Urgell Secrets

August 2018 Update: Due to recent field research in Montserrat, Barcelona, Roda de Isábena, and Vall de Boí, major revisions of this report are in progress.

Arthurian romance is still celebrated as a "Matter of Britain," but the mysterious word "grail" can been traced to Urgell in Spanish Catalonia (1). It is an even lesser known fact that nine churches with paintings of a Holy Grail were discovered in the Pyrenees above this ancient diocese. The historian Joseph Goering writes in The Virgin and the Grail (2) that such images "are found nowhere else in Christendom: the Virgin Mary holding a sacred vessel." He proposes that they inspired grail romance because they were painted around 1123 CE, long before the French poet Chrétien had a virgin hold the grail for the first time in literature (3). When a friend of Picasso copied a few paintings in 1908 and reports about this unique treasure reached the public, the churches could no longer be protected at their isolated locations (4). In order to save them, the frescoes were covered with transparent glue and expertly peeled from the plaster. They are now exhibited at the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona (MNAC) where they are celebrated as the finest examples of Romanesque art in the world. One of the most famous works is the "Pantocrator" from Sant Climent de Taüll, created almost nine hundred years ago, where Christ has such a stunning facial expression that it surpasses some of the best modern art! Because of objections to the removal of the masterpieces, the empty walls were restored with copies in the 1960s. Here are close-ups of the "grail virgin" to show the difference between the original and inferior copy, which explains why they were replaced another fourty years later with colorful projections of digital recreations at Sant Climent.

 Many international art historians connect these paintings to grail romance without even having to consider the etymological link of "graal" to Urgell. For example, Chandler R. Post writes in 1930 that the vessel in Mary's hand "has been tentatively explained as the Holy Grail because Montserrat in Catalonia is connected with this legend and because the vessel seems to be filled with the Sacred Blood emitting miraculous rays." Otto Demus adds in 1970: "The Virgin... holds up a dish filled with the red glowing blood of Christ, a reminder that Catalonia was one of the centres of the cult of the Grail." Christopher Dodwell sums this up in 1993 by proposing that it is "the earliest allusion to the Grail in art or literature" (5). What makes this painting so unique is that Mary's simple bowl confirms the etymology of "gradalis-gradal-grala-graal" (6), which is also depicted in nearby Sta Maria de Taüll. There, the Magi use such bowls for their gifts, although they seem to be filled with eggs instead of myrrh, frankincense and gold! (Some images can be enlarged by clicking on them.) We can also see that Mary tilts the grail slightly to the left, towards Christ above her left shoulder. This raises the question what Mary may be signaling with her right hand: to show that the rays are very hot or that her bowl (7) contains a secret message? Here are details of foolish virgins (8) and apostles (9) to show how widely hand gestures were used at the time.


But why does Mary's facial expression seem so strained – is it because her lips are sealed? Someone without an art background wouldn't even notice the subtle effect. Sealing wax or glue are difficult to paint but stitches are quite easy! Christ thrones above her holding the Book of Life that announces EGO SVM LVX MVNDI (I am the light of the world). He is surrounded by angels and animals, symbols of the Tetramorph, and seems to float forward from his mandorla. In view of the dramatic scenario, it is understandable that a history professor would overlook the subtle lines on Mary's lips. Goering reveals that he had neither studied art nor literature and admits humbly to "poaching on their grounds" in an homage of his teachers at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto. We poached as well by copying the virgin from his book at first, but visited the MNAC in April, 2018, and took these close-ups of Mary ourselves (10). The detail of her mouth shows the brush strokes across both lips rather well, which speaks for itself – pun intended! It remains an open question if the painter wanted to depict her silence with painful stitches because vertical lines would also seal the lips. Although no other paintings with such lines can been found in Romanesque churches, the Catalan experts we contacted dismiss them as an artist's personal style to depict a mouth.

The other church in the village, Santa Maria, shows the popular image of the Virgin Mary with little Jesus on her lap, which makes us wonder why she is demoted to a line-up with apostles at St Climent. Our detail shows three wisemen at her side and, yes, below two Stars of Bethlehem! They wear exotic miters with three fleurs-de-lys that look like crosses, which is an interesting ambiguity because they could either be Holy Kings or Magi. The Church had revised their image as magicians by renaming them "Holy Three Kings" and preached their royalty from every pulpit until the Reformation, when Bible translations became available and restored them as Magi. By that time, they were celebrated everywhere as "Magic Kings" (reyes magos, rois mages), yet still depicted with conical caps at Sta Maria de Cap d'Aran and Sta Maria d'Aneu (11) in the Pyrenees, which could make them independent from Byzantine art where they wear Phrygian caps as the famous mosaic in Ravenna demonstrates. Here is another challenge for historians and a surprising break-through for us, which we discovered a couple of years ago: The Magi at Maria d'Aneu wear tunics with fancy designs of the "fiery" and "watery" triangles we feature since the 1980s. (The detail at left can be enlarged by clicking on it also to reveal the eggs in his basket). The paintings of their upper bodies on the other side of Mary are gone but their lower tunics remain and are also decorated with such triangles! Hence, they may symbolize the sun with the "fiery" and "watery" triangles of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars before sunset in February of 6 BCE, which we intend to connect to the phoenix myth in our conclusions! One of the reasons why scholars may have overlooked these images is that France and Spain were disconnected at the Val d'Aran in the winter – until two tunnels were built in 1948 and 2007, see Vielha Tunnel.

