14.4.13

GLASTONBURY LEGENDS

Justin E. Griffin, Glastonbury and the Grail: Did Joseph of Arimathea Bring the Sacred Relic to Britain?, McFarland & Co, 2013

Judith Faith, Glastonbury, the Templars and the Sovran Cloth: A New Perspective on the Grail Legends, The History Press, 2012

A steady stream of books testifies to the enduring allure of the traditions and mysteries of Glastonbury, in particular its association with the tales of the Holy Grail. Two of the latest offerings present their authors’ attempts to find the historical reality behind the myths and legends.

Glastonbury and the Grail sets out the personal investigation of Justin E. Griffin, by profession a network technologist at the University of Tennessee but one of the legion who have been bitten by the Grail bug – in his case, rather endearingly, from watching the Indiana Jones movies and wanting to emulate his hero. He’s produced two books on the Holy Grail and runs a web site devoted to Grail research. In this book he focuses on the Glastonbury connection, and the interwoven legends of Joseph of Arimathea.

Griffin’s enthusiasm for his subject shines through, and the book is engagingly written with a self-deprecation that is refreshing in the genre. Sadly, however, it does suffer from some major flaws.

Refreshing, too, is Griffin’s candour about his approach. He admits that he realised from the start that he had no definitive proof that either legend is based on historical reality, and that the best he would be able to do was make a case for, in his words (and his emphasis), the ‘possibility of such’. At first he tried to set out his case according to the rules of scientific argument but abandoned that approach because it ‘relies too heavily on empirical evidence, hard fact’ (thereby tacitly admitting he has little of either). He therefore decided instead to adopt a ‘court case’ approach, taking the part of counsel for the defence, representing the legends against the charge that they are merely inventions and fantasies, and placing the reader in the role of juror.

The obvious limitation in this approach is that it also makes Griffin responsible for setting out the case for the prosecution – akin to allowing the defence in a trial to do the prosecution’s summing up. In fact, he goes further, by more or less denying that there is a case for the prosecution; he maintains that he couldn’t actually find one to present, as the sceptical position on the legends is, he says, merely based on the argument that there’s no historical evidence to support them. All he therefore has to do is present some evidence in order to win his case, effective relying on the principles of innocent-until-proven-guilty and reasonable doubt to carry the day. All of which makes his task considerably easier than it might have been, as well as being a novel approach to a historical enquiry.

In dismissing the ‘prosecution’ case as just the result of academia’s narrow-minded and unimaginative inability to accept anything for which there isn’t tangible proof, Griffin seriously misrepresents their position to his jurors. In reality the case against the legends’ literal historicity is based on much more than that; historical and literary analysis has raised legitimate questions about the relationship between fact and imagination in the development of the Grail legend.

For example, there is a solid case that the Glastonbury story was a conflation of two entirely separate traditions. There was the Arthurian quest for a miraculous vessel, described as a, not the, grail (it was its powers, not its form, that made it special) which was based on Celtic folklore and made no connection with Christ’s Passion. Then there was a complex of legends about Joseph of Arimathea journeying to Britain and establishing the first Christian church at Glastonbury, and bringing with him a vessel or vessels, usually described as cruets, containing Jesus’ blood and sweat. The process by which these two independent traditions were merged in the thirteenth century can be readily traced. So can the evolution of the Grail itself, from the serving dish or platter of the first telling of the story by Chrétien de Troyes in the late twelfth century, which has only the most tenuous of Christian associations (being said at one point to hold a single host), through the dish from which Jesus and the disciples ate at the Last Supper and finally into the cup of that meal, with its more potent association with Christ’s redemptive blood. So a Celtic, pagan magical vessel was gradually transformed into a relic of the Passion.

This is supported by the etymological evidence – as explicitly set out in some of the early texts – that the word ‘grail’ derives from an Old French term for a wide, deep dish or platter, and only became applied to a cup or chalice by later writers who didn’t understand the term and assumed it to have a special and unique significance. A grail became the Grail and finally the Holy Grail. The origin and derivation of the word is a vital exhibit for the prosecution, but nowhere in this book does Griffin discuss it.

So when Griffin writes, ‘Although he [Chrétien] never specifically states that the Grail was an artifact of Christ’s Passion, his story created its image as the magical, mythical lost cup of the Eucharist that we understand today,’ he’s just plain wrong. Chrétien wrote a story about a magic dish that later writers turned into the Eucharistic cup.

