Friday 28 August 2009

The ghosts and grails of Lewes

If you're stuck for something to do over the Bank Holiday weekend, why not try going on a Grail quest?

Having a day's holiday booked off work earlier this week, but nothing particularly planned, that was just what I decided to do.

In years gone by it was said that those seeking the Grail must be pure of heart, or at least pure of purpose, but these days pretty much anyone can get in on the act – particularly writers of improbable fiction – so I thought I had as good a chance as any of finding at the very least a grail-shaped cup.

The Grail has been sought by many over the centuries and, although some claim to have glimpsed it, its true location is still a mystery. According to The Book of English Magic, one place it might be is Albion Street, in Lewes, East Sussex. And with Lewes being much closer to where I live than the more famous Grail quest sites of France or Scotland, I bought a train ticket to historic Sussex.

Albion Street was once the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the first Templar church in Britain, and was visited by head of the Templars, Hugues de Payen, who it is said may have hidden the Holy Grail there.

I discovered that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre no longer exists. A curious building called The Old Library stands close to the site, so I decided to photograph this. It was a sunny day and the sky was clear as a took my picture, but when I viewed it afterwards I saw the image (which you can see above) was laden with orbs.

Now, the scientifically-minded say that orbs on photographs taken by digital cameras are simply unexpected circular patterns caused by light reflecting off normally sub-visible particles such as raindrops, pollen or dust. However, it certainly wasn't raining when I took the photograph, the pollen count was low and the air seemed clean and fresh.

Those with an interest in the paranormal associate orbs with other rarely visible phenomenon - such as ghosts, spirits, angels or psychoenergetic artifacts.

Being on a Grail quest, there was only one way I could interpret this. It was a sign. The spirits of long-dead Templars, the Guardians of the Grail, were trying to communicate with me. “Find the Grail,” they were saying. “We were set to guard it, but it has gone. Find it and make sure it is safe!”

Well, OK, I didn't actually hear them say anything. I didn't actually see them - only orbs. And I didn't see the orbs until I was in the pub at lunchtime looking at my photos over a pint, but I was certain that's what they would have said, if they could.

I was left to do a bit of detective work – a spot of deduction. What might have happened to the Grail? Perhaps it had sat in someone's loft for centuries, only recently to be discovered, covered in dust, by some house developer with no idea of what it was. Perhaps they had donated it to some worthy cause in a box with other old cups, crockery and kitchenalia.

If so, a good place to start looking, I decided, was the charity shops. But a quick perusal of their shelves revealed no likely contenders, unless the Grail looked just like an old Hofmeister tankard, thermos mug or 1970s celery jar. Perhaps I would have more luck in the antique shops?

Lewes is a town full of antique shops, it seems to be the town's main trade so I had a lot to look through. But, after much time peering at silver dinner sets and porcelain flower vases, I eventually decided the Grail probably wasn't there either – although the search was beginning to drive me a little potty...

...and after a detour to the tea gardens one might even say “one Grail short of a picnic”.

Then I saw a sign to Anne of Cleves House and some inner voice seemed to tell me that I should go to find the timber-framed home that Anne of Cleves gained in her divorce settlement from King Henry VIII.

The house is now a museum of fascinating items from bygone Sussex, from cannon to old boot scrapers, and has many vessels and containers that could, possibly, be considered grails.
Some people associated the Holy Grail with various life-restoring cauldrons of ancient Irish, Welsh and English mythology. The huge iron pot in Anne of Cleves' kitchen was certainly a mighty cauldron, but it didn't feel quite like the Holy Grail to me, and one must trust one's senses when on a Grail quest.

I looked upstairs, downstairs and in Anne of Cleves' chamber. I even stuck my eye through the peep-hole of an old prison door. And I found a few interesting things.
In the house, there were two large cups that grabbed my attention. Both were quite different yet, oddly, neither had labels saying what they were. Was one of them perhaps the Grail?

It seemed to me quite right that one should be offered a choice when searching for the Holy Grail - and I would have to make my decision wisely.

One cup was a huge and gaudy silver affair standing in a large glass cabinet, beautifully decorated, in perfect condition and polished until it sparkled. The other cup was an old and battered pewter chalice standing unprotected on a granite table.

It was the latter that I felt particularly drawn to. Then I noticed that although the cup was unlabelled, the table had a long legend. It read:
“Reginald Fitzhurse, Hugh de Moreville, William de Tracey and Richard le Bret slew Sir Thomas a Beckett on 29 December 1170 in Canterbury.

"On December 31 they rode to South Malling, near Lewes, On entering the house they threw off their arms and trappings onto the table... Suddenly the table started back and threw its burden to the ground. The attendants replaced them but soon a still louder crash was heard and the table threw the articles still further onto the floor.

"One of the conscience-stricken knights suggested it was refusing to bear the sacrilegious burden of their arms.”
Such a table, defender of Sir Thomas a Beckett, would in my opinion be a worthy bearer and protector of the Grail.

The Da Vinci Code


Liz said...

This was so amusig - and who knows - each fidns the grail for them.

Liz said...

And everyone should beware the typo goblin. Amusing and finds. Thanks.

Badwitch said...

Indeed - those pesky typo goblins get everywhere :)

Regine said...

I rambled on over here from Philip Carr-Gomm's post ( - and what a whimsical, delightful way of writing you have! I was completely hooked!

More! More! :-)

Badwitch said...

Thank you very much indeed! I love writing my blog and it is lovely to hear that people enjoy reading it too!

Anonymous said...

as achild that building in Albion street was indeed my Library... and as for Anne of Cleeves house , I went there many many times, and in the front bedroom , even as a small child felt a 'presence' my brother refused to go in there, in the basement are many many gargoils from the Lewes Priory... the first ever british parliament was formed there !