Back to Goering who interprets the red-hot flames as "The grace of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost" and concedes that "sacraments of oil, chrism and consecration; the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist; each and all of these meanings, and others too, might be represented..." After insisting at great length that Chrétien had no idea what a grail is and that it is not an ancient myth, he features the consecration of the churches in Taüll (Tahull in Spanish) by Bishop Ramon of Roda and Barbastro. He dedicates an entire chapter to this bishop, an Augustinian canon and prior from Saint-Sernin in Toulouse when it was part of Aquitaine. Based on Ramon's note books, Goering reconstructs the ceremony of the consecrations over several pages and admits to our surprise "One might even imagine that the Grail processions as described by Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach owe something to this public liturgy". He adds that naming a church after "St. Clement, the famous first-century bishop of Rome and successor of St Peter," is a meaningful choice and concludes: 

"Whatever the message intended by this choice of patron saint and of precious relics, there can be no doubt that the consecration of the church of St. Clement in 1123 was an event of even more than usual importance in the valleys of the Pyrenees." (12)

Goering's unexpected concession that the poets may have been familiar with these paintings will be explored it detail below, but first a brief introduction of this extraordinary man. The article "San Ramón, el obispo desterrado" reveals that he refused to support the wars of king Alfonso I the Battler (13) and protected the Muslims, Jews and heretics in his diocese. Based on the accusation that Ramon "allowed Muslims and Jews to prosper," the king gave his brother at arms Esteban, the bishop of Huesca, permission to have his soldiers to kill the entourage of Ramon and sack his residence. Most on-line biographies omit this slaughter and claim he was exiled in France and attended in 1117 a council in Toulouse. There is also a legend that he was banned from Barbastro and lived like an hermit in a cave until he was restored to Roda, at least.

The seclusion of this romantic village and cathedral on a hilltop allowed him a peaceful life and business ventures with his friends, the powerful Barons of Erill, and also restore their churches in the Boí valley. Before December, 1123, when he consecrated St Climent and Sta Maria in Taüll, he even made peace with the blood-thirsty king Alfonso and later joined his wars against the Muslims in the South to tend to injured and displaced Mozarabic victims, until he became ill himself and died in 1126 after returning to Roda. These acts of wisdom, pluralism, and compassion are a grail message Goering seems to have overlooked!

Visitors can buy a booklet in the major languages at the MNAC today, which is published by the University of Lleida (14) and offers pictures of St Climent's apse which are available on-line. We learn that nine Romanesque churches and chapels in the Boí valley became part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 2000 and that the inferior copies at St Climent were removed during a restoration between 2008 and 2010. In the process, new images were discovered which have remained on site. The booklet has a photo from 1904 when the apse is still covered by a 17th century altarpiece. The detail at left is important for several reasons: Only Christ is visible below the ceiling, but the row of saints with Mary and the grail were masked for centuries by an illustrated band. Furthermore, the altarpiece has obviously inspired the towers of the "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona, the famous church of Antoni Gaudi, yet none of the experts seem to have noticed...

It is also strange that the authors of the booklet explain in chapter 8, "Reading the Artwork," some of its decoration down to specific details, but ignore the interactive presentation of Christ because it is quite controversial, as we will show below. They merely feature his garments "with edges simulating pearled adornments performed with detail and refinement, as if an exquisite goldsmith had made them to dress a king" (15), and overlook that both garments have a wide border similar to the belt, with diamond-shaped rhombuses of two triangles. The same decorative band is worn by each apostle on either side of Mary, but only the rhombuses of James are divided openly into triangles! This symbolism is mirrored at Santa Maria and on the robes of the Magi at Santa Maria d'Aneu, which indicates that their esoteric symbolism is related. Like Goering, these experts maintain that the painters are responsible for these patterns and ignore that they are told by their patrons what to depict. They even fail to mention a row of colorful swastikas which underline the apostles with Mary at Sant Climent, check pp. 24/25 in the booklet or the digital recreation! In spite of its abuses during the holocaust, the swastika is a sacred symbol of the spiritual principles in Buddhism and Hinduism, and pertains to the revolving sun and continued creation in Zoroastrianism! Hence, the authors came up with the simplistic explanation that Bishop Ramon wanted to "remind medieval society – and thus our own – that the light to successfully lead and direct human existence is found in Christ in Majesty, represented in this apse;  almighty, the beginning and end of all things. And its pedagogy and teachings are very clear and basic: be like Abel (practice good) and go to heaven, or be like Cain (practice envy and badness) and go to hell."

How Chrétien may have heard about Taüll

Chrétien's references to Marie de Champagne establish him at her court in the 1170s when Troyes had international importance. Her husband was the count of Champagne, her parents Eleanor of Aquitaine and king Louis VII of France, and her step-father Henry II of England, which meant a diverse attendance of potential informants at social events. Troyes was also a religious center, king Louis the Stammerer received there the imperial crown from Pope John VIII in 878, and Pope Honorius II convened a Church Council in 1129, attended by Bernard of Clairvaux and Hugues de Payens, when the Knights Templar were founded. However, other chivalric orders existed already, including the Knights Hospitaller (Order of Saint John), the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Knights of Saint Lazarus.