Griffin doesn’t deal directly with the literary and linguistic case for the evolution of the Grail traditions, but rather sidesteps it. While he acknowledges that different strands of legend have been woven together, he attempts to show that each strand is ultimately based on a Grail. In his earlier books, Griffin reached the conclusion that there were actually several Grails – at least six - all of them genuine in the sense that they had at one time contained Jesus’ blood and which one way or another found their way to Europe, and that ‘Grail’ became a generic term for these relics. Legends were built on each relic and were eventually melded into the single story of the Grail. So Joseph of Arimathea’s cruets were one Grail, and the cup of the Last Supper - which Griffin believes really exists in the form of the Spanish Santo Caliz (of which more below) – another. On this line of reasoning, the conflation of the two traditions was therefore legitimate rather than a literary accident (and, by implication, performed by writers who knew the secret of the multiplicity of Grails).

This profusion of Grails makes for confusing reading, as Griffin insists on using the singular, and it is often unclear which Grail he is talking about. For example, the book opens with the assertion – repeated several times during the early chapters – that the key to demonstrating that the Grail was a real, historical object is proving that Joseph of Arimathea really did come to Britain in the first century. But later he talks about other Grails – again, most significantly the Santo Caliz – which have no connection with Joseph, and so don’t depend on the legends about him being true at all. Presumably in that opening assertion he means only the Grail brought to Glastonbury, but this doesn’t become apparent until we’re eleven chapters into the book.

Central to Griffin’s argument for the authenticity of the legends of Joseph of Arimathea in Glastonbury is the genuinely intriguing Prophecy of Melkin, which is possibly evidence of a very early belief that Joseph was buried in ‘Avalon’ with vessels containing Jesus’ blood and sweat. Although incorporated into a mid-fourteenth century chronicle, there are clues that the Prophecy really does date from the Dark Ages, thereby showing that the core of the legend at least predates the medieval period (when many presume it to have been invented to boost Glastonbury Abbey’s pilgrim-tourist trade). This was, for me, the most interesting and best presented chapter. However, it is a very slender support on which to hang all the rest of Griffin’s argument.

Another significant omission from the prosecution case – although one common to writers on the Glastonbury mysteries – is a critical examination of the Gospel accounts relating to Joseph of Arimathea. There is a simple acceptance of the accuracy of their portrayal of Joseph as a secret follower of Jesus, despite the contradictions between the Gospels themselves on this point.

There is a good case, put forward by New Testament scholars, that Joseph was simply the member of the Jewish council of leaders appointed to oversee Jesus’ burial, and that the idea that he was a secret disciple was a later embellishment introduced for theological reasons. If correct, this would undermine the entire foundation of the Glastonbury traditions. True, this interpretation may be debatable, but as such – and because of its fundamental importance to Griffin’s case – it should be debated, and not simply ignored.

Another fundamental objection to the whole notion of Grail as container of Christ’s blood comes from the Jewish abhorrence of blood – especially that from a dead body - as ritually unclean and contaminating, making it unthinkable that any Jew would want to keep it. It’s another reason for thinking that the ‘Eucharist cup’ form of the Grail was a much later invention, since the same prohibitions wouldn’t have applied in a Christian context.

Again, Griffin doesn’t deal with this basic and highly relevant objection. Indeed, he shows no awareness of it, although he appeals to Jewish burial practices when it suits his case. He argues that it is likely that vessels containing Jesus’ blood existed at one time, on the grounds that his (or, as Griffin prefers, quaintly, His) blood would naturally have been collected as part of the burial rites, since Jewish belief required that spilt blood be interred with the body. He then argues that after Jesus had risen the now-redundant containers would have been kept as mementoes by his followers; Joseph of Arimathea, for example, carried his as a ‘personal relic and link to his lost Master.’ But for the reasons just stated, no Jew would do this. So Griffin uses Jewish customs to support one half of a speculation, while ignoring them for the other half.

This example shows that Griffin has not only failed to master the prosecution’s case but also reveals one of the major shortcomings in his own case for the defence. It soon becomes apparent that he hasn’t gone into his investigation with an open mind and allowed himself to be led to a conclusion by the information he has uncovered, but that, like a lawyer assuming a client’s innocence because that’s what he has been hired to do, he’s started with his conclusion – he wants the tales to be true – and only looked for the evidence that fits it. Selectivity, in other words, of which there are many examples throughout the book.

