, Volume 92, Issue 1, pp 1-17
Date: 24 May 2007

The inward crusade: the apocalypse of the Queste del Saint Graal

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Abstract

The Queste del Saint Graal is the most intensely spiritual of the medieval Arthurian romances, and in its combination of chivalric and religious material immediately calls to mind the contemporary phenomenon of the crusades. The text at once seems to resist the drive towards exteriorisation expressed in the crusading impetus, counterbalancing it by a mystical internalisation of the focus and objective of the quest. As such, through its use of apocalyptic imagery, the text redefines the eschatological expectations that contemporaries projected onto the crusades to the Holy Land. Redirecting such an eschatological focus inward, aimed towards the purification of the heart of each individual Christian in preparation for the imminent apocalypse, the Queste is nevertheless forced to confront yet another intensely real threat originating from within Christianity itself, that of the Cathar heresy. Cultivating a constant and uneasy ambiguity about the status of the text itself, swinging between lofty allegorisations and stark, physical realism, the author finally sees the repression of the Cathar heresy as part of a wider process of purification fulfilling a clearly eschatological function. The apotheosis of the text, with the companions’ entirely peaceful recovery of the eschatological, ‘celestial city’ of Sarraz, is thus seen as the result of a form of ‘inward crusade’ that is at once physical and ideological, micro and macrocosmic but always directed towards the heart of Christianity itself rather than the infidel.