Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Religious Relics and Secret Symbols

Recently on the History Channel, a slew of documentaries revolving around the themes of the Holy Grail, Templars, and the various works of DaVinci Code author Dan Brown have aired to once again pique the interest in the lore of San Graal. I've had the distinct pleasure of viewing first-hand one of the few grails purported to be this sacred chalice. This is its story:

"There are cups claimed to be the Grail in several churches, for instance the Saint Mary of Valencia Cathedral, which contains an artifact, the Holy Chalice, supposedly taken by Saint Peter to Rome in the first century, and then to Huesca in Spain by Saint Lawrence in the 3rd century. According to legend the monastery of San Juan de la Peña, located at the south-west of Jaca, in the province of Huesca, Spain, protected the chalice of the Last Supper from the Islamic invaders of the Iberian Peninsula. Archaeologists say the artifact is a 1st century Middle Eastern stone vessel, possibly from Antioch, Syria (now Turkey); its history can be traced to the 11th century, and it presently rests atop an ornate stem and base, made in the Medieval era of alabaster, gold, and gemstones. It was the official papal chalice for many popes, and has been used by many others, most recently by Pope Benedict XVI, on July 9, 2006."
You can read more about the complexly interwove mythologies of Templars, Grails, and Arthurian legends in numerous books, articles, and webpages.

A magic square is an ancient mathematical ideograph (going back more than 4,000 years) that places a series of integers within a gridded square. When added up along any column, row, or diagonal, the sum will always be the same number as any other row, column, or diagonal. They have long been used to express magical formulae, astrological concepts, and to ascribe coded meaning to words and names, especially those of demons and deities within middle eastern traditions. The one crafted by artist Josep Subirachs for his Passion Facade at Gaudi's famous "Sagrada Familia" church in Barcelona is said to represent Jesus' age at the time of the crucifixion, 33. However, unlike a typical Magic Square, this one repeats numbers, which ideally it should not.

But one would be remiss not to explain this tableau. The embracing figures known as the "Judas Treason" (representing the moment Judas betrays Christ with a kiss) is flanked by the Magic Square on the left and a serpent representing Satan or evil coiled behind Judas [off frame] to the right.

While I might be making more of this than I should, it is interesting to note that Judas is embracing Jesus more like a lover than a brother. And while it might be expected in religious iconography to place Jesus above others, he is almost too tall in this sculpture. This rendering makes the figure of Judas seem almost like a woman reaching upward for her lover's kiss. DaVinci Code anyone?

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