From the outset, Griffin acknowledges that it is impossible, on the evidence currently available, to prove beyond doubt that the legends of Joseph of Arimathea in Britain are based on historical reality, and so sets out to answer a more basic question: is it possible that, in the first century, a man could have travelled from Palestine to Britain carrying a vessel with him? Since the answer to such a hypothetical question is clearly an equally hypothetical yes, we’re hardly surprised when Griffin reaches such a conclusion.

However, this initially modest conclusion becomes more and more self-important as the book progresses, and ends up exhibiting symptoms of delusions of grandeur. Towards the end, when summing up his conclusions, Griffin declares that he’s not saying that the Joseph of Arimathea legends are necessarily true (thereby, incidentally, failing to fulfil the goal with which he opened the book), merely that he’s raised enough reasonable doubt about the sceptics’ position. Yet on the next page he states that, based on his evidence, the legends ‘now appear more likely to be based in history.’ A few pages further on he asserts that there is now ‘ample evidence’ that the traditions are true. Which is it?

Unfortunately, Glastonbury and the Grail abounds with similar contradictions, often due to Griffin wanting things several ways at once. He gets in a particular muddle when trying to identify the ‘sourcebook’ that Chrétien de Troyes tells us he was given by his patron Phillip of Flanders and on which he based his first telling of the Grail tale. Griffin devotes much space to developing the argument that this mysterious text could have come from Glastonbury Abbey, since the then Abbot, Henry of Blois – the powerful Churchman who was the brother of King Stephen and grandson of William the Conqueror - was the uncle of Henri de Champagne, the husband of Chrétien’s previous patron Marie de Champagne. He speculates that Henri could have brought the book back to Champagne from a hypothetical visit to his uncle (a reconstruction that ignores Chrétien’s own statement that he got the book from Phillip of Flanders).

But in a subsequent chapter Griffin goes into the story of the Santo Caliz, the ‘Spanish Grail’, which was then the sacred relic of San Juan de la Peña in the Spanish Pyrenees. (It’s now in Valencia Cathedral. right) According to Griffin, this agate cup, subsequently much embellished with gold and jewels into an ornate chalice, is one of the ‘other’ Grails, in fact genuinely the cup used at the Last Supper, which reached Spain through a different route to the Glastonbury cruets.

Based on the facts that Phillip of Flanders is known to have made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella in 1172, and that pilgrims on that route often diverted to San Juan to see the Santo Caliz, Griffin speculates that Chrétien’s source was a book about that relic that Phillip brought back with him, apparently contradicting his earlier argument. Bizarrely, however, he goes on to declare that this ‘in no way invalidates Glastonbury as the source of the legend. Instead, it confirms it.’ He genuinely lost me here.

It is from the Santo Caliz, Griffin argues, that the most popular image of the Holy Grail derives, and it was through the two traditions reaching Chrétien de Troyes – both, note, via completely speculative routes – that the ‘British Grail tradition’, based on Joseph of Arimathea and Glastonbury, was fused with the ‘Spanish Grail tradition’ based on the cup of the Last Supper. That’s why Chrétien chose a British, Arthurian setting for his tale while describing the Grail ‘as a gold and jeweled chalice’ instead of cruets.

It’s a proposition fraught with difficulties, the most glaring being that, famously, Chrétien didn’t describe the Grail as a chalice, rather as a platter-like serving dish (derived from his Celtic source). And Joseph of Arimathea and Glastonbury don’t feature in his version of the story. So, in fact neither the British nor the Spanish traditions are present in his tale at all!

Ever candid, Griffin admits in his concluding chapter on the Grail traditions: ‘Nothing new has been presented here. There is still no proof the Grail ever existed in reality.’ He goes on: ‘My goal has ever been to make it clear that the supposition that there is no history, no evidence, and no reason to believe an object that could be called the Grail ever existed is entirely inaccurate.’

Maybe that’s the best that can be hoped for. Certainly, the ‘court case’ model simply doesn’t work for this kind of enquiry. If there is a legal model, it would be that of a coroner’s inquest, which rather than seeking to determine guilt or innocence is primarily concerned with establishing the facts of a case. And in the case of the Glastonbury legends, with all the historical uncertainties that can only be filled by speculation and best guesses, the verdict can only ever be an open one.

There is a genuine mystery in the Grail romances. The weird, heretical symbolism and imagery of, in particular, the versions by Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, do seem to be designed to conceal some potent truth. But the solution to the mystery lays in understanding the texts themselves, not in the quest for a physical object that might have inspired them. As has been pointed out, the mystery of the Grail isn’t what it is – every telling makes the Grail’s form clear, whether it be chalice, platter or stone – but what it means.

