Jubilee Year of the Holy Chalice

Valencia celebrates the Jubilee Year of the Holy Chalice

Sometimes great treasures are kept where you least expect them. The Chapel of the Holy Chalice in Valencia Cathedral is one such place. Since 1916, it has displayed the cup that has generated the most legends, artistic and literary works; and one of the most admired and acclaimed relics by the Catholic Church: the Holy Grail, guarded since 1437 in the reconditorium of the Valencian Cathedral. Until its arrival at the Royal Palace of Valencia in 1424 by King Alfonso the Magnanimous, the venerated piece had been changing hands and residence over the centuries in what is an interesting pilgrimage route.

Archaeological, documental and historical data on the journey made by this relic to the Cathedral of Valencia indicate that it is the vessel used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI officiated masses with the Holy Chalice of the Cathedral in their respective visits to Valencia in 1982 and 2006.

In 2015, Pope Francis granted Valencia the celebration of the Jubilee Holy Year, which will be repeated every five years in the city of Turia, making it one of the holy cities of the world. On the last Thursday of October 2020, the second Jubilee Year of the Holy Chalice will begin and Valencia will welcome all those pilgrims who wish to obtain the plenary indulgence in its Cathedral.

 

 

 

How the Holy Chalice came to Valencia

The cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper was brought from Jerusalem to Rome by St. Peter and used since then by him and the successive Popes of the Church in Rome in the Eucharistic celebrations until the year 258, when Pope Sixtus II, commissioned his deacon St. Lawrence to take the cup out of Rome to protect it from the persecution of Emperor Valerian.

St. Lawrence brought the relic to Huesca, where his parents lived. The chalice ended up hidden in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña and in 1399 it was given by the monks of the monastery to King Martin I of Aragon, from whom three letters insistently claiming the relic are preserved. Once in his hands, Martin I took the grail to the chapel of his residence in Zaragoza, the Palacio de la Alfajería. And another king, Alfonso the Magnanimous, moved the Holy Chalice in 1424 to the Royal Palace of Valencia, his residence at the time.

The conquest of the kingdom of Naples meant the Magnanimous had to undertake costly military campaigns for which he needed loans, one of which he contracted with the church hierarchy. The king backed him up with all his relics, including the Holy Chalice, which he had to hand over in 1437 to write off his debt to the church. It was preserved and venerated for centuries among the relics of the Cathedral, and until the 18th century it was used to contain the consecrated form in the "monument" of the Holy Thursday, until it was finally installed in the old Chapter House, enabled as the Chapel of the Holy Chalice in 1916.

 

What you can see in the Holy Chalice Chapel

Enter through the Cathedral's Puerta de los Hierros and head to the first chapel on your right. To house such a jewel, the Holy Chalice chapel is a room without great luxury or stridency, surrounded by serene silence. Behind the altar you can contemplate, in a glass urn, this mysterious piece of incalculable value for everything it represents and the myths and legends it has generated throughout History.

Take a seat in one of the pews of the chapel and stop to contemplate the details. Just in front, embracing the Holy Chalice, you will see an impressive alabaster altarpiece made by the Italian Giuliano Poggibonsi, disciple of Lorenzo Ghiberti, author of the Gates of Paradise in the baptistery of Florence. It is the ancient choir door of the Cathedral from the 15th century, with twelve reliefs of scenes from the Old and New Testament.

If you look up, you will discover the ribbed star-shaped vault. In its keystones are the twelve Apostles and in the central one, the scene of the coronation of the Virgin in heaven after the Assumption.

On your left, those huge chains hanging from the wall, are the ones that closed the port of Marseille and that Alfonso V the Magnanimous brought with him in 1423 after his passage through the city of Provence. On the 226 links, the canvas "Expulsion of the Moors" by the artist Vicente López.  And on the other side, the fresco of the Adoration of the Kings painted by Nicolás Florentino.

 

 

But the relic, what does it look like?

The Holy Chalice is placed in a glass urn, so you will not be able to contemplate its small details. But you won't miss anything, because we tell you about them here.

The cup that is kept in the Chapel of the Holy Chalice in Valencia Cathedral has three different parts. The relic itself is the polished agate goblet at the top. Thanks to the archaeological studies carried out by the researcher Antonio Beltrán, we know that the cup dates back to the period between the 4th century BC and the 1st century AD, and that it was carved in an eastern workshop in Egypt, Syria or Palestine itself. Research shows that the foot is an Egyptian or Caliphal vase from the 10th or 11th century, added to the cup around the 12th century, as an estimation of its exceptional importance. And that the pearls and precious stones that ornament it are later and could have been superimposed when the Holy Chalice was venerated in San Juan de la Peña.

 

 

The footprints of the Holy Grail in Valencia

Until it reached the Cathedral, the Holy Grail travelled or left traces in some places of the city that you can visit today.

 

1. Jardines del Real Gardens. This is where the Royal Palace was located, the residence of King Alfonso the Magnanimous, who brought the Holy Grail to Valencia for the first time and kept it there for a while.

2. Museum of Fine Arts of Valencia This is the second art gallery in Spain after the Prado Museum in Madrid. There you can contemplate three works in which the Holy Chalice of the Cathedral is reproduced: two copies of Joan de Joanes' Eucharistic Saviour from the 16th century and the Holy Supper by another Valencian painter, Joan Ribalta. The museum also holds two drawings that are not on public display for conservation reasons: The Last Supper by Joan de Joanes, and the Institution of the Eucharist, by Francisco Ribalta.

3. The Church and Palace of the Temple. This is where one of the ancient gateways to the city was located, through which the Grail passed in the direction of Valencia Cathedral in 1437.

