort in Britain.  Dorchester was in the Romano-British period Durnovaria, where the first component is this same “fist” or “fist-sized stone” we’ve been encountering with the Diwrnach name.  While we know the Welsh called Dorchester Durngueir, it is certainly possible that the neighboring hill-fort was referred to as the Fort of Dyrnog, this name being invented as an eponym of the place.

However, there is also the ancient Pictish fort of Dundurn in Scotland to consider.  Dundurn is “Fort of the Fist” (see  

This site is mentioned in the Irish Annals of the 7th century A.D.:

“obsesio duin duirn”

According to Angus Konstam (“Strongholds of the Picts: The Fortifications of Dark Age Scotland, 2010):

“While the Annals offer no clues as to who was doing the besieging, it is generally assumed that the Pictish fort was attacked by the Dal Riatan Scots, part of a wider conflict which saw their own fortress of Dunadd besieged in the same year.”

The Dalriadans boasted a late 6th century Arthur, so it is possible Dundurn as a Fort of Dynog was brought into connection with Arthur in story.
While we have been able to explain the origin of the cauldron of Diwrnach, we have not yet addressed the famous spear of Gwrnach.  Well, if Gwrnach was originally Dornach or Dyrnog, the sword may have been conjured as a play on words or, rather, on meanings.  For Welsh dwrn, ‘fist’, also means ‘hilt [of a sword]’.  Dorn in Irish, when found in compounds, can also mean ‘hilt.’  We are reminded of the Dark Age prince of Powys, Catel Durnluc or Cadell of the Gleaming Hilt.

Spears and cauldrons are found in close proximity in Irish myth.  From Fate of the Children of Turenn:

“The three sons of Turenn were compelled by the god Lug to fetch for him the spear of King Pisear. When they reached his castle, Brian demanded the spear, at which Pisear attacked him. Brian killed the king and put his courtiers to flight. Then he and his brothers went to the room in which the spear was kept. They found it head down in a cauldron of boiling water, from which it was taken and delivered to Lug. This spear is one of the Four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danaan.”

According to Roger Sherman Loomis, the spear that stands in the cauldron of hot water is identical with the Lúin of Celtchar, which becomes hot and must be quenched in a cauldron of venom. Another Middle Irish story tells of  a spear that becomes hot and needs to be quenched in a cauldron of blood.

The cauldron of Diwrnach is taken to Dyfed, where it is left at the house of Llwydeu son of Cil Coed. Llwydeu or Llwyd has been linked to Ludchurch, Welsh Eglwys Llwyd, hard by the stream of Cil Coed in Pembroke. The Otherworld castle of Llwyd of Cil Coed is probably the ancient fort that stands atop the hill overlooking Ludchurch.

The notion that Llwyd may be a Welsh version of the Irish hero Liath son of Celtchair, whose name is preserved in the famous fairy hill in County Longford called Bri Liath, is certainly significant. Bri Leith was for a time the home of the goddess Etain Echraide, that is, Etain ‘Horse-rider’. Midir (*Medio-rix, ‘King of the Middle’, i.e. of Midhe), the god who owned Bri Liath, possessed a magical cauldron, which was stolen from him by Cu Roi. The fortified hill at Ludchurch may well have been thought of as the Welsh counterpart of Bri Liath in Ireland and, hence, became the respository of the horse goddess’s patera. This is especially true since the Dark Age ruling dynasty of Dyfed was of Irish Dessi origin.

It has very plausibly been suggested that the St. Medan of Galloway who is paired with St. Madrun (a Christianized version of the pagan mother goddess Matrona, the Modron of Welsh myth) is none other than Mo-Etain, a Christian manifestation of Etain Echraide of Ireland. The Kirkmaiden or Church of Mo-Etain sites are on the Rhinns and the Machars. This is the location of the Penrhyn Rhionedd of the Welsh Triads, over which Arthur is said to be the ruler.

It seems appropriate that Arthur, a cavalryman, should be portrayed as making off with a magical cauldron that was identified, even if unintentionally, with the patera of the horse goddesses Etain and Rhiannon.

Robert de Boron, the first writer of an Arthurian Grail romance, properly hints that the Grail was conveyed to the ‘vales of Avaron’, i.e. to Avalon. While by this time Glastonbury was meant, we know that the real Avalon was at Burgh-By-Sands in the North. Subsequent Grail romances soon altered Robert’s story, having the precious object housed instead in the Castle of Corbenic. From Corbenic the Grail or actual cup of Christ is returned to the Holy Land, the land of ‘Sarras’ or the Saracens from which it originally came. Once in Sarras it ascends into heaven and is never seen again by mortal men. Even earlier versions of the story, like that of the Manessier Continuation of Chretien’s Conte Du Graal, inform us that the Christian Grail was taken up to heaven. Yet modern-day questors continue to look for Christ’s cup!

