The legend of the Holy Grail is one that has had many retellings. The Holy Grail is an important symbol in Christian legend. Supposed to be the very cup that Jesus Christ used at the Last Supper to offer wine to his disciples, looking upon the Holy Grail is supposed to grant a person pure of sin with eternal life. In this version of the story, the Holy Grail, and the Holy Spear, believed to be the one that pierced Christ’s side while he was on the cross, are protected by the Knights of the Grail and their king Amfortas. That is, until the Spear was lost to the pagan magician Klingsor.
In Wagner’s retelling of the legend of Percival and the Holy Grail, the naive young Parsifal (the German form of Percival) stumbles across a kingdom he does not understand. After being raised by his mother, away from the world of men, Parsifal knows nothing of right or wrong, nor of sin or redemption. His innocence leads him to an unusual encounter with Gurnemanz, one of the Knights of the Grail.
In the Castle of the Grail, he experiences the glory of the Holy Grail, seeing its power with his own eyes. At the same time, he also sees and hears the cries of agony from Amfortas, the king. He has been seriously wounded, when Klingsor stole the Holy Spear from him, and the wound in his side will never heal. The gift of immortality that Amfortas has received from the Grail is now a torment to him, as he suffers under the pain of a wound that will never heal, but he is unable to die.
Parsifal makes it his life’s work to rescue the Spear from Klingsor, and destroy his kingdom. He is able to resist all temptation and sin, and he withstands many great trials, to bring the Spear back to the kingdom, and to return Amfortas back to his full strength. In returning the Spear, Parsifal fulfils the prophecy that the Grail offered to Amfortas in his suffering; ‘Durch Mitleid wissen, der reine Thor, harre sein, den ich erkor’ (‘Through pity know, the pure fool; wait for him, whom I choose’).
Considered by many to be Wagner’s greatest work, Parsifal is a story of great devotion, salvation, and redemption.
Parsifal guide sections