Sir Galahad and the Sacred Cup
by Mary MacGregor
‘My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure,’
sang Galahad gladly. He was only a boy,
but he had just been made a knight by Sir
Lancelot, and the old abbey, where he had
lived all his life, rang with the echo of his
Sir Lancelot heard the boy’s clear voice
singing in triumph. As he stopped to listen,
he caught the words,
‘My strength is as the strength of ten,
Because my heart is pure,’
and the great knight wished he were a boy
again, and could sing that song too.
Twelve nuns lived in the quiet abbey, and
they had taught Galahad lovingly and carefully,
ever since he had come to them as a
beautiful little child. And the boy had dwelt
happily with them there in the still old abbey,
and he would be sorry to leave them, but he
was a knight now. He would fight for the
King he reverenced so greatly, and for the
country he loved so well.
Yet when Sir Lancelot left the abbey the
next day, Galahad did not go with him. He
would stay in his old home a little longer, he
thought. He would not grieve the nuns by
a hurried farewell.
Sir Lancelot left the abbey alone, but as
he rode along he met two knights, and
together they reached Camelot, where the
King was holding a great festival.
King Arthur welcomed Sir Lancelot and
the two knights. ‘Now all the seats at our
table will be filled,’ he said gladly. For it
pleased the King when the circle of his
knights was unbroken.
Then all the King’s household went to
service at the minster, and when they came
back to the palace they saw a strange sight.
In the dining-hall the Round Table at
which the King and his knights always sat
seemed strangely bright.
The King looked more closely, and saw
that at one place on this Round Table were
large gold letters. And he read, ‘This is
the seat of Sir Galahad, the Pure-hearted.’
But only Sir Lancelot knew that Sir Galahad
was the boy-knight he had left behind him
in the quiet old abbey.
‘We will cover the letters till the Knight
of the Pure Heart comes,’ said Sir Lancelot;
and he took silk and laid it over the glittering
Then as they sat down to table they were
disturbed by Sir Kay, the steward of the
‘You do not sit down to eat at this
festival,’ Sir Kay reminded the King, ‘till you
have seen or heard some great adventure.’
And the King told his steward that the
writing in gold had made him forget his
As they waited a squire came hastily
into the hall. ‘I have a strange tale to
tell,’ he said. ‘As I walked along the
bank of the river I saw a great stone,
and it floated on the top of the water,
and into the stone there has been thrust
Then the King and all his knights went
down to the river, and they saw the stone,
and it was like red marble. And the sword
that had been thrust into the stone was
strong and fair. The handle of it was studded
with precious stones, and among the stones
there were letters of gold.
The King stepped forward, and bending
over the sword read these words: ‘No
one shall take me away but he to whom
I belong. I will hang only by the side of
the best knight in the world.’
The King turned to Sir Lancelot. ‘The
sword is yours, for surely there lives no
But Sir Lancelot answered gravely, ‘The
sword is not mine. It will never hang by
my side, for I dare not try to take it.’
The King was sorry that his great knight’s
courage failed, but he turned to Sir Gawaine
and asked him to try to take the sword.
And at first Sir Gawaine hesitated. But
when he looked again at the precious stones
that sparkled on the handle, he hesitated
no longer. But he no sooner touched the
sword than it wounded him, so that he
could not use his arm for many days.
Then the King turned to Sir Percivale.
And because Arthur wished it, Sir Percivale
tried to take the sword; but he could not
move it. And after that no other knight
dared to touch the fair sword; so they
turned and went back to the palace.
In the dining-hall the King and his knights
sat down once more at the Round Table,
and each knight knew his own chair. And
all the seats were filled except the chair
opposite the writing in gold.
It had been a day full of surprise, but
now the most wonderful thing of all
happened. For as they sat down, suddenly
all the doors of the palace shut with a loud
noise, but no one had touched the doors.
And all the windows were softly closed, but
no one saw the hands that closed them.
Then one of the doors opened, and there
came in a very old man dressed all in white,
and no one knew whence he came.
By his side was a young man in red
armour. He had neither sword nor shield,
but hanging by his side was an empty
There was a great silence in the hall
as the old man said slowly and solemnly,
‘I bring you the young knight Sir Galahad,
who is descended from a king. He shall
do many great deeds, and he shall see the
‘He shall see the Holy Grail,’ the knights
repeated, with awe on their faces.
For far back, in the days of their boyhood,
they had heard the story of the Holy Grail.
It was the Sacred Cup out of which their
Lord had drunk before He died.
And they had been told how sometimes
it was seen carried by angels, and how
at other times in a gleam of light. But
in whatever way it appeared, it was seen
only by those who were pure in heart.
And as the old man’s words, ‘He shall see
the Holy Grail,’ fell on their ears, the knights
thought of the story they had heard so long
ago, and they were sorry, for they had never
seen the Sacred Cup, and they knew that
it was unseen only by those who had done
But the old man was telling the boy-knight
to follow him. He led him to the empty
chair, and lifted the silk that covered the
golden letters. ‘This is the seat of Sir
Galahad, the Pure-hearted,’ he read aloud.
