Conjuring up the Devil in The Quest of the Holy Grail

Conjuring up the Devil in The Quest of the Holy Grail

By Patricia H. Ward

Postscript, Vol. 17 (2000)

Introduction: In the Old French Quest of the Holy Grail, composed between 1215-1230, a puzzling episode occurs in which Lancelot witnesses a holy hermit conjuring a devil to extract information from it. In a work which is more of a “spiritual fable” than a romance, a work infused with the ideals and teachings of Cistercian monastics, the episode becomes even more puzzling. Why would a holy hermit summon the forces of evil to get information, when such activity could be considered necromancy, a practice clearly and often condemnedby the church? While accounts of necromancy in the Bible always end in tragedy, medieval saints lives and miracles stories well as stories that make use of these accounts such as Chaucer’s Friar’s Tale shed light on how this episode from the Quest affirms the spiritual power and holiness of the conjurer.

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