The Visigoths And The Holy Grail

By Val Wineyard


Val is the author of “The Visigothic Inheritance” about the alternative and extraordinary history of the Visigoths in the south of France where she lives.

Around the time Théodoric I established a brilliant court at Toulouse in 419AD was a sequence of natural catastrophes – floods, earthquakes, hails of falling stars, dramatic eclipses of the sun – which lasted two years.  The Gallo-Roman people were very afraid their new ruler had brought these troubles upon them.

Theodoric I, Visigothic king of Toulouse

            The darkened sky affected the weather patterns and the crops; there was “a waste land”.  Then I read in the Guardian in September 2002 about scientists who quoted the legend of King Arthur, which also involved a “waste land”.   The scientists had discovered, from the growth rings of trees around the world, that a natural global catastrophe shook the world around 540.  Failed harvests and epidemics always coincided with stunted tree growth.  The skies had darkened, summers were chilly, crops had failed, famine was widespread and one third of the people of Europe perished. 

            The scientists claimed this wasteland was caused by a cometary bombardment and Arthur had died around 540.  It was interesting that the scientists linked this event only to Britain, rather than to Europe, for I found a 13th century reference to a comet in Gaul so big that the sky seemed on fire in either 540 or 541.  Was it then, a different  catastrophe 122 years earlier, in 418, when Théodoric began his kingship in Gaul?  In 1990 three British astronomers calculated the earth had been threatened by cometary bombardment between 400 and 600.  So was there a series of catastrophes which lasted around 200 years?

            History tells us of the following;

Alaric II, his grandson

            In 402, the Visigothic Alaric I frightened the Roman people by his advances into Italy so much that they quoted eclipses of the moon, swarms of bees, great hailstorms and a comet as symbols of doom.

An eclipse

            In 469 when King Euric was fighting in central France, there were strange tales of blood spouting in the town centre.  In the sky was seen two suns among the stars.  (A comet?)  When he was fighting in Provence in 472 there was an eruption of Vesuvius in Italy, but not so great as the one in 79AD which poured ashes on Pompeii and Heruculaneum for a week.  History books say the eruption of 472 was minor, but after 472 the volcano was relatively quiet until an immense eruption in 1631 which killed 18,000 people.  It took some time for the pressure to build up again to explosion point, which implies the 472 event was bigger than thought.

            On 26th May 492 there was an earthquake at Ravenna. 

            In the late summer of 526 a comet appeared over Italy and Europe; there were frequent earthquakes.

            In 532 Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, was betrayed by traitors and burnt.  Historian Theophanes wrote; “the same year there was a great running of stars from the evening till dawn, so that all were struck with amazement and said; “the stars are falling “ from the sky, nor do we know of such a thing at any other time.”  It was a meteoric shower.

            In 536 there was plague.

            These catastrophes were caused by violent volcanic explosions.  When the volcano called Tambora erupted in Indonesia in 1815, the dust projected made the world climate cold for months, thus harvests failed and famine was the result.

Krakatoa before the 1883 explosion

            We know well the explosion of Krakatoa in 1883; the noise was heard 3,000 miles away, shock waves and tunsamis travelled all around the world, while whole towns were buried or borne away by tidal waves.  The  debris from the explosion was funnelled upwards by the crater to reach jet-steams 20 miles high  to form a layer of dust three miles in depth, which caused strange sunsets and dark days, and caused a lowering of temperature world-wide.  

            By sheer coincidence a book arrived in the postbox as a gift; the history of Krakatoa.  To my surprise the volcano had exploded many times before 1883.  It had exploded in 416AD – near enough to the time the Visigoths came to Gaul to be acceptable as the cause of the natural catastrophes there.