4. The El Patriarca Museum. Look at the scenes in relief on the façade dedicated to the Holy Grail and contemplate inside the museum the painting "The Last Supper" by Francisco Ribalta. Take the opportunity to see the paintings by Caravaggio, El Greco, Van Der Weyden, Benlliure, Ribalta and Pinazo that are also on display in the museum, as well as the original manuscript of Sir Thomas More's posthumous work.

5. San Martín Obispo and San Antonio Abad Church, with a fresco by José Vergara dedicated to the Last Supper, where you can see a reproduction of the Holy Chalice in Valencia Cathedral.

6. Corpus Christi Museum. It houses the triumphal chariots or hors d'oeuvres that participate in the celebration of Corpus Christi. These chariots, which were popularly known as rocks, have given name to this unique Corpus Christi Museum better known as the House of Rocks. One of them is dedicated to the Holy Grail. It was paraded for the first time in the procession in 2001.

7. Calle Avellanas, 3. Sabina Suey's house, where the Holy Grail was hidden during some days of the Spanish Civil War.

8. Cathedral of Valencia. Contemplate the 16th century oil on panel by Juan de Juanes "Last Supper" on the first floor of the Cathedral Museum and take the opportunity to see other works by one of the most important painters of the Spanish Renaissance. Meet other of the relics that were owned by Alfonso the Magnanimous, as the thorns of the crown of Christ and two pieces of the cross. Also discover the original sculptures of the Apostles' Gate in the Cathedral, reliquaries, facsimiles, wood carvings from the 15th century and works by other Valencian masters, such as Vicente Masip. Visit the treasures of the Valencian Cathedral and finish your route, as it could not be otherwise, in the Chapel of the Holy Grail.

You can find out more about the Holy Grail and the artistic heritage of some of the city's temples, such as the Church of San Nicolás or the Church of San Juan del Hospital, on the guided tour Ruta del Grial y arte religioso (Grail and Religious Art Route) which leaves every Friday at 10:00 am from the tourist office at Calle de la Paz, 48.

 

The Grail Route, an itinerary of culture, landscape and nature

Beyond the spiritual sense that the Grail route may imply, the path that this relic took is also a very attractive route to discover the heritage, the landscape and the nature of the journey that the most venerated cup in the world took.

Although the route could start from San Juan de la Peña, in Huesca, we are going to focus on 10 of the Valencian villages through which the route passes. It can be done comfortably on foot in 17 stages of 12 kilometres each, crossing two natural parks, going through Roman and medieval vestiges, participating in festivals full of tradition and enjoying a local gastronomy of kilometre zero.

And so, the Grail Route in the Valencian Community passes through Barracas, Jérica, Segorbe, Torres-Torres, Gilet, Sagunto, El Puig, Massamagrell, Alboraya and València. The beginning and end of the route are marked by two sculptures by the artist Antonio Peris Carbonell made of Corten steel.

The route allows you to experience the "Entrada de Toros y Caballos" (Entrance of Bulls and Horses) of Segorbe, a festival that dates back to the 14th century and has been declared of International Tourist Interest. Also enjoy the experience of sleeping in the monastery of Santo Espíritu de Gilet, founded in 1403, in the heart of the Sierra Calderona. You can feel the greatness of Roman civilization in the Sagunto Theatre, built in 50 AD, and in its imposing castle-fortress, declared a National Monument in 1931. Or travel back to medieval times by visiting the Monastery of Santa María del Puig or the Ara Christi Charterhouse.

Don't forget to visit the church of Massamagrell, known as the "Cathedral of l'Horta Nord", and the Capuchin Convent, from the 15th century, which houses a library with numerous incunabula. 

Activate your body and mind by walking the paths of the two nature parks you will find on the Route: the Sierra Calderona and the Sierra de Espadán. Get your strength back with the varied gastronomy of these two mountain ranges and stop by the Cooperativa de Viver to taste or take home one of the best extra virgin olive oils in Spain.

There are an infinite number of monuments, guided tours and places on this route. Discover them all here.

 

 

6 interesting aspects you should know about the Holy Chalice

1. The chalice has survived an accidental fall on Good Friday 1744. It emerged unscathed from the War of Independence, moving from Valencia to Alicante, Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca. It was also saved from the desecration of the Cathedral during the Civil War, thanks to a family who kept it hidden first in their home in Calle Avellanas de València and then in Carlet until the war was over.

2. The Holy Chalice only leaves its chapel twice a year to be taken in procession to the High Altar of the Cathedral. The first one is on Holy Thursday, for the "In coena Domini" Mass; the second one is on the last Thursday of October, for the celebration of the Annual Holy Chalice Festival Mass.

3. But if you don't have the opportunity to see it live in those two moments, visit the Craft Center of the Valencian Community to see closely the replica of the Holy Grail made by the expert goldsmiths Piro.

4.  Only seven places in the world celebrate a Jubilee Year in perpetuity: Valencia, Santiago de Compostela, Camaleño (Cantabria), Urda (Toledo), Caravaca de la Cruz (Murcia), Rome and Jerusalem.

5. What does the Holy Grail sound like? You can find out on the album El Grial by the group specialising in ancient music Capella de Ministrers. It is a compilation of songs from crusades, the songs of pilgrimage centres, the reflection of medieval literature in the music and the emblematic symbolism that it acquired with Alfonso the Magnanimous. Capella de Ministrers compiles in this record music and poetry from the Middle Ages around Chrétien de Troyes, Robert de Boron, Wolfram von Eschenbach and Hélinand de Froidmont.

6. Our chalice also gives its name to a hat. It is the Grail model available at the premises of Sombreros Albero at 21 Xàtiva street or in their online shop. It is inspired by the Fedora hat worn by Indiana Jones in his last crusade.