In the Middle Ages, when most people could neither read nor write, the role of our electronic media was played by interest groups. Information was secure because of language barriers which so-called "heretics" used to their advantage. Academics and churchmen communicated in Latin and Greek,  Jewish scholars could add Hebrew and Yiddish, and travelling tradesmen like carpenters or masons had secret signals. Even a heretic member of any of these groups (16) could have attended Chrétien's performances at Marie's court and inform him about a secret cult, which could have inspired him to use "graal" and link to the South of the Pyrenees where "grala" and "greala" are still used today.

According to our findings at St Pere de Rodes, the French poet decided to base his Conte du Graal on the symbolism of Peter's relics and a vessel with Christ's blood, which were allegedly lost at the site of the monastery. Our interpretation of his "Magic Sword" identifies pope Alexander III as "vicious and evil" because he persecuted heretics and used the Peace of Venice to have all traces of the centuries-long search for the relics removed (17). However, because the futile quest for the relics opened their minds to spiritual ideals, these searchers became "heretics" and had to withdraw to the High Pyrenees. From Roda to Roda it seems, because Sant Pere de Rodes used to be known as San Pedro de Roda (18) until a few decades ago.

Hence, Chrétien learned in Troyes to take the "Val d'Aran" (valley of valleys) from Toulouse to the High Pyrenees where the Boí valley with Taüll is hidden. While he was riding "per-ce-val" for days a poem about a sick Fisherking was going through his mind because Peter's skull and bones were rotting in a cave, including a cup with the blood of Jesus, and he envisioned some kind of religious quest. About a hero named "Perceval" and a castrated papacy –  when the sight of this church would have stopped him cold!


It's the kind of tower he expected in a large town to reach over the rooftops, but not in a secluded village in the mountains! This didn't make sense if the Vatican lost Peter's relics, and the phallic symbolism seemed like "papal Machtkunst" (19).

This paradox took us a decade ago to Rome where we followed up with the excavations of Peter's tomb at the Vatican, which had admitted officially in 1951 that it was found to be empty. However, some "reburied bones" without the skull were dug up a few feet away, which confirmed the long search for this relic near St Pere de Rodes by Italian churchmen. This required a close look at the Boí valley because three of its churches, St Climent and Sta Maria in Taüll, and Sta Eulàlia in Erill la Vall were built by Lombardian craftsmen before 1100 CE (20). When Chrétien saw the other two churches, he would have wondered like us why they look identical, and why each over-sized tower was added on a different side? (Climent is depicted on top, Eulàlia at left and Maria at right.) A critical observer would notice that the above picture of St Climent includes the tower of Sta Maria above the rooftops of the village, which could be a first clue to the mystery.

Why new field research became necessary

Grailgate is maintained on the west coast of the USA. This restriced our study in recent years to research libraries and the internet until we ran into a few problems that can only be resolved on site. A fresco from St Pere de Burgal depicts a flaming grail like St Climent de Taüll, but as an enclosed relic. That Romanesque churches show vessels of different shapes was understandable because the early poets had the same idea. It indicates that the grail is not a religious object, but a philosphical concept. But the longer we looked at the painting, the more expressionistic it became! Mary began to look a bit too stern as she promotes her vessel, and Peter extremely unhappy with the corners of his mouth drawn down. We wondered what this could mean and noticed that her weird looking grail is made up of two vessels, as the dark line we added demonstrates at right. It suggests that Peter dislikes also to be recalled to advertise "dualism" and hold up his keys! Did this heretic idea inspire the fiery grail at St Climent, which was painted about a decade later? No secular satire required here as the facts speak for themselves, or the silence, because we have positive proof that Mary's lips are meant to be sealed! Below are close-ups of the other apostles next to her, enhanced by a higher contrast and tint to show there are no lines on their lower lips, except for a crack in the plaster across John's mouth in the middle. 

These were the highlights of our study until three years ago when we had two major set backs. Our favorite contributor in Catalonia, who runs an esoteric website and blogs with foreign scholars, dismissed the "sealed lips" as jpg-distortions. When we sent him our comparisons, he disagreed and never responded again. He could have had an accident, we thought, but found him blogging with a historian in England who supports our site for years. Our only solution was to ask Montserrat Pagès, curator of Romanesque Art at the MNAC in Barcelona, in an email if she has ever noticed the sealed lips. She ignored the question in her reply, attributed the painting to a "reinforcement of the papal position" in the controversy between "Gregorius VII with the bishop Berengario of Tours regarding the (sic) Eucharistical sagrament", and forwarded the email to her German "friend and colleague" Anke Wunderwald. When we tried to contact her and failed to get a response for two years, a trip to Spain became our best option.