            Krakatoa is situated between the south Indonesian islands of Sumartra and Java.  A Javanese court poet amalgamated ancient court writings on palm leaves into a history of Java called “Book of Kings.”  He says about the 416 eruption;  A thundering noise was heard from the mountain Batuwara, which was answered by a similar noise coming from Kapi (Krakatoa).  A great glaring fire which reached the sky came out of this mountain . . the whole world was greatly shaken and violent thundering accompanied by heavy rains and storms took place. . . the noise was fearful . . Kapi burst into two pieces with a tremendous roar and sank into the deepness of the earth.  The water of the sea rose and inundated the land . . the people were drowned and swept away with all their property . . . later the land around Kapi became sea . . and this event was the origin of the separation of Sumatra and Java.

            But what about the world-wide catastrophe of around 540 quoted the scientists of the King Arthur story?  Unbelievably, it was Krakatoa again.  Analysis not only of tree rings but dust in the ice-cores of the poles dated the event between 510 and 560;  the “Book of Kings” dated it precisely as 535.  At the time there were few large towns and cities on the islands of Sumatra and Java, but the Chinese wrote about an immense explosion to the south of them.

            A television documentary of 1999 called “Catastrophe” said that climate changes brought about by such an eruption could trigger such events as the outbreak of the Great Plague (borne by disturbed rats), and the invasion of Europe by the “barbarians” – they meant, the Visigoths.

             Rome found the skies were veiled and the spring and summer exceptionally cold.  The Yemen suffered drought and the Arabs built Medina and Mecca, where lived the family that gave birth to Mohammed 100 years later.  There was a plague in Constantinople, and drought and famine attracted a people called the Avars to settle in what is now Hungary and descend on the beautiful Byzantium.  It was 799 before Charlemagne got rid of them.

            These events spanned 200 years.  We are relating them to the Visigoths; but in Britain (and in Little Britain, or Brittany, France) they were related to King Arthur.  The Krakatoa explosion of 535 is also linked with the waste land of Arthurian legends.

Broceliande, the forest in Brittany were Arthur apparently lived

            It’s thought King Arthur lived in the 5th or 6th century, was Romano-British or Romano-Celtic, and tried to protect his country against the Saxons after the Romans had left Britain to her fate (around about 410).  But the Saxons didn’t arrive in Britain until 520, when they set up a capital at Norwich.  Arthur won the battle of Badon against the Saxons in 500AD and died around 540. 

            So the dates don’t tie up, unless Arthur was born about 500 and met his end in 540 at the time of the catastrophe?

            The secret is that there are two Arthurs. Arthur the real Celtic chieftain was trying to hold together his fragmented country in the period immediately after the Romans left.  The other Arthur is legendary. 

            The legend of Arthur as the once and future king grew up some time later, an image nourished by storytellers.  The English chroniclers were adapting material that had come from France.  Wolfram von Eschenbach, who wrote the first Grail story about 1180, said that Arthur’s court was situated at Nantes in Brittany, and Arthur was buried on the Isle of Avallon, until the day he will be needed to take the role of king once again.  There is a French town called Avallon, slightly to the west of Vézelay, that was founded around this time.

             Arthur was also associated with the Grail legends.  One of them, “Queste del Saint Graal” written between 1215 and 1230, declares that the events of the Grail story occurred 454 years after the death of Jesus, which specifically dates the Grail story to 487AD.  At that time Théodoric’s grandson, Alaric II, was battling against Clovis, the king of the Franks, and Arthurian type legends grew up later around them both, the Visigoths and the Merovingians. 

            It struck me how similar were the stories of King Arthur and  Alaric II.   Alaric was a much-loved man who tried to keep everybody happy.  He had a council of advisers and they were all equal; a sort of Visigothic Knights of the Round Table.   Alaric had an illegitimate son called Gesalaric and a legitimate son called Amalaric, by his wife who was the daughter of Théodoric the Great, the Ostrogothic king of Italy.  Théodoric was a great king, but he did try to control and arrange people to suit his own ends.  He was a manipulator – a Merlin character.  He had promised Alaric support against Clovis.  But at a third meeting with Clovis, at which there was no sign of Théodoric,  Alaric, with only a routine garrison with him, was attacked.  Had he been betrayed?   Was Théodoric secretly negotiating with Clovis, or with Gesalaric?

