The "grail", wondrous but not explicitly holy, first appears in Perceval, le Conte du Graal, an unfinished romance written by Chrétien de Troyes around 1190. Here it is a processional salver used to serve at a feast. Chrétien’s story attracted many subsequent authors who extended the story as well translators and interpreters in the later 12th and early 13th centuries, including Wolfram von Eschenbach, who imagined the grail as a great precious stone that fell from the sky. In the late 12th century, Robert de Boron wrote in Joseph d’Arimathie that the Grail was Jesus’s vessel from the Last Supper, which Joseph of Arimathea used to catch Christ’s blood at the Crucifixion. Thereafter, the Holy Grail became interwoven with the legend of the Holy Chalice, the Last Supper cup, a theme continued in works such as the Vulgate Cycle, the Post-Vulgate Cycle, and Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.
The so-called Vulgate Cycle and Post-Vulgate cycle — written in the 13th century — have their own story. Altogether they comprise ten volumes of stories and story fragments about the Grail and related subjects (e.g. Merlin, Galahad, Joseph of Arimathea). A curious feature of this enormous body of literature is that its contributers remain anonymous. This anonymity has resisted all efforts by modern scholars to identify its authors by name.
But this shouldn’t seem so surprising, considering other enormous yet anonymous undertakings of that era: the great cathedrals. These were colossal edifices in which the generation that began constructing them could only hope that their grand-children would see it completed. And those involved in their construction also remain almost entirely anonymous. In other words, the Vulgate Cycle is arguably a Literary Cathedral — an enormous project undertaken for the benefit of the community, with no thought for personal benefit or even personal acknowledgement.
In age of "Me me me, I want mine, I want it now, and I want everyone to know every little good-deed I do," the Grail and its literature remind us that there is another Way.