Of Corbenic itself, I am in total agreement with the very old theory that this word derives from the French word corbin, ‘raven’ or ‘crow’. Long ago it was suggested that Castell Dinas Bran in northern Wales might be meant, the Castle of the Fort of the Raven, this place being associated by the romance writers with the pagan Bran of cauldron fame. I am now able to prove conclusively by analysis of place-names found in the romances that Corbenic is, in fact, Dinas Bran.

Corbenic is in Listenois or Listinois, which itself is either in or the same as La Terre Foraine, the ‘Land Beyond’. In the Land Beyond is a city called ‘Malta’. Corbenic has a church of ‘Notre Dame’, i. e. of ‘Our Lady’ St. Mary.

‘Malta’ was the clue to unraveling this mystery. This is Mold in Flintshire, Wales. As Corbenic is founded for Alan son of Bron or Brons (= the Welsh Bran), it is surely not a coincidence that Mold is encircled on three sides by the Afon Alun or Alyn (from Celtic *alauna). Le Terre Foraine or the ‘Land Beyond’ is this part of Wales to the west of the March of Wales, or Marchia Wallia, as it was called. For most of the period when the March of Wales (the boundary between England and Wales) existed, the fringe of Flintshire was ‘beyond’ it to the west, in Pura Wallia. Listinois is a slightly corrupt form of the Welsh Dinas, preceded by the Old French definite article. Hence the ‘isle of Listinois’ (isle being, in the French medieval sense, ‘valley’) is the valley of the dinas. The dinas or ‘fort’ in question is Dinas Bran.

Notre Dame is a reference to Valle Crucis Abbey hard by Castell Dinas Bran. In 1200 Madog ap Gruffydd, Lord of Powys Fadog, established Valle Crucis Abbey. It was this same Madog or his son Gruffydd Maelor II who built the medieval castle of Dinas Bran.
Originally the Church at Chirk was regarded as a chapel attached to the Llangollen Church. The benefice was said to be under the control of the abbey by Bishop Anian II when he visited Oswestry in 1275.

In the Taxation of Pope Nicholas in 1291 the Church at Chirk is reported as Eglwys y waen (‘Church of the Moor’) and with the appropriation of the Church by Valle Crucis Abbey it was re-dedicated to St. Mary.

Lastly, in Chapter 6 I showed that the name Perceval derived from Welsh Brochwel or Brochfael, whose name is found on the Eliseg Pillar near Dinas Bran.

The Fisher King himself, the object of Perceval’s quest, has remained an enigmatic figure, although some have identified him with the Celtic god Bran, the Bron or Brons (Christianized form, Hebron) of later Grail romance. Such an identification makes a great deal of sense, given the presence of the decapitated head in Peredur son of Efrawg’s Grail procession and the god’s laming in Branwen daughter of Llyr – or emasculation, if the Morddwyd Tyllion/‘Pierced Thigh’ is, as seems probable, a designation for Bran. Chretien’s Fisher King had been ‘struck by a javelin through both thighs’ during the course of a battle. A magical cauldron plays a major role in Bran’s story.

Unfortunately, no source presents Bran as a fisherman. How, then, do we account for Chretien’s Fisher King? I believe Chretien or his source took the name Bran to be the Welsh word brenin, ‘king’, equivalent to Old French Roi. Bran’s title Bendigeid, ‘Blessed, Holy’, may have been given an opposite meaning at some point by substituting Old French pecheur, ‘sinner’. Bran was a pagan figure and hence ‘sinful’. Pecheur itself would later have been replaced – perhaps as a pun – by the very similar Old French pescheur, ‘fisherman’. Bendigeid Vran/Bran thus became ‘Roi Pescheur’.

Bendigeid (‘blessed’) Bran Pecheur (‘sinner’) Brenin/Roi Pescheur (‘fisherman’) Roi

A less convoluted explanation for Chretien’s ‘Fisher King’ would be to propose that the Welsh Bran, owner of the magical cauldron, was mistakenly conflated at some point with the Irish Bran son of Febal. This latter Bran is the hero of the Imram Brain, the Voyage of Bran. The central theme of the Voyage of Bran is an Otherworld boat journey by Bran and his companions. Sea imagery is utilized through the story; salmon, for instance, are referred to as calves or lambs that leap from the womb of the sea. The Otherworld itself is an island in the sea – none other than Emhain Ablach, the Apple Island of the goddess Imona. Bran son of Febal in his coracle may well be the origin of the designation ‘Fisher King’.

Bran’s cauldron, according to Welsh tradition, had been obtained from the King of Ireland, who himself had come into possession of it through a personage known as Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid. Llassar had brought the cauldron of rebirth from out of the Lake of the Cauldron (Welsh ‘pair’, Irish ‘coire’). Of course, we have seen in Chapter 6 that Ceridwen’s cauldron symbolized the lake of Penllyn.

