The Mysterious Identity Of The Eastern Pyrenean Lady With The Flaming Grail

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12th century Romanesque apse wall fresco, St Clement de Taüll, Catalonia, Spain, by the Master of St Clement. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. (Image: Author provided)

The Mysterious Identity Of The Eastern Pyrenean Lady With The Flaming Grail

Deep in the eastern Pyrenean valleys of Catalonia, Spain, lies a 900-year-old mystery. For some unknown reason, in the 12th century (between 1100-1170) at least nine medieval church apses were decorated with frescoes showing the Apostles and a woman, usually identified at Santa Maria, holding a vessel, which is often flaming. Including the Virgin Mary among the Apostles was unusual, and to have her holding a flame-filled vessel was even more so. In fact, the iconography is unique to this region.

The woman from the fresco painted on the wall in the church’s apse, stares with a gaze clear and penetrating. Her right-hand faces palm out, as if to stay, “Stop! Pay attention!” Her left hand (hidden beneath the folds of her blue cloak) holds aloft a white bowl. Golden-orange rays rise from the flaming bowl. The bowl is or contains something holy, as demonstrated by the way she holds it in her covered hand rather than touching it directly. She is identified as Mary, but which Mary is she: the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene? And what is she holding? Is it possible she holds the Grail? And if so, why is it flaming? And what is its relationship to the Arthurian legends about the Holy Grail?

Christ the Pantocrator by the Master of Taüll, with the Lady holding the flaming Graill below his right foot (Public Domain)

Christ the Pantocrator by the Master of Taüll, with the Lady holding the flaming Graill below his right foot (Public Domain)


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