And the young knight sat in the empty
seat that belonged to him.
Then the old man left the palace, and
twenty noble squires met him, and took him
back to his own country.
When dinner was ended, the King went
over to the chair where his boy-knight sat,
and welcomed him to the circle of the Round
Table. Afterwards he took Sir Galahad’s
hand, and led him out of the palace to show
him the strange red stone that floated on
the river. When Sir Galahad heard how
the knights could not draw the sword out
of the stone, he knew that this adventure
‘I will try to take the sword,’ said the
boy-knight, ‘and place it in my sheath, for
it is empty,’ and he pointed to his side.
Then he laid his hand on the wonderful
sword, and easily drew it out of the stone,
and placed it in his sheath.
‘God has sent you the sword, now He
will send you a shield as well,’ said King
Then the King proclaimed that the next
day there would be a tournament in the
meadows of Camelot. For before his knights
went out to new adventures, he would see
Sir Galahad proved.
And in the morning the meadows lay
bright in the sunshine. And the boy-knight
rode bravely to his first combat, and overthrew
many men; but Sir Lancelot and
Sir Percivale he could not overthrow.
When the tournament was over the King
and his knights went home to supper, and
each sat in his own seat at the Round Table.
All at once there was a loud crashing
noise, a noise that was louder than any peal
of thunder. Was the King’s wonderful
palace falling to pieces?
But while the noise still sounded a
marvellous light stole into the room, a light
brighter than any sunbeam.
As the knights looked at one another,
each seemed to the other to have a new
glory and a new beauty in his face.
And down the sunbeam glided the Holy
Grail. It was the Sacred Cup they had all
longed to see. But no one saw it, for it
was invisible to all but the pure-hearted
As the strange light faded away, King
Arthur heard his knights vowing that they
would go in search of the Holy Grail, and never
give up the quest till they had found it.
And the boy-knight knew that he too
would go over land and sea, till he saw
again the wonderful vision.
That night the King could not sleep, for
his sorrow was great. His knights would
wander into far-off countries, and many of
them would forget that they were in search
of the Holy Grail. Would they not have
found the Sacred Cup one day if they
had stayed with their King and helped to
clear the country of its enemies?
In the morning the streets of Camelot
were crowded with rich and poor. And the
people wept as they watched the knights
ride away on their strange quest. And the
King wept too, for he knew that now there
would be many empty chairs at the Round
The knights rode together to a strange
city and stayed there all night. The next day
they separated, each going a different way.
Sir Galahad rode on for four days without
adventure. At last he came to a white
abbey, where he was received very kindly.
And he found two knights there, and one
was a King.
‘What adventure has brought you here?’
asked the boy-knight.
Then they told him that in this abbey
there was a shield. And if any man tried
to carry it, he was either wounded or dead
within three days.
‘But to-morrow I shall try to bear it,’
said the King.
‘In the name of God, let me take the
shield,’ said Sir Galahad gravely.
‘If I fail, you shall try to bear it,’ said the
King. And Galahad was glad, for he had
still no shield of his own.
Then a monk took the King and the
young knight behind the altar, and showed
them where the shield hung. It was as
white as snow, but in the middle there
was a red cross.
‘The shield can be borne only by the
worthiest knight in the world,’ the monk
warned the King.
‘I will try to bear it, though I am no
worthy knight,’ insisted the King; and he
took the shield and rode down into the valley.
And Galahad waited at the abbey, for the
King had said he would send his squire
to tell the young knight how the shield had
For two miles the King rode through the
valley, till he reached a hermitage. And
he saw a warrior there, dressed in white
armour, and sitting on a white horse.
The warrior rode quickly towards the
King, and struck him so hard that he broke
his armour. Then he thrust his spear
through the King’s right shoulder, as
though he held no shield.
‘The shield can be borne only by a peerless
knight. It does not belong to you,’ said
the warrior, as he gave it to the squire,
telling him to carry it back to the abbey
and to give it to Sir Galahad with his
‘Then tell me your name,’ said the
‘I will tell neither you nor any one on
earth,’ said the warrior. And he disappeared,
and the squire saw him no more.
‘I will take the wounded King to an
abbey, that his wounds may be dressed,’
thought the squire.
And with great difficulty the King and
his squire reached an abbey. And the
monks thought his life could not be saved,
but after many days he was cured.
Then the squire rode back to the abbey
where Galahad waited. ‘The warrior who
wounded the King bids you bear this shield,’
Galahad hung the shield round his neck
joyfully, and rode into the valley to seek the
warrior dressed in white.
And when they met they saluted each
other courteously. And the warrior told
Sir Galahad strange tales of the white
shield, till the knight thanked God that
now it was his. And all his life long the
white shield with the red cross was one
of his great treasures.