Llassar is a Welsh substitution for the Irish name Laisre, a diminutive of Laisren. St. Laisren, called Mo-Laise (a term of endearment which accounts for the Llaes of Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid’s name), was of the 6th century. He succeeded St. Gobban as abbot of Leighlin. Gobban or ‘Smith’, in turn, is a Christianized version of the smith god Goibhniu. His name is preserved in the Gyfnewid epithet applied to Llassar/Laisre.

The saints Laisren or Mo-Laise and Gobban were in County Carlow, Old Irish Ceatherloch or ‘Quadruple Lake’. As the –th- of Ceatherloch was not pronounced, the Welsh may have wrongly interpreted Carlow as being Coireloch, i.e. the Lake of the Cauldron.

The Irish king had tried to kill Llassar in a fiery house of iron, and this story derives from the Irish tale The Destruction of Dind Rig. Dind Rig is an ancient citadel on the west bank of the Barrow River near St. Laisren’s Leighlin in County Carlow.

The real cauldron of Llassar Llaes Gyfnewid was, of course, the cauldron of the smith god Goibhniu. This cauldron was used during the Otherworld Fled Goibnend or Feast of Goibhniu, an event which gave the gods eternal life.

The French romancers borrowed the story of Bran’s cauldron (Brons the ‘Fisher King’ or ‘Maimed King’) and linked it improperly to Arthur. As we have seen, Arthur’s cauldron was initially a conflation of the pateras of the horse goddesses Etain and Rhiannon. Neither have anything to do with Bran’s cauldron.

A great deal of mystery has surrounded the nature of the Christian object called the Holy Grail. The authors of the various Grail romances doubtless intended to convey such mystery and they have, to a remarkable extent, been successful. Is there any way to make the Grail a little less slippery for modern questors?

I believe so. What follows is a brief comparative analysis of the so-called ‘procession scenes’ found in the Grail romances. I have tried to avoid allowing mystical or religious feeling from interfering with what aims to be a straight-forward, logical attempt to interpret the nature of Grail symbology. I am here concerned neither with the theological nor psychological applications of the Grail. Yet at the same time I have tried to remain true to what the objects themselves may have represented to a people who were pre-scientific in their outlook.

Chretien’s Procession

white lance dripping blood


grail made of gold

silver carving platter

The white lance dripping blood is, as is evidenced by similar weapons in Celtic mythology, a typical lightning-weapon. The blood symbolizes rays of sunlight (see below under the discussion of Manessier’s Continuation), which ‘bleed’ from the sun. The flames of the candles on the candelabra represent the stars. The golden Grail is the sun. The silver carving dish is the moon. Chretien tells us that the grail so brightly illumined the hall “that the candles lost their brilliance like stars and the moon when the sun rises.”

In other words, he tells us in no uncertain terms that three of the objects present – the candles, the grail and the carving dish - represent the stars, sun and moon, respectively. Gold is known to be the color and metal of the sun, while silver is sacred to the moon.

The word grail, or rather, gradale, is well attested in the medieval period, being applied to a serving dish or platter. The Fisher King’s Grail contains a single Holy Wafer (= the body of Christ) and this wafer alone sustains the Fisher King. Chretien may be punning when he says that the Grail does not hold a pike, salmon or lamprey: Christ’s symbol was the fish, and since Christ’s body is contained in the Grail, in essence there is a fish there after all.

Peredur Son of Efrawg

huge spear dripping blood

platter bearing a bloody head

The spear is the same lightning-spear of Chretien’s account, the platter the lunar vessel and the bloody head a distinctly Welsh substitute for the solar Grail. The Welsh author was probably thinking of the god Bran’s head, also a solar symbol. This symbolism might seem overtly pagan, but the Christians had their own counterpart to Bran’s head on a lunar platter: that of St. John the Baptist on a dish.

Robert de Boron

Robert first made Chretien’s solar Grail into the cup of the Last Supper, used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch the blood that fell from the Crucified Christ. This cup has been recognized as the prototype of the Mass chalice. Because the chalice holds Christ’s blood, it is symbolic of Christ’s solar body.

Pseudo-Wauchier Continuation of Chretien

bier covered with silk cloth, bearing a body and a broken sword

The bier is much like that upon which an image of the dead Christ is conveyed at Easter time in the Greek Church. The body in this context is that of the dead/lame/emasculated solar king. The broken sword here replaces the lightning-lance, which is elsewhere in the romance referred to as the lance of Longinus. The Roman Longinus used this lance to pierce Christ’s side during the Crucifixion. Thus Christ the Fisher of Souls is identified with the solar Fisher King.

The silk cloth may represent the cloud which veils or hides the sun and moon (for the cloud as the Holy Spirit, see the discussion of Wolfram Von Eschenbach’s Parzival below).