In early April, 2018, we started out at the MNAC and could finally see with our own eyes that Mary's lips are really sealed. A couple of weeks later, after a lovely sunny Sunday morning in Roda de Isábena. it took us less than an hour to drive from Aragon to Catalonia though a maze of gorges, canyons, tunnels and bridges to Erill la Vall, which is a little village on a hill like Roda that offers a panoramic view of an upward slope in the Boí valley. Until we have permission to send up the drone we took along, because of heavy fines in Spain, we have to borrow this great picture from the internet to show the visual connection of each church by their tower, with Eulàlia in the foreground, Joan de Boí in the center, Climent above it, and Maria almost hidden in the upper left corner. (Please note that the Catalan name "Joan" is "John" in English). We realized that St Joan is situated in a strategic location between the other churches and learned on site that its tower used to have six upper floors like the others. According to recent excavations the church (at right) used to be inside a fortified castle with a draw bridge, which had been destroyed in the Middle Ages – that there is no written proof of its existence will be addressed below!  

We also noticed that the towers did not have to be that tall for visual contact with each other and St Joan, with the exception of St Climent perhaps, which could explain why Sta Maria was added higher up in Taüll (21). We borrowed this great picture from the internet as well  because it is taken from the tower of Climent and reveals Maria at right and Erill la Vall below. They seem to have been more than watch towers because the Boí valley dead-ends into the mountains and two fortresses used to protect the access from the South. At the entrance of the valley was Castilló de Tor above the Noguera river, which belonged to Roda de Isábena, and East of it was Erillcastell to cover the South-Eastern flank. But after these castles had been destroyed for unknown reasons, the Val de Boí remained isolated from the rest of the world for centuries and its inhabitants left either the region or suffered great poverty. But soon after their hidden art was discovered they became prosperous and as if the grail is a magic "feeding dish" were rewarded with a major building boom. Up the river is Caldes de Boí with famous mineral baths and Spa hotels, and because Boí-Taüll is below the highest peaks of the Pyrenees it was turned into a popular ski-resort:

When we wrapped up our field research in late April, 2018, we were quite disappointed! It had been like visiting a fancy resort because the villages are well maintained and all buildings covered by modern slate roofs, including the medieval structures, restaurants, and new apartment buildings. Nevertheless, we took hundreds of photographs in Boí and Barcelona, but didn't find the missing pieces of art we had expected. Not even the "peacock" marked 33 on the chart of St Climent. We could only discern the neck of a bird, while another bird sticks out its head from the whitewash at Sta Maria! In fact, the bare walls at the MNAC became a major challenge because it seemed preposterous to interprete isolated artworks without their context. (At left is a sample from St Climent and at right from Sta Maria). The only good news is that we got close to Mary's lips and can finally prove that they are sealed and not jpg-distortions. But we can't explain why Catalan scholars ignore the opinion of their international peers that grail romance is inspired by the Romanesque art at their museum (22). Don't they know that the Holy Grail is part of popular culture now, thanks to Spielberg and Dan Brown, and that they would attract more visitors from around the world by simply mentioning it?

New questions

In spite of our disappointment in Boí-Taüll, hard proof of the "sealed lips" began to raise new questions that may have been overlooked. Why did the international experts connect St Climent to the grail legend and didn't consider why Sta Maria is almost identical and in the same little village? There are no records of the Boí castle and we wondered to which St John its church was really consecrated? Bishop Ramon would have been an honored guest at the castle when he conscrated St Climent and Sta Maria, but why did he wait until December when it is freezing cold, and why until Monday? We'll never know what he did on Sunday, celebrate mass at St Joan or consecrate it first? And what kind of rite or cult had been practiced in these churches to require new consecrations? Did it have anything to do with St Pere de Rodes and the Cathars? Yet over all these questions loomed another enigma: why were four over-sized towers added in clear sight of each other that look like Muslim minarets? When we checked Google to review the distances, we noticed the tilted angle of their line-up from Sta Eulàlia at the bottom of the valley, less than a mile from St Joan de Boí as the crow flies, followed by a winding road up to Taüll.

We googled the Vatican and found Peter's square in the East of the basilica, which means that when the pope faces the crowds from his window he is looking towards the rising sun and the ecliptic where the planets rise at night. Rising above the obelisk in the center of his view, which is from Heliopolis of all places! All of this could have many meanings, but the offical explanation is Matthew's Gospel "For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Mt 24:27,) which would include the Star of Bethlehem. Although the direction of each sunrise changes slightly each day from South-East to North-East beyond the winter solstice, the Vatican lines up rigidly with the East like many churches. Surprisingly, the satellite view shows that the churches in the Boí valley line up differently, and when we used Google's satellite view to zoom in on each church we noticed that it is not a concidence: All four churches are on this axis and each apse faces the South-East, which shows they are aligned to the solstices. December 10 is shortly before the winter solstice, and we wondered if the mountains would obstruct the observation of the sunsets? Here are the only photos we took from this angle, of St Climent at left and Sta Maria, and it seems the North-West shows gaps between the mountains, pending additional studies upon our return. Only an astronomer would know how to explain the purpose of this axis, which is apparently an ancient tradition because Stonehenge in far-away England is lined up the same way (23). It might even relate to the many pre-historic Dolmens, Taulas and stone circles in the Pyrenees, like this taula (π) we photographed near Sant Pere de Rodes. Hence, our field research opened new perspectives which sent us back to the drawing board for another look at our earlier conjectures.