Now Galahad rode back to the abbey, and
the monks were glad to see him again. ‘We
have need of a pure knight,’ they said,
as they took Sir Galahad to a tomb in the
A pitiful noise was heard, and a voice
from the tomb cried, ‘Galahad, servant of
God, do not come near me.’ But the young
knight went towards the tomb and raised
Then a thick smoke was seen, and through
the smoke a figure uglier than any man
leaped from the tomb, shouting, ‘Angels are
round thee, Galahad, servant of God. I can
do you no harm.’
The knight stooped down and saw a body
all dressed in armour lying there, and a
sword lay by its side.
‘This was a false knight,’ said Sir Galahad.
‘Let us carry his body away from this place.’
‘You will stay in the abbey and live with us,’
entreated the monks. But the boy-knight
could not rest. Would he see the light that
was brighter than any sunbeam again?
Would his adventures bring him at last to
the Holy Grail?
Sir Galahad rode on many days, till at last
he reached a mountain. On the mountain
he found an old chapel. It was empty and
very desolate. Galahad knelt alone before
the altar, and asked God to tell him what to
And as he prayed a voice said, ‘Thou brave
knight, go to the Castle of Maidens and
Galahad rose, and gladly journeyed on to
the Castle of Maidens.
There he found seven knights, who long
ago had seized the castle from a maiden to
whom it belonged. And these knights had
imprisoned her and many other maidens.
When the seven knights saw Sir Galahad
they came out of the castle. ‘We will take
this young knight captive, and keep him
in prison,’ they said to each other, as they
fell upon him.
But Sir Galahad smote the first knight to
the ground, so that he almost broke his
neck. And as his wonderful sword flashed in
the light, sudden fear fell on the six knights
that were left, and they turned and fled.
Then an old man took the keys of the castle
to Galahad. And the knight opened the
gates of the castle, and set free many
prisoners. He gave the castle back to the
maiden to whom it belonged, and sent for
all the knights in the country round about
to do her homage.
Then once again Sir Galahad rode on in
search of the Holy Grail. And the way
seemed long, yet on and on he rode, till at
last he reached the sea.
There, on the shore, stood a maiden, and
when she saw Sir Galahad, she led him to a
ship and told him to enter.
The wind rose and drove the ship, with
Sir Galahad on board, between two rocks.
But when the ship could not pass that way,
the knight left it, and entered a smaller one
that awaited him.
In this ship was a table, and on the table,
covered with a red cloth, was the Holy Grail.
Reverently Sir Galahad sank on his knees.
But still the Sacred Cup was covered.
At last the ship reached a strange city,
and on the shore sat a crippled man. Sir
Galahad asked his help to lift the table from
‘For ten years I have not walked without
crutches,’ said the man.
‘Show that you are willing, and come to
me,’ urged the knight.
And the cripple got up, and when he found
that he was cured, he ran to Sir Galahad,
and together they carried the wonderful
table to the shore.
Then all the city was astonished, and the
people talked only of the great marvel.
‘The man that was a cripple for ten years
can walk,’ each said to the other.
The King of the city heard the wonderful
tale, but he was a cruel King and a tyrant.
‘The knight is not a good man,’ he said to
his people, and he commanded that Galahad
should be put in prison. And the prison
was underneath the palace, and it was dark
and cold there.
But down into the darkness streamed the
light that had made Galahad so glad long
ago at Camelot. And in the light Galahad
saw the Holy Grail.
A year passed and the cruel King was very
ill, and he thought he would die. Then he
remembered the knight he had treated so
unkindly, and who was still in the dark, cold
prison. ‘I will send for him, and ask him to
forgive me,’ murmured the King.
And when Galahad was brought to the
palace, he willingly forgave the tyrant who
had put him in prison.
Then the King died, and there was great
dismay in the city, for where would they find
a good ruler to sit on the throne?
As they wondered, they heard a voice that
told them to make Sir Galahad their King,
and in great joy the knight was crowned.
Then the new King ordered a box of gold
and precious stones to be made, and in this
box he placed the wonderful table he had
carried away from the ship. ‘And every
morning I and my people will come here to
pray,’ he said.
For a year Sir Galahad ruled the country
well and wisely.
‘A year ago they crowned me King,’
thought Galahad gravely, as he woke one
morning. He would get up early, and go to
pray at the precious table.
But before the King reached the table he
paused. It was early. Surely all the city
was asleep. Yet some one was already
there, kneeling before the table on which,
uncovered, stood the Sacred Cup.
The man kneeling there looked holy as
the saints look. Surrounding him was a
circle of angels. Was it a saint who kneeled,
or was it the Lord Himself?
When the man saw Sir Galahad, he said,
‘Come near, thou servant of Jesus Christ,
and thou shalt see what thou hast so much
longed to see.’
And with joy Sir Galahad saw again the
Holy Grail. Then as he kneeled before it in
prayer, his soul left his body and was carried
by angels into heaven.