Manessier’s Continuation

lance of Longinus

Grail used to catch Christ’s blood (see above under Robert de Boron)

silver dish or trencher used to cover the Grail to prevent exposure of the Holy Blood

broken sword (broken when the sacred solar king is killed/lamed/emasculated)

Holy Grail (sun), trencher (moon) and lance (lightning) accompany Perceval’s soul to heaven. Because the lunar trencher is used here to ‘cover’ the solar Grail and prevent the Holy Blood from being exposed, we can be fairly certain that the Holy Blood is indeed a symbol for the sun’s light. In a solar eclipse, the sun is indeed covered by the moon and its light shielded from our view.

Queste del Saint Graal

silver table

Grail (set atop table)


cloth of red samite

bleeding lance

Here the silver table is a lunar object, the Grail the sun, the candles the stars, the cloth of red samite the cloud, the bleeding lance the lightning-weapon.

Heinrich Von Dem Turlin

lights (stars)

spear (lightning)

plate of gold containing blood (sun and light, respectively)

box containing bread (bread = Host/sun/Christ’s body, box – see below for the ark)


bleeding lance (lightning)

two silver plates and cloths (moon – waxing and waning? – and clouds)

Grail containing Christ’s blood (sun and light)


chalice (sun)

child (Christ the solar king at the beginning of his life/reign)

Crucifixion (Christ the solar king at the end of his life/reign)

Grand St. Graal

A very long, tiresome list of ‘hallows’ which I will not attempt to identify. Besides the holy dish of blood, there are the nails of the Crucifixion, the Cross, the vinegar sponge, a scourge, a separate vessel of gold, a man’s head, bloody swords, tapers, Christ himself, angels, holy water and a watering pot, a bloody lance head, white cloths and a red samite cloth, basins, towels, gold censors, and a man all in red.

A nice touch is the wooden ark which is built to hold the holy dish. This object was borrowed from the Bible’s Ark of the Covenant, the latter being essentially a portable throne for Yahweh.

Wolfram Von Eschenbach

Wolfram’s Grail is the strangest of them all: it is called the lapsit exillis or ‘small stone’. Supposedly the Grail-stone’s power is derived from a Holy Wafer (the solar Body of Christ) that is brought down from heaven every year on Good Friday. The Host is at this time placed on the stone by a dove.

What is this dove? Origen, in his Homilies on Exodus

(5.1, 5) says that “What the Jews… believe to be a cloud, Paul says is the Holy Spirit…” In the Old Testament the angel or spirit of Yahweh is the cloud. A comparison of the Baptism and Transfiguration from the Gospel of Matthew is enlightening in this regard:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son…” 2 Matthew 3:16.

“He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son…” 3 Matthew 17:5

During the first few centuries of Christianity, hosts for the sick were kept in receptacles that took the form of a dove and which were hung from the ciborium or altar canopy.

So if the dove is the cloud, the Host or Body of Christ the sun, then what is the Grail-stone? One clue may help us find what the lapsit exillis really is: Wolfram tells us that

“By the power of that stone [lapsit exillis] the phoenix burns to ashes…”

Guillaume le Clerc, in his 13th century Bestiare, says of the phoenix:

“There is a bird named the phoenix, which dwells in India and is never found elsewhere. This bird is always alone and without companion, for its like cannot be found, and there is no other bird which resembles it in habits or appearance. At the end of five hundred years it feels that it has grown old, and loads itself with many rare and precious spices, and flies from the desert away to the city of Leopolis [properly Heliopolis, the Egyptian City of the Sun, as is made clear by other accounts]. There, by some sign or other, the coming of the bird is announced to a priest of that city, who causes fagots to be gathered and placed upon a beautiful altar, erected for the bird. And so, as I have said, the bird, laden with spices, comes to the altar, and smiting upon the hard stone with its beak, it causes the flame to leap forth and set fire to the wood and the spices. When the fire is burning brightly, the phoenix lays itself upon the altar and is burned to dust and ashes.”

We see in this medieval account of the phoenix that the bird strikes the stone altar with its beak to start the fire. Throughout the Middle Ages church altars were made of stone. They were usually quite monumental in composition. However, it was also common practice to make available portable altars, made of stone and often quite small. They could be several inches on a side and only an inch or so thick. These portable altars had to be consecrated by a bishop and were granted only by a special license issued by the Pope.

Other versions of the phoenix story more perfectly match Wolfram’s account of the dove setting the Host upon the little stone. To quote from The First Epistle of Clement, from the early Church Father Clement:

“Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun.”

Thus the comparison is perfect: the dove sets the Host onto the little stone, the Phoenix sets the remains of its parent onto the altar of the sun. The lapsit exillis or ‘small stone’ is a portable altar.

No comments:

Post a Comment