We started out with Goering again and noticed he doesn't even bring up that Sta Maria looks like St Climent and omits Boí castle and Sta Eulàlia altogether. He neither mentions the Church reforms, the Cluniac and Gregorian, nor the Mozarabic rite. We wondered if he had his eyes closed or lips sealed by his friends at the Pontifical Institute – and decided to retrace his steps. Like him, we spent some time with the creative ideas of Otto Demus, a renown Byzantine expert from Vienna, and the great photography of Max Hirmer, and compared Romanesque art from all over Europe when certain patterns began to emerge. We noticed that the political conflicts during Bishop Ramon's life are covered eloquently by one of Goering's other sources, Manuel Iglesias Costa, but in two works he didn't quote (24). They surprise with a wealth of information about the pluralistic zeitgeist at the medieval borderlands, which would become the impetus for our Western culture and science. After checking Demus again, who connects some Romanesque works to the phoenix myth and grail romance, we compared Wolfram's descriptions of the planetary positions with our findings in the Boí valley, and the hundreds of fragments began to conjure up some kind of "grail cult" which used four tall towers in a hidden valley to study the heavens.


Was the Castle of Boí a research center?

Our study has been dedicated to this mystery since the 1980s and this is the first time our diverse conjectures seem to fuse together! Persuasive evidence that we may have reached our lofty goal, even if it means that the celebrated grail castle of medieval romance has perished long ago. Although it may have never been more than a poetic vision, we are obliged to check if an esoteric brotherhood or sophisticated research center existed at the site, which would have involved Bishop Ramon. This raised the question if the "grail knights" were an order of Christian, Jewish, Moslem and yes, "heretic" scholars, who studied the meaning of our existence. Our starting point would be the documented order of events, which puts Ramon before grail romance and may go centuries back.

1. It's an ideal site to study the heavens

Remote locations are even chosen today because of the clear skies and absence of light pollution. There wasn't much light in the Dark Ages, especially in the valleys where almost every house had an open fire 24/7 with substantial smoke pollution under some meteological conditions. The horizon rises to our eye level wherever we are, even in the mountains, and all we need is a gap and we can observe the sunrises and sunsets at the horizon, including the rising stars and planets. As the telescope hadn't been invented yet, such a location was ideal for naked eye observations – especially with sextants and astrolabes. Galileo is more famous than Kepler today because he had a telescope, but Kepler was a matematician and only needed a sextant to calculate the planetary orbits.

2. Evidence for the "religious" context

Muslim astronomers were improving the astrolabe for navigation and to set the direction of Mecca for prayers, while Christian astronomers could have investigated the Star of Bethlehem, as suggested at Sta Maria de Taüll. For a better understanding of the interactions between Islam and Christianity, which include pope Sylvester II, we need to consult the poets, which requires a brief introduction: Chrétien de Troyes opens his poem Conte du Graal (see link) with the "parable of the seed" from the Gospels (Mk 4, 1-10, Mt 13, 4-9), and takes us later to the grail castle where a virgin carries a "graal" which shines so brightly "the light of the candles faded like stars when the sun or the moon are rising" (25). He combines the medieval concept of the Microcosm and Macrocosm with the Etymologies of Isidor of Seville "the most influential book, after the Bible, in the learned world of the Latin West for nearly a thousand years" (26)! The Biblical parable inspired Chrétien to play with ambiguities and add an etymological jeu de mots with "conte" in four continuous lines which leads to Urgell. Wolfram von Eschenbach honors the French master by taking this to another level with ambiguous words, including "lapsit exillis" for the grail, which has apparently the power to revive the phoenix from its ashes! (27)

Furthermore, he gives Chrétien's unnamed places and characters French sounding names, which most experts dismiss as bad French because they overlook that Wolfram's patron was raised at the court of King Louis VII in Paris and spoke the language fluently (28). Unfortunately, the French poet died before he could develop his cosmic concept, perhaps in the late 1180s, and we are fortunate to have the German adaptation and second opinion (see link), which begins the mystery in Spain with its astronomical origins. Wolfram writes in P. 453 that the truth was discovered by Master Kyot in a discarded manuscript in "Dôlet" which is usually translated as Toledo, although he probably meant Tudela at the Ebro, near the Pyrenees (29). An "infidel" scholar claims that he can define the recession of the planets, and how long each revolves in its orbit until it comes back to its mark, and this allows him allegedly "to see hidden, mysterious things in the constellations about a thing called the grail" (30).  

Wolfram goes on to praise Kyot because he was baptized and understood such hidden things. We will demonstrate below with the astronomy software Starry Night Pro that this relates to December, 1123, in the Boí valley. Wolfram sets it up for us by referring to the planetary positions in the second half of his poem with their influence (P. 454, 15), great suffering under Saturn (P. 489, 24-25, P. 493, 1) and relief from Jupiter and Mars (P. 748, 23-25, P. 789, 4-7). When Parzival has achieved his quest, a sorceress arrives at King Arthur's court and praises him:

"Blessed are you in your high lot, O crown of man's salvation! The inscription has been read: you shall be Lord of the Grail..."

She goes on to mention the Arabic names of the Sun and seven planets "from the farthes to nearest in relation to the earth according to the traditional concept of an earth-centered universe" according to the translators (31).  Her prophecy seems to be based on Plato's "Great Year" when all planets line up again with the Sun in Aries, the first sign of the Zodiac.  

