Feature Articles – The Scottish Grail castle ?
Is there any chance that the famed Grail castle is not in France, but instead is located in Scotland? If one follows the Arthurian tradition, rather than the traditions of the Grail, that is apparently where one ends up.
by Philip Coppens
The Grail. A story dating from the 12th and early 13th century, a story which continues to inspire Mankind… and pushes fictional heroes such as Indiana Jones on a Grail quest. The Grail, the centre of the “Grail castle”, guarded by mythical knights whom many believe are similar to the Knights Templar. But where is the castle – and what is the Grail? Many locations have been put forward, including the Grail in Glastonbury, in the English county of Somerset, whereas others opt for the French stronghold of Montsegur. The Grail is a mixture of English and French symbolism – the former to do with King Arthur and his Round Table and his knights, the latter with Perceval and the Fisher King and the knights protecting the Grail. Both themes might seem similar, but they are not. Above all, they have different origins, mixed together in the pot of the 12th and 13th century, when both countries became one – and the literary traditions mixed and mingled.
For the English stories, we know that the accounts come from Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote a history of the kings of Britain. Geoffrey wrote his book in 1138, several decades before Chrétien de Troyes was the first person in France who began to write on the subject of the Grail. Geoffrey wrote a history of Britain – and not England, as so many have since come to believe. If anything, the history of Arthur is more Welsh – which at the time was not even typically Welsh, but included portions of Scotland. The Gododdin, the Celtic tribe that first spoke of Arthur, was Scottish in nature, but expelled from their home countries, to live in Wales – where the story of Arthur was a story of a glorious time gone by, of their homeland now lost. In the Arthurian tradition, we have the knights who protect “les pors de Galvoie”, the gates or ports of Galvoie. Galvoie is the old name for Galloway, the “port” into Scotland for travellers come from the West. The area is now known as Dumfries and Galloway and sits on the southern-western of Scotland, a peninsula on the northern side of the Solway Firth. Could this be the area of the Arthurian traditions, as written down by Geoffrey? Is there more supporting evidence?
There is. Arthur had two residences: one, his capital, which was the famous Camelot. The other was Cardoeil. Until 1157, after the time of Geoffrey, the capital of Scotland was Carlisle, which was named Cardeol and later Carduil – reminiscent of Arthur’s second residence. Carlisle sits furthermore on the “gateway” to Dumfries and Galloway.
There are some other hints that might hint at further Scottish connections. Mons Dolerous of the legends is identical to the name of Melrose Abbey, which was known as Mons Dolorosus when it was founded in 1136. There is also a Castellum Puellarum, which according to Robert de Boron was Caerlaverock Castle, situated in Dumfries and Galloway, sitting next to the Solway Firth. This castle therefore guards the “ports” or “entrances” to Dumfries and Galloway. Coincidence, or design? Other references are to one Roche de Cangiun, which one researcher, R.L.Grame Ritchie, also refers to Caerlaverock. In 1952, he even went so far as to conclude that Caerlaverock was the mythical birthplace of Arthur. We would not dare to go that far, but still, it is clear that this part of Scotland seems to have played an important role in the Arthurian tradition – which later was mixed into the Grail legends – and have since become difficult to distinguish from each other… unfortunately. Could Caerlaverock be the Grail castle? Perhaps. The earliest attempts to build a castle date from the 13th century, when the Maxwell family received the territory from the Scottish king. The original castle was soon traded in for another one, constructed only some dozens of yards further. That castle – still visible and visited by many – was built on rocks, and thus gave adequate protection against the sea. Over the centuries, the distance between the castle and the sea has grown and grown, but originally, the waters of the Solway Firth reached until the foot of the castle.
The castle dates from ca. 1270 – and are thus obviously a later design than the stories of Geoffrey – indicating that it is quite unlikely that this castle was indeed an important castle in the Arthurian tradition… but though the individual castle might not fit, it suggests that the general Scottish territory is indeed correct. But that is another story… This article originally appeared in Frontier Magazine 8.2 (March-April 2002) and was adapted & abridged.