I began researching the story of the Nanteos Cup in 2002, to the point of ringing the museum in Aberystwyth, where it was said to be held, and speaking to the curator. Below I have posted a little of that research, including today’s news item about the recent theft of the cup, though I have a LOT more notes on the cup and the background story, and if I ever have the strength, I may publish it all one day.
Nanteos Mansion – Capel Seion – Strata Florida – Cardiganshire
“Nanteos Mansion was the resting place for over 300 years for the, so called, Grail Cup. The Cup which was the same one used in the Last Supper, made of olive wood. Legend tells that Joseph of Arimathea brought the Cup to Glastonbury where it remained until the 16th century when the seven Monks of Glastonbury at the Dissolution escaped with it and left it in the safe keeping of the Cistercian Monks of Strata Florida. It was then given to the Stedman Family by the last remaining monk when they escaped to the original house, Nant Eos and were looked after until, one by one, they died. Later Stedman married into the Powell family who built Nanteos Mansion in the 1730’s. Strangely, Richard Wagner was a visitor to Nanteos Mansion and it was from this place that the opera ‘Parsifal’ was originally conceived.
“My Great, Great, Grandfather Richard Wagner was a visitor to Nanteos Mansion and it was from this place that the opera ‘Parsifal’ was originally conceived. Nanteos Mansion was the resting place for over 300 years for the, so called, Grail Cup. The Cup which was the same one used in the Last Supper, made of olive wood.
Joseph of Arimathea brought the Cup to Glastonbury where it remained until the 16th century when the seven Monks of Glastonbury in the Dissolution escaped with it and left it in the safe keeping of the Cistercian Monks of Strata Florida. It was then given to the Stedman Family by the last remaining monk when they escaped to the original house, Nant Eos and were looked after until, one by one, they died.”
The cup is now held in the museum in Aberystwyth.”
(old link: http://www.angelfire.com/ak/auden/grail.html)
I spoke on the phone with the Curator of the museum in Aberystwyth in 2002, while I was conducting this research, and he explained that the cup has never been in the possession of the museum, but is in private ownership, and is now kept in a vault in Chester, where he had seen it himself.
In the news Wednesday 16th July, we read:
“In what some might call a real-life quest for the Holy Grail, police were last night hunting burglars who stole a religious relic said to be the cup from which Christ drank at the Last Supper.
West Mercia Police confirmed that the Nanteos Cup, a wooden bowl which may or may not have links to the Holy Land and the power to bestow eternal life, had been stolen in a burglary in Weston Under Penyard, a small village in Herefordshire.
A police spokeswoman said: “I don’t want to say we are hunting the Holy Grail, but police are investigating the burglary.
“The item stolen is known as the Nanteos Cup. If you do a bit of Googling, you will see some people think it is the Holy Grail.”
According to legend – and Google – the cup was used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch Christ’s blood while interring Him in his tomb.
Medieval chroniclers claimed Joseph took the cup to Britain and founded a line of guardians to keep it safe. It ended up in Nanteos Mansion near Aberystwyth, Wales, attracting visitors who drank from it, believing it had healing powers.
It now measures 10cm by 8.5cm – after bits were nibbled off by the sick in the hope of a miracle cure.
Belief in the cup’s holy powers appears to have persisted despite a 2004 television documentary in which experts found it dated from the 14th Century, some 1,400 years after the Cruxifiction.
Descendants of the Nanteos’ original occupants are reported to have recently kept it in a bank vault, but loaned it to a seriously ill woman with connections to the family.
The burglars are believed to have raided her house while she was in hospital.
Appealing for help recovering the cup (or grail), West Mercia Police said: “It is a dark wood cup and was kept in a blue velvet bag. Anyone with any information is asked to call West Mercia Police.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/nanteos-cup-relic-debunked-as-holy-grail-in-documentary-stolen-from-sick-womans-home-9608242.html
Nanteos: the name consists of two Welsh words meaning “stream of the nightingales.”
Nanteos Mansion: (Strata Florida)
An ancient yew within the churchyard that stands opposite the abbey, is said to be the grave of the medieval bard Dafydd ap Gwilym. He is famed as the greatest poet in the Welsh language.
Dafydd ap Gwilym was described by his fellow-poet Madog Benfras as eos Dyfed, “the nightingale of Dyfed”.
Dafydd was born sometime between 1320 and 1330 and died around 1380. He was a member of one of the most influential families in South Wales, and was buried at Strata Florida like many of the princes of Dyfed.
Consequently he felt no need to look up to the English conquerors. Neither was he dependent on the patronage of noble families, unlike most of his contemporaries. This was to have a profound effect on the subject matter of his poetry, which is lighter, and more playfully risqué than the other works of his age.
It is believed that he was educated in the court of his Uncle Llywelyn ap Wilym ab Einion, a man of great learning. He was to be surrounded by the greatest European works of the time, from which he borrows a great deal of his subject matter and style. Dafydd skilfully ties this in with the Welsh tradition – a master of ‘cynghanedd’ and the ‘awdl’ he was to create works of great beauty and merit.
His poems are often merry and playful. His tales of the adventures experienced whilst trying to court young ladies, Morfudd and Dyddgu in particular, are truly hilarious. Dafydd also wrote extremely beautiful nature poetry, and there is a general consensus that he is one of, if not the greatest of Welsh poets and of European stature.