The astronomical data will follow after our review of the paintings in the context of the many stars and astrological symbols at Joan de Boí and Maria de Taüll that relate to the Magi. In fact, we will show that each surviving painting in Taüll is by itself a magic window into the past, thanks to Bishop Ramon. This indicates that the poets understood his message and "unsealed" Mary's lips by having a virgin carry the grail. Wolfram names the Fisherking "Anfortas", Germanized ad portas to imply Peter at the gates of heaven, and the virgin "Repanse de Schoy" whom he celebrates in French as "answer to a joyful choice", which Goering didn't bring up because of the heresy: "To place a Host into the hands of a woman was condemned in the sixth century as an inaudita superstitio and a long line of consiliar decrees and episcopal edicts regarded it as an abuse down to the thirteenth century" (32). According to Roger S. Loomis, among the poets who adapted and reworked Chrétien's ideas “the ecclesiastics who composed the Didot Perceval, the Queste del Saint Graal, and the Estoire del Saint Graal carefully substituted for the beautiful maiden a youth or a priest" (33).

3. The historical support

There has been much turmoil on both sides of the Pyrenees at the time. The Umayyad dynasty, famous for its high culture, tolerance, and centers of learning, dissolved when the Caliphate of Córdoba fractured in 1031 into a number of independent Muslim kingdoms, which was followed by religious fanatism and territorial wars. In 1054 came the East-West Chism when the Orthodox Church separated from Rome, which resulted in the Investiture Controversy, followed by the First Crusade. The Gregorian and Cluniac reforms were also started, yet historians bring up rarely that a large part of the clergy was married and had children, and that some escaped the reforms by taking their families across the Pyrenees to live in a tolerant environment like Roda. This might even explain why Mary can hold a sacred vessel in this part of Christendom, because if the churchmen loved their wives they would have included them in some rituals.

A different perspective

The time has come to switch our point of view to the South where our review of the historical events during Bishop Ramon's life faces two major obstacles: We'll never know if Ramon was celibate because he was canonized right after his death, in 1135, which allowed the new king of Aragon, the churchman Ramir II, to have his vita rewritten at Roda (see below). Information about the mysterious rites that were practiced in the Boí valley is not available either, probably because it came under the control of Urgell in 1140, which enforced the Church reforms.  

(to be continued)

Update of June, 2019

Regular visitors to our website know how much we appreciate the Barcelona lawyer and historian Jeroni Pujades (1568 - 1635) who has been our mentor and trusted guide for decades. However, when we looked for information about bishop Ramon and the Boí valley in his works, as we would always do, we noticed that the last quarter of his Crónica Universal is not only penned by a scribe, but full of errors, omissions, and fraudulent additions. This forced us to revise our findings and divert our resources first to expose this elaborate forgery. You can check this link to see if we are done, because we'll complete the above report next.




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1. C. du Fresne du Cange; Glossarium, L. Favre, Niort 1885, Tom. IV, p. 91, and Joan Coromines, Diccionari Etimològic Complimentari de la Llegua Catalana, Vol. IV, Curial Edicions Catalanes, Barcelona, 1984, p.637.

2. Joseph Goering, The Virgin and the Grail, Origins of a Legend, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005), p. 70. It is curious that he accepts that "Mary is portrayed here as as first among equals (prima inter pares) in the Apostolic college" (p.101), yet the Council of Ephesus had made her the "Mother of God" in 431.

3. Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances, tr. William W. Kibler, (London, 1991), pp. 7-8

4. Montserrat Pagès, the curator of MNAC, offers in Romanesque mural painting in Catalonia (2012) an informative introduction, but without references to the grail.

5. Chandler R. Post, History of Spanish Painting, (Harvard, 1930), p. 195; Otto Demus and Max Hirmer, Romanesque Mural Painting (New York, 1970), p. 479; Christopher R. Dodwell, The pictorial Arts of the West, 800-1200, (Yale University Press, 1993), p. 258. This is a span of 75 years until Goering's well-researched book.

6. Joan Coromines, ‘Apèndix sobre Greala i el Greal’ in idem, Diccionari Etimològic Complimentari de la Llengua Catalana (Barcelona 1980-), 10 vols to date, IV, pp. 637-641  at p. 637: ‘del cat. Greala “escudella” (cat. arcaic gradal, f.). La dada més antiga que es té del mot en qualsevol país es troba en una escriptura catalana, i més concretament urgellesa en latí en l’any 1010 (du C.): “ad Sancta Fide coenobio gradales duas de argento” […], d’Ermengarda, filla del comte Borrell de Barcelona, any 1030, tornem a trobar “vexela de auro et de argento, id sunt enapos V, et gradals II”’.

7. The fiery bowl may symbolize Plato's "Krater," a divine mixing bowl of life. See Henry Kahane, Renee Kahane, The Krater and the Grail: Hermetic Sources of the Parzival (Illinois Studies in Language and Literature, Vol 56), 1985.

8. Sant Quirze de Pedret, see Romanesque Heritage by Peter Hubert, one of our contributors, whose spectacular website has been discontinued because of his death in early 2017, which is an immense loss. We are fortunate to have saved one of his files in pdf format, which preserves a few of his great photographs! You'll note he follows the interpretations of Montserrat Pagès and questions Mary's "sealed lips", but he kindly credits our website as a reference at the end.