So what does it mean for Justin Griffin? Oddly, after expending so much time and energy on his personal Grail quest, the answer appears to be: not much. Although he believes that vessels that genuinely held Jesus’ blood really were around in medieval Europe, he doesn’t extrapolate any religious or mystical message from that; indeed, he dismisses all the Grail’s supposed miraculous and magical powers as merely the product of later romancing: ‘Stripped of all its medieval fantasy, the Holy Grail is simply a vessel that once held the blood of Christ.’

There’s no such reticence for Judith Faith in her Glastonbury, the Templars and the Sovran Cloth; for her the Grail is all about the ‘redeeming and transforming power of the Holy Blood’, and the object itself, as well as the legends about it, have a deep (yet ill-defined) spiritual significance.

Let me declare, up front, a preconception of my own. As the co-author of a book - Turin Shroud: How Leonardo Da Vinci Fooled History - which argues that the Turin Shroud is a fake (if the most remarkable fake of all time, coming from the genius of Leonardo da Vinci), I’m naturally sceptical from the outset about Faith’s thesis, which has the Shroud being the genuine burial cloth of Jesus and the object on which the Grail legends were based. However, even allowing for that personal bias, I don’t think I’m being unfair in saying that Faith fails to make her case on either point.

In fact, where the authenticity of the Shroud is concerned, Faith doesn’t really try to make a case at all, essentially just assuming it to be genuine. She devotes just three pages at the start of her book to the all-important argument for the Turin relic being the true burial shroud of Christ. She summarily declares that the 1988 carbon dating, which branded the Shroud a medieval or early Renaissance fake, ‘has almost unanimously been discredited’, which is, to put it mildly, a considerable overstatement. Such unanimity is only to be found among the community of believers in the Shroud’s authenticity – ‘Shroudies’, as they’re known with more or less affection – who have spent the last quarter of a century trying to pick holes, often desperately, in the carbon dating. And, like most Shroudies, Faith believes that the case against the Shroud depends solely on the carbon dating, whereas there are many other tell-tale signs on the image itself that show it to be a work of human artistry.

As for evidence that the Shroud is genuinely that of Jesus, she presents just one item: unbelievably enough, the pollen found on the Shroud in 1976, among which the Swiss criminologist Max Frei claimed to have identified species of plants that only grow in the environs of Jerusalem. This research has genuinely been discredited: specialists in the analysis of pollen (which Frei wasn’t) have pointed out that it is simply impossible to identify specific plant species using the method he employed. Yet the Shroudie world has blithely ignored this damning criticism. The fact that Faith is still using the pollen as the best evidence of the relic’s authenticity, nearly 40 years on, underlines the weakness of the case for the Shroud.

For her reconstruction of the Shroud’s history before the mid-fourteenth century, Faith largely, and uncritically, follows the theories of Ian Wilson, that it was given to the first-century King Abgar V of Edessa (in modern Turkey) and became that city’s most holy icon, the Holy Mandylion (left), until in the tenth century it was taken into the Byzantine Emperor’s collection of relics in Constantinople, from which it was looted by Crusaders in 1204 and brought to Europe, after which it was secretly kept by the Knights Templar. Suffice to say, there are serious problems with every part of this reconstruction.

Faith doesn’t really offer a ‘new perspective on the Grail legends’ as the book’s subtitle claims. The theory that the Grail was based on the Shroud – an object that ‘contained’ Christ’s blood in the sense that it had soaked into it – has been around for decades. It was suggested by Ian Wilson in the late 1970s, elaborated on by genealogist Noel Currer-Briggs a decade later, and then by historian Daniel Scavone a decade after that. Faith’s only new angle is in attempting to link the Shroud specifically to the Grail traditions relating to Glastonbury. Her case is, to put it kindly, not strong.

As in Griffin’s book, there is an uncritical acceptance of the Gospel accounts relating to Joseph of Arimathea, although Faith does at least include an appendix written by NASA official and Shroudie Ed Prior which examines both the question Joseph’s historical existence and the plausibility of the legends of him in Britain. This is by far the best part of the book (in fact, of both books) as it is grounded in proper historical analysis and deduction. Prior concludes that the Gospel accounts were based on a real man who organised Jesus’ burial - although unfortunately he doesn’t explore the question of why he took this role - but reaches what is effectively an open verdict on the legends: they can neither be proven nor disproven.

