22 June 2016
A new home for the Nanteos Cup, the Holy Grail
You may not have heard of the Nanteos Cup, but you will probably have heard of the Holy Grail. Well, the Nanteos Cup is considered by some to be THE Holy Grail. All that remains of this relic is a mere piece of fragile wood, but it has an incredible history, nonetheless. Let us take you on a brief journey into the story of this famous cup.
The Nanteos Cup is a medieval wooden mazer bowl, a wide drinking vessel without handles. Since the 1800s, people have claimed it has supernatural healing powers. Patients would drink from the cup (or in more determined cases nibble at the wood) in an attempt to absorb its mystical powers.
Inside the Nanteos Cup by National Library of Wales
Over time, the humble bowl has been damaged, stolen, and had its authenticity scrutinised. While many suggestions have been made about where it came from, its origins are still shrouded in mystery.
Some say the cup is made from the cross that Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified on. A different Christian belief is that it was the cup at the centre of the Last Supper, the one from which Jesus and his disciples drank.
One of the most commonly believed stories is that the cup was kept in Strata Florida Abbey in Ceredigion. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1500s, seven Cistercian monks who worshipped at the abbey escaped with the cup and hid in Nanteos Mansion, a stately country house in nearby Rhydyfelin, just outside Aberystwyth.
Nanteos is now a Grade-I listed, five star Country House Hotel where each room is decked out with luxurious furnishings, iPod docks and high speed wifi: somewhat different to when the monks sought refuge there!
The Nanteos Cup, now housed at the National Library of Wales by National Library of Wales
The monks stayed with the Powell family, who owned Nanteos, and the cup was kept safe with them. When the last of the group of monks died, the cup was gifted to the family, who passed it down from generation to generation. When the last Powell family member died in 1951, Nanteos Mansion and the cup were bequeathed to distant cousins, the Mirylees family. The new owners lived at Nanteos for over ten years before moving to Ross-on-Wye.
The cup entered the news again in 2014, when it was stolen from the Mirylees family home, before being returned a year later. The Mirylees family have now entrusted the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth with the safekeeping of the famous Nanteos Cup.
From Saturday June 18, visitors to the National Library of Wales can see the mysterious Nanteos Cup for themselves. It is part of the permanent display, which you can visit Monday to Friday 9.30am – 6pm and Saturday from 9.30 am - 5pm.
For enthusiasts, archaeologist and historian Professor David Austin will give a lecture on July 9 entitled ‘Strata Florida and its Sacred Landscape: a context for the Nanteos Cup’ at the National Library of Wales.
The National Library of Wales is also home to many other treasures from Wales' history: The Black Book of Carmarthen from around 1250, which is the earliest surviving manuscript written solely in Welsh, the Book of Taliesin, which includes the earliest Welsh verse from around the end of the 6th century, Chronicle of the Princes, which is the earliest chronicle of Welsh history, and more modern treasures such as the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales which preserves, promotes and celebrates the sound and moving image heritage of Wales.