9. Santa Maria de Mur, now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

10. We used a compact Canon SX730 HS with an 40x optical zoom in the automatic setting. Unfortunately, the MNAC seems to prevent tourists from getting good pictures to protect the professionals. They use colored spot lights on the paintings, which is a problem, and don't allow tripods or simple sticks to get a good focus. We had to use benches or floors to take some of our pictures. When we compared them with the originals, we noticed that our camera reduces the color intensity by roughly 15%, even outdoors, which we tried to compensate with Adobe photoshop elements 14. We also increased the contrast a little bit at times to bring out details.

11. The mural of Santa Maria de Cap d'Aran has been lost to the Metropolitan Museum The Cloisters in New York, the one from Santa Maria d'Aneu is preserved at the MNAC in Barcelona.

12. Goering (see above No. 2), p. 78. He writes in footnote 13, p. 172, that "it is enough to repeat that nowhere else in Christian art, ouside this small area of the Pyrenees, do we find images of the Virgin Mary holding a fiery vessel, or a vessel of any kind."

13. The Knights Templar had been received with enthusiasm by the Crown of Aragon. King Alfonso I the Battler, having no direct heir, bequeathed his dominions to be divided among the Knights Templar, the Knights Hospitaller, and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, but was annulled in 1131. The plot thickens even more, because it was negotiated by the Count of Barcelona with the help of Alfonso's brother and successor, King Ramir II of Aragon and count of Ribagorza (1086-1157), who had been a monk and briefly the bishop of Roda.  

14. Ximo Company, Clara Lopez, Marina Bellmunt, Isidre Puig, Eloi de Tera, The Pantocrator of Sant Climent de Taüll: the light of Europe, English ed., (Lleida, 2016). An erudite theologian and art historian like Company is certainly qualified to address the message of St Climent. We find it strange that the grail myth is not even brought up, which questions his relationship with the Vatican.

15. Ibid., p. 39. Their chart with the numerical identifications, p. 34, confuses the symbolism and pairs Luke with the eagle and John with the ox. We should add that the whole idea of a Tetramorph, of winged creatures that symbolize the alleged authors of the synoptic gospels as weird winged creatures with animal features, and based on the zodiac, is incomprehensible today. This was introduced by Irenaeus (130-202) and was probably meant to replace Pope Clement's phoenix symbolism with Ezekiel's visions.

16. A visiting Cistercian or Templar could have been the informant. The Catalan knight Arnau de Torroja (1118-1184) is a contender because he was born near Urgell, joined the Knight Templars 1162 in Lleida, and was Grand Master when Chrétien worked at Marie's court. There is also the curious case of Jacob ben Meir (d. 1171) in Troyes, a leading participant in the rabbinical synods since about 1160. He is best known as Rabbenu Tam, one of the most renowned Ashkenazi Jewish rabbis, and as a leading French scholar. When the celebrated philosopher and astronomer Abraham ibn Ezra (born 1089 in Tudela!) visited Troyes, Rabbi Tam greeted him in verse whereupon Ibn Ezra exclaimed in astonishment, "Who has admitted the French into the temple of poetry?" He probably answered that Chrétien's performance inspired him and introduced him to the poet!

17. According to Chrétien, the sword is covered by a scabbard of fancy Venetian gold-brocade, and breaks into three pieces if used wrongly, which Wolfram confirms. He adds that they can be fused by "Trebuchet" (three books?) where the source lies in darkness, which might identify the forgered chronicles of St Pere de Rodes, St Miquel de Cuixa and Sta Maria de Montserrat. Our hypothesis got some support from German researchers in 2016 who write that "a good third" of the documents until the late 12th century about Louis the Pious are forgeries and that it misled historians in the past. (See link.)

18. Narcís Garolera, El català que ara es parla - La degradació de la llengua als mitjans de comunicació, (Barcelona, 2012), ftn. 24, see link. “Roda i Roses són noms d’origen ben diferent, inconnexos” (Onomasticon Cataloniae, vol. VII, p. 462a); el nom del monestir és St. P[ere] de Roda, sense –s [...] mot cèltic sense res en comú amb el [nom] grec de Roses” (ibid., vol. II, p. 244b); la tradició viva i multisecular ha estat sempre, i únicament, Sant Pere de RODA” (ibid., vol. VI, p. 416a)."  Because of Joan Coromines, (see above Nr. 6), the celebrated master of the Catalan language, a monastery that by tradition was always known as "St Pere de Roda" has been renamed "St Pere de Rodes." This opens the door to speculation that the "Roman structure" under the monastery is a thousand years older than assumed, and that the temple may have been consacrated to Aphrodite, as Wolfram suggests.

19. Ernst Kitzinger, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 22, (Cambridge, 1972), p. 101. He doesn't mention the towers and applies "papal Machtkunst" to the religious art of the period.

20. Kenneth J. Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 800 to 1200, (Yale University, 1992), p.102.  "The Lombards, aggressors against Rome and Montecassino, are generally thought of as destroyers. However, they had a fairly well organized state... After their conquest (774) the Franks used these cadres, and they aided in the task of setting up Charlemagne's empire".