Faith, however, clearly takes a less compromising position, using the legends to bolster her thesis. She points out that, as well as the Grail containing Christ’s blood, medieval legends also connect Joseph of Arimathea with his burial shroud. But they would, wouldn’t they, given that both appeal to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial, in which Joseph plays a prominent role? And the many alleged (and unimaged) shrouds that were doing the rounds in Europe in the relic-crazy Middle Ages had to be given some kind of provenance to bolster their claim to be genuine, a provenance that had to include Joseph. So the existence of the legends proves nothing.

Faith cites a fifth-century Georgian manuscript that refers to Joseph collecting Jesus’ blood on two cloths, which she suggests could be the origin of the two cruets of the Glastonbury legend, which is a bit desperate. But all this is enough for Faith to conclude that ‘we must consider as a possibility’ that Joseph of Arimathea – or perhaps another apostle - brought the Shroud to Glastonbury shortly after the crucifixion.

A central part of her Shroud-Grail-Glastonbury connection involves the above-mentioned Henry of Blois. Faith tells us that Henry was ‘a descendant of the line of families believed to have been in possession of what is today called the Shroud of Turin’, families ‘sometimes referred to as the “Grail families”’ (although we’re never told by whom). It’s a curious statement, since, as Faith acknowledges, the first recorded owner of what is supposed to be today’s Shroud was the French knight Geoffrey de Charny, who lived two centuries after Henry, and according to her reconstruction of the Shroud’s history it was in the Middle East until at least 40 years after Henry’s death, so unless Henry’s Norman French forebears had Middle Eastern heritage he could hardly be descended from the ‘Grail families’. (Despite Faith’s assertion that ‘we know for certain’ that the relic owned by the Charny family is the same as today’s Turin Shroud, this isn’t so: as even believers in the Shroud’s authenticity, such as Ian Wilson, admit, there isn’t actually any conclusive proof of this, and there are reasons to doubt it.)

In support of her remarkable statement Faith produces a genealogical table showing the family trees of Henry of Blois and Geoffrey de Charny, captioned ‘Genealogy connecting Henry de Blois with the first known owners of the Shroud’. Not only does this make Henry the ancestor of the putative owners, not the descendant, but there is a remarkable feature of the two family trees: at no point do they connect. To say this left me bemused is something of an understatement; rather, my belief was well and truly beggared. Hasn’t Faith noticed that the chart doesn’t show what she says it does, or does she just rely on her readers not bothering to look for themselves?

Then there’s the ninth-century Book of Armagh’s reference to the ‘most holy blood of Jesus Christ… in a sacred linen cloth’ being among the relics buried with St Patrick – who, according to tradition, founded a monastery at Glastonbury before going on to Ireland. Surely, though, if this refers to Jesus’ shroud (which isn’t spelled out) that would mean it is buried somewhere in Ireland? (In Faith’s summing up at the end of the book, this becomes that the Book of Armagh ‘tells of St Patrick bringing the blood of Christ, in a linen cloth, to Glastonbury’, which is a blatant distortion of the text’s actual words.)

In a 1908 book, Somerset historian Reverend Thomas Escott recalls being shown, as a child, ‘diminutive fragments’ of Jesus’ alleged burial shroud that had, he asserted, come from Glastonbury – although he gave no details of the circumstances in which he saw them. Faith poses the question: were these fragments from the Turin Shroud ‘or some other cloth that had touched the Shroud’? The more obvious alternative, that they were completely unconnected relics, doesn’t seem to have occurred to her. She then asks whether these fragments could be ‘the reason that the legends of the Holy Grail’ became attached to Glastonbury? Well, frankly, no.

As these examples show, Faith seems to assume that every historical reference to a shroud is to the Shroud, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there were at least 40 other claimants to the title of ‘true shroud’ in medieval Europe.

The most specific evidence of a Shroud-Grail-Glastonbury connection comes from an appearance of Jesus’ burial cloth in one version of the Grail story, and the one that most explicitly links the tale to Glastonbury and Joseph of Arimathea: the anonymous Perlesvaus, AKA The High History of the Holy Grail, which is generally dated to between 1200 and 1220. In it the guardians of the Grail are Joseph’s descendants, as is the hero, Perceval. His sister Dindrane is given her own mini-quest, which is to cut a piece from Jesus’ shroud, called the ‘Sovran Cloth’, which is kept above the altar in the Chapel Perilous. She succeeds, in part because of her lineage, implicitly connecting the Sovran Cloth to, if not the Grail, then at least the Grail family. This, according to Faith, shows that the Turin Shroud was kept somewhere in the Glastonbury area at the time Perlesvaus was written, at which time it ‘was probably in the possession of the Knights Templar.’

