I have recently returned from my belated Christmas break to Valencia. As well as being a chance to get away, I always use these opportunities to see what other parishes and communities are doing.
Valencia is rich in historic churches, many of which are served by religious orders that bring a distinctive flavour to the different parishes and communities. The focus of the city and Archdiocese of Valencia is the cathedral (Metropolitan Cathedral–Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady of Valencia).
It was consecrated in 1238 by the first bishop of Valencia. The building rose over the site of a much older cathedral, which under the Moors had been turned into a mosque. Gothic predominates, although it also contains elements which are Romanesque, Baroque and neo classical. Much of the interior is bare following a decision to reveal more of the original gothic structure in the 1960’s.
The cathedral is the focus for the Year of Mercy for the Archdiocese of Valencia, or more specifically one particular chapel, which contains an unusual and sometimes contested focus of devotion.
The Santo Caliz of Valencia
The Holy Grail of Valencia is now reposed in a special chapel created in the former chapter house at the cathedral’s liturgical west end. Many pilgrims today make their way to the chapel to pray in the presence of this holy chalice, claimed to be the cup used by Jesus at the Last supper.
Both Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have celebrated Mass using the Santo Caliz, a cup of dark reddish brown agate, which recent archaeological studies have claimed dates from 100-50 BC. Over the years the chalice has been embellished with engraved gold handles and has an alabaster base which is Islamic in style.
It is claimed that the grail was taken to Rome by St Peter and kept by other popes until St Sixtus II who gave the cup to his deacon, St Lawrence. St Lawrence took the chalice to his homeland for safekeeping. During the Islamic invasion in 713AD the cup was reported to have been hidden in the Pyrenees for safekeeping. It was not until 1399 that the chalice was handed over to the King of Aragon who kept it in his royal palaces.
In 1424 the royal reliquary was moved to Valencia Palace and this collection was later presented to the Cathedral in 1437.
The chalice has moved from the cathedral twice, once during the War of Independence and also during the civil war.
The Year of Mercy
The chalice provides a good focus for the Year of Mercy as it sharpens devotion to the self-sacrificing mercy of Jesus. Referred to during this year as The Chalice of Mercy, pilgrims are encouraged to make this the summit of their visit to this Jubilee Church.
Many dioceses have chosen saints and holy places to form a focus for this Jubilee Year but Valencia’s efforts must be unique.
Much scepticism surrounds devotion to the Holy Grail and a number of places have claimed to have had possession over the centuries. The idea of the Holy Grail continues to capture the popular imagination and has been used as a theme in fantasy, historical fiction, science fiction as well as in TV dramas and films. Whilst we may question the presence of the true grail, the popular appeal may attract those who would not usually engage in a jubilee year. The Grail can therefore be of missional significance.
Even after visiting the Chapel of the Holy Grail I would still need some convincing of its authenticity. However I was taken by the tangible atmosphere of holiness and devotion that surrounded the shrine.
The Grail and the Mercy of Christ
In His love for us, Jesus gave us a great miracle of mercy, the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. It was St Faustina who described the Eucharist as a fountain of grace and mercy. With this in mind, the connection between the Year of Mercy and the life giving chalice of Christ makes sense.
Jesus’ gesture at the Last Supper is the ultimate thanksgiving to the Father for His love and mercy. Building the Year of Mercy around the chalice reminds us that as well as focusing on mercy itself we also need to consider being thankful for the mercy that we have already received.
I would certainly recommend visiting Valencia Cathedral during this Year of Mercy. Even in our sceptical age it offers a fresh perspective and enables the pilgrim to reflect upon how the Upper Room and the sacrifice of the Mass can sweep us into a deeper awareness of Mercy.
My visit will certainly help me remember the Year of Mercy and to reflect more meaningfully upon God’s love for me.