21. If we get permission to use our drone, we intend to fly it above the tower of St Joan to compensate for the missing floors and determine if the tower of St Clliment is visible.

22. Manuel Castiñeiras and Jordi Camps, Romanesque Art in the MNAC collections, in collaboration with Joan Duran-Porta, photographs by Matías Briansó, (Barcelona, 2008). They acknowledge the grail only once, in a reference to Sant Pere de Burgal (p. 28). It is difficult to understand why they single out an enclosed relic and ignore the well-known Virgin of Taüll.

23.  See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonehenge under Function and construction: "The site, specifically the great trilithon, the encompassing horseshoe arrangement of the five central trilithons, the heel stone, and the embanked avenue, are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstice... Further astronomical associations, and the precise astronomical significance of the site for its people, are a matter of speculation and debate". Under https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1492482/Stonehenge-druids-mark-wrong-solstice.html, Charles Clover writes that "Modern-day druids, hippies and revellers who turn up at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice may not be marking an ancient festival as they believe. The latest archaeological findings add weight to growing evidence that our ancestors visited Stonehenge to celebrate the winter solstice". The importance of the winter solstice may explain why Bishop Ramon chose December for his consecreations. Although the direction of Mecca is sunrise at the summer solstice and the apse of Saint-Sernin in Toulouse faces the North-East, the winter solstice. 

24. Manuel Iglesias Costa, Roda de Isábena, ex-sede y catedral Ribagorzana, (Huesca, 1987), see pdf link, and Historia del condado de Ribagorza, (Huesca, 2001), see pdf link.  Iglesias (1919-2001) was an enlightened historian and catholic priest from Bonansa in Aragon, a small town between Roda de Isábena and the Boí valley.

25. CHRETIEN, vv. 3225-3229: “Atot le graal qu’ele tint, Une si granz clartez i vint Qu’ausi perdirent les chandoiles Lor clarté come les estoiles Quant li solauz lievre ou la lune.”

26. See http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/katz/060801.pdf. See also Frank N. Magill, Great Events from History, Vol.2, Salem Press, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1973, p.1086.

27. Here is Wolfram's text, (P. 469, 1-13): "Dâ wont ein werlîchiu schar. ich wil iu künden umb ir nar. si lebent von einem steine: des geslähte ist vil reine. hât ir des niht erkennet, der wirt iu hie genennet. er heizet lapsit exillîs. von des steines kraft der fênîs verbrinnet, daz er zaschen wirt: diu asche im aber leben birt. sus rêrt der fênîs mûze sîn unt gît dar nâch vil liehten schîn, daz er schœne wirt als ê..."

28. The Wikipedia link to Hermann is in German. It relates that he was raised at the court of King Louis VII in Paris, to which we should add that he would have met Chrétien's future patroness, Marie de Champagne, who was the daughter of the king. "Durch seine zeitweise Erziehung in Paris war er mit zeitgenössischer französischer Literatur bekannt, deren deutsche Neubearbeitung er förderte. Am Landgrafenhof entstanden unter anderem Heinrichs von Veldeke Eneasroman, Wolframs von Eschenbach Willehalm, ggf. Teile des Parzival und Herborts von Fritzlar Liet von Troye. Die Wartburg wurde unter seiner Herrschaft endgültig zum Hauptsitz der Ludowinger, 1206 soll dort der Sängerkrieg stattgefunden haben, an dem so bedeutende Minnesänger wie Walther von der Vogelweide und Wolfram von Eschenbach teilnahmen."

29. Werner Greub, Wolfram von Eschenbach und die Wirklichkeit des Grals, Philosophisch-Anthroposophischer Verlag, (Dornach/Schweiz, 1974), pp. 151-3.

30. The quote: "Flegetanis was a heathen who was highly renowned for his learning. This physicus descended from Solomon and was born from a family which had been Israelite until Baptism became our shield against hellfire. He wrote of the adventures of the Grail. Flegetanis, who worshiped a calf as through it were his god, was a heathen by his father. How  can the devil inflict such mockery upon such wise people, without Him above whose powers are greatest and to Whom all powers are known? For the infidel Flegetanis was able to define the recession of each planet and how long each revolves in its orbit until it comes back to its mark. All human kind are affected by the revolutions of the planets. With his own eyes the heathen Flegetanis had seen – and was too shy to say openly – hidden, mysterious things in the stars. He declared there was a thing called Grail he read clearly in the constellations..."  It seems that when scholars translate Wolfram into English, they use as a guide the excellent prose version of Wilhelm Stapel in modern German, who translates "Dôlet" as Toledo and implies with "heathen" that Flegetanis and his father had abandoned Judaism. Another ambiguity because many ancient religions, especially Hinduism, considered cows as sacred. There is even Exodus 32:4, where some Jews are accused of worshipping Baal and praying to a calf as a false god, which is pre-Islamic and was exploited by Christians like Hrabanus Maurus since the ninth century to support anti-Semitic polemics. 

31. Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival, trans. Helen M. Mustard and Charles E. Passage, (New York, 1961), pp. 406, 435.

32. Colloques internationaux du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, iii, Romans du Graal (Paris, 1956), p. 246.

33. Roger Sherman Loomis, The Origin of the Grail Legends, Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, A Collaborative History,  (Oxford University Press, 1959), pp. 277-78




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