Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Anne Latowsky, Ph.D.


Heresy, Middle Ages, Medieval, Holy Grail, Cathars


Our perception of the Holy Grail is, for the most part, the result of orthodox views that have dominated literary interpretation. However, the first appearance of the Holy Grail in literature does not conform to the orthodox rules and traditions. In fact, the narrative of Perceval is filled with evidence that points to a very different form of Christianity, one that would have been considered heretical at the time that Chrétien de Troyes was writing it. The twelfth century in France is often called the "Golden Age" of heresies. As Manichaeism and Bogolism swept through the country, they gave birth to a new heresy, that of Catharism. A defining factor shared by these three heresies is dualism, a belief in two gods, one being good and the other evil. These beliefs can all be traced to early Christianity and to groups who believed that they were the true followers of Christ. This study seeks to look at evidence of these beliefs in Perceval, while showing at the same time the implausibility of an orthodox interpretation. Research for this study extends to the beginnings of Christianity, more specifically to Gnostic beliefs. It also looks at other religious influences in France in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and at the Cathars. It examines what little we know about Chrétien de Troyes and the likelihood that he was influenced by heretical beliefs. In conclusion, it offers a new perspective on the Grail narrative and the mystery that surrounds Chrétien's famously unfinished work. Through exploration of knowledge, the treatment of women, and the famous "grail" scene, we demonstrate the prevalence of Gnostic influences, and how these influences were likely to occur at the time. Although the true essence of the Grail may always remain a mystery, this study offers an "unorthodox" outlook on what has become a predominantly "orthodox" symbol.