The immediate objection is that this description says nothing about there being an image on the shroud, or even for that matter bloodstains. But more importantly, Faith doesn’t appear to notice that it utterly contradicts other key parts of her theory.

Faith dates the tale to the twelfth century (i.e. before 1200), apparently accepting the theory of Hank Harrison, an American Grail enthusiast (and one-time manager of the Grateful Dead), who believes that it was commissioned, or perhaps even written, by Henry of Blois, who died in 1171. There are several problems with his theory, but the significant point here is that, as noted above, Faith accepts that the Shroud was in Constantinople until 1204. She also accepts Currer-Brigg’s argument that the Templars acquired the Shroud from Otho de La Roche, a Burgundian knight who played a prominent role in the Fourth Crusade that sacked Constantinople in that year. However, Currer-Briggs dates the putative handover to the mid-1220s at the earliest, and more likely the 1240s, and Perlesvaus was certainly written before 1220 (as a separate text of that year refers to it).

How does Faith attempt to reconcile these contradictions? Quite simply, she doesn’t. She seems blind to the fact that evidence she presents as building her case actually undermines it. Every part of her evidence for a connection between Glastonbury and the Shroud conflicts with another part. Did Joseph of Arimathea bring the Shroud there in the first century (while it was simultaneously owned by King Abgar), or St Patrick in the fifth (when it was also the holiest icon of Edessa), or the Templars in the twelfth (at the same time that it was being venerated in Constantinople)?

Throughout, Faith displays a cavalier disregard for facts and logic, seeming to think that because she is dealing with a spiritual message, she is absolved of the need to present a coherent argument. This extends to what is a particularly irritating feature of her book, her repeated use of wild and unsupported assertions about the extent of scholarly support for her argument. I’ve already noted one example in her claim of the ‘almost unanimous’ discrediting of the Shroud’s carbon dating, but there are many more.

She states, for example, that ‘most experts now acknowledge that the image of Edessa or Holy Mandylion is the very same object as the Shroud of Turin.’ No, they don’t (assuming by ‘experts’ Faith means specialists in the history and iconography of that period, who overwhelming reject the association, rather than Shroudies). The identification of the Mandylion and the Shroud is fraught with problems, most glaringly that the former was, by all accounts and even by its etymology, a small face-cloth.

And then, ‘most Templar scholars agree that some time after the sack of Constantinople, the Knights Templar gained possession of the Shroud and were using it in their initiation ceremonies.’ No, the overwhelming majority of historians specialising in the Templars reject any connection between the Order and the Shroud, which they consider a fake anyway. (Faith can cite only one bona fide academic specialising in Templar studies who accepts the Templar-Shroud connection, the Vatican Archive’s Barbara Frale. Mind you, she also claims to be able to read Jesus’s ‘death certificate’ inscribed on the Shroud.) And again: ‘Many historians suggest that the Templars acquired the cloth… from Otho de La Roche.’ In fact, there is only one, Noel Currer-Briggs, who advanced it as a purely hypothetical route by which the Shroud could have reached the Templars.

While employing such sweeping, unsupported statements about scholarly backing for her claims, Faith – in a similar way to Griffin – uses equally sweeping, and equally misleading, assertions against the academic position when it suits her: ‘Modern scholars frequently dismiss the role of folk tradition and legend as of little or no importance to historical research.’ Actually, they don’t; they just approach it with caution, something which is distinctly lacking in Faith’s methodology, which hardly qualifies as ‘historical research’. Indeed, she has her own criteria for assessing the veracity of legend and folklore that lifts her above such mundane considerations as facts: ‘We can often intuitively sense a tale to be true, even though we have no firm evidence for this knowledge.’

Glastonbury, the Templars and the Sovran Cloth isn’t a book of history. It’s a book of conjecture supported by highly selective – and contradictory – evidence designed to bolster a nebulous spiritual ‘truth’. At least Justin Griffin was up front about his ‘court case’ approach.

In her conclusion, Faith suggests that ‘Both Shroud and Grail present a key to a different understanding of reality.’ Judging by her book, she’s right about that, but not in the way she means. – Clive Prince.


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