Dafydd ap Gwilym, Wales’ greatest poet (and lover!), is a fascinating yet shadowy figure from the past. He was born in the early part of the fourteenth century, a contemporary of Boccaccio and some thirty years older than Chaucer. He spent his early years in Llanbadarn with his parents and with his uncle Llywelyn in Castell Newydd Emlyn. He spent much of his later life in exile, and, so popular belief has it, was buried in Strata Florida, near Tregaron.
Llywelyn was described by Dafydd as a warrior, as Lord of Dyfed, and also as a poet, a scholar, a linguist and a teacher. Llywelyn and Dafydd were learned and cultured: they probably spoke several languages and were versed in both contemporary and in classical literature. Dafydd describes Llywelyn’s house, Cryngae, as a white-washed house perched on a hill, with lamps burning brightly, with seats covered with silk brocade, and in which fine French wine was drunk from cups of gold.
(old link) http://www.wordshop.org.uk/dafydd.htm
His family originated from the cantref of Cemais in Pembrokeshire, and it had in earlier generations included several officials who had held positions of high authority in the same area under the English crown. The few datable allusions which Dafydd makes to contemporary events all point to the middle years of the 14th century as his period of maximum poetic output: he may thus have been born about 1320 – a slightly older contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Tradition places Dafydd’s birth at Brogynin in the parish of Llanbadarn Fawr, a few miles north-east of Aberystwyth, in a substantial mansion or plasty which lay adjacent to a farmhouse still retaining this name. It is believed that he lies buried not far away, near Pontrhydfendigaid, within the precincts of the monastery of Strata Florida. Several poems indicate that the neighbourhood of Aberystwyth and north Ceredigion was more familiar to Dafydd than any other part of Wales, yet he appears to have travelled widely throughout the length and breadth of the country, and to have been well-acquainted with places in Anglesey such as the borough of Rhosyr or Newborough, and with Bangor and Caernarfon in Gwynedd. He may also have visited Chester, whose famous Cross is the subject of a poem which has latterly come to be accepted as belonging to the canon of his work; but there is no indication other than this that Dafydd ever travelled beyond the borders of Wales.
He describes himself, no doubt fancifully, as a member of the clêr: these were the Welsh equivalents of the clerici vagantes or “wandering scholars” of other countries, and Dafydd may indeed have qualified at an early period in his life for minor religious orders – a not uncommon practice. But the indications are that he was a man of birth and breeding, and of no fixed occupation, who had sufficient means to travel at will through town and country, visiting the taverns in the Norman boroughs, and the homes of his cultivated friends over a wide area of Wales. And in both tavern and plasty there were no doubt to be found audiences fully capable of appreciating the cywyddau which, in their different kinds, he composed for their entertainment.
Dafydd’s range of personal contacts included his fellow-poet Gruffudd ab Adda, Madog Benfras, and Gruffudd Gryg – the last being an Anglesey poet with whom Dafydd exchanged a sequence of cywyddau in the form of a debate concerning the proper subjects to be treated of in the newly-introduced cywydd verse-form. Among his friends and acquaintances were also uchelwyr or men of hereditary station in Ceredigion and further to the south – men such as Rhydderch ab Ieuan Llwyd of Glyn Aeron and his family, and his uncle Llywelyn ap Gwilym, the constable of Newcastle Emlyn, who appears to have been a powerful educational influence upon the poet’s early life.
Dafydd’s uncle may, perhaps, have been the first to have introduced Dafydd to the “two cultures” – that is to the native bardic tradition as well as to the language and poetry and romances of the Anglo-Norman world. There was in addition Dafydd’s friend and patron Ifor ap Llywelyn or “Ifor Hael” of Basaleg in present-day Gwent.
To all of these men he addressed praise-poems which by the very fact of their existence provide an authentic framework, however exiguous and inadequate, for the bare facts of the poet’s life. For in all his other compositions but these few poems, fantasy intermingles with fact to such an extent that it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other, or to estimate the degree of reality which lies behind what Dafydd ruefully presents as his perpetually thwarted love-affairs. Love and Nature are the prime subjects of his poetry, and the two are very frequently blended, for he presents his love-theme most characteristically in an idealised woodland setting, in which he imagines himself as building a deildy or house of leaves and branches in which to shelter with his chosen sweetheart – “Morfudd” or “Dyddgu” or some other un-named girl, making his retreat with her in the wilderness, as an escape from the hampering restrictions of conventional society.
Apologies if these old links no longer work but I did this research in 2002
If you look out to sea as you travel from Aberarth to Aberaeron, if the tide is just over halfway out you may notice two semicircular stone “walls”. They are now only the low foundations of the last two Goredi or fishtraps once fairly common along the Cardigan Bay coast. The first record of them is in 1184 of Rhys ap Gruffydd granting the goredi “on the land and in the sea between the Aeron and the Arth” to the Cistercian monks of Strata Florida Abbey.
“The Red Book of Hergest”, a thirteenth century jumble of 58 poems, one of which is the Romance of Taliesin tells the legend of how Cerridwen gave birth to a child which she disposed of by sewing him into a leather bag and throwing him into the sea. He got caught in a Gored between Aberystwyth and Aberdovey and was recued by Elphin son of Gwyddno Garanhair, king of Cantre’r Gwaelod – the lost land of Cardigan Bay. This is legend handed down by Bards whose origin is lost in time. It is thought that the traps may have been in use in the sixth century.