            Alaric returned to his Languedocian strongholds, with his son Amalaric, only 5 years old.  There is no mention that Gesalaric, then aged 20, was with his father, and one wonders why.  Alaric moved the court to his fortress on the Montagne d’Alaric, to await reinforcements from Théodoric the Great.  The reinforcements never came.  That summer of 508, his council saw the Franks slaughtering villagers in their houses and burning the standing corn in the fields.  They left a wasteland behind them.  Alaric and his knights tried to stop them, and Alaric lost his life in the battle, like Arthur, a well-intentioned Christian king. 

            There’s also a mystery about Gesalaric.  Immediately after his father’s death the Visigothic nobles elected him king in Narbonne, then Gesalaric joined his forces with those of his grandfather,  Théodoric the Great, which had arrived at last.  At the same time Amalaric, as the “true” king, was taken to safety in Rhedae (today’s Rennes-le-Château) by the Royal family, who didn’t know for some time that Gesalaric had been elected.  Gesalaric the illegitimate son, jealous of the true king, seems similar to Mordred, the son hoisted on Arthur when he was seduced by Morgan le Fay. 

            Could it be the reason why Gesalaric was never taken with his father to negotiation meetings, and the reason why his grandfather Théodoric consistently rejected him?  Like Mordred in the Arthurian stories, they never believed he was a true son?  And then, when the young man was desperate to prove himself, they took his attempts to be a crude and treasonable attempt at power?  Just like Mordred?

             A major part of the Arthurian legends is that Arthur will rise from the dead and come back to protect the British people.  Similar legends applied to the Visigoths, especially Alaric II.  One can still see today the sarcophage of Ragnachilde, Alaric’s mother, in the Musée des Augustins at Toulouse, sculpted with a scene representing the resurrection of the son of the widow.    This seems a direct statement of belief that Alaric would rise again from the dead.  The alternative, that the words refered to Jesus, implies the sarcophage was Catholic, which was impossible, for Ragnachilde insisted on her Arianism to the very end and the Arians did not believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead.

Montagne d’Alaric, where Alaric II found his final battle

            It’s no surprise to hear that Alaric is but sleeping in an underground chamber on the Montagne d’Alaric, until such a day when he can rise into battle to protect and save the people of Languedoc.  Similarly, Arthur of Britain was the rightful king but failed to protect his people from the savage invaders.  Arthur too is a “sleeping warrior” who will return to rescue Britain when the time is right.

            Arthur was sometimes known as Ursus – the name means “bear.”  The Visigoths knew of a group of stars they called The Chariot of the Skies, the Little Bear, which gave them navigation from the Pole Star.  They often used a bear as their emblem and it featured on their flags.   The Visigothic rune, “raida”, shaped like a letter R but in straight lines, meant “Chariot” and hence Rhedae which became Rennes-le-Château, was named after the Visigothic chariots.  But the Visigoths knew of the Chariot of the Skies, the Little Bear, which gave them navigation from the Pole Star. 

            Legends also arose about the Merovingian kings.  The kings did no ruling, they left that to their ministers; they were psychic priest-kings.  They could heal by the laying on of hands and they could communicate telepathically with men or beasts.  One Merovingian king had a crystal ball and magic talismans buried in his grave with him.  They worshipped the bear of the Great Bear in the skies and their deity eventually became Arduina, the goddess who gave her name to today’s Ardennes hills in northern France. 

            The name “Ursus”, was also adopted by the Merovingian kings, from Mérovée to Clovis.  Clovis was baptised by St. Rémy the bishop at Reims in 496.  Rémy predicted to Clovis; “at the end of time, a descendant of the Frank kings will reign over all the ancient Roman empire.”   Merovingian kings ruled from 448 to 750AD.  “The period of their ascendancy,” say the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, “coincides with the period of King Arthur, which constitutes the setting for the romances of the Holy Grail.”

            In history the Merovingian bloodline died out around 755, when the last king was murdered by Pepin le Bref, who founded another dynasty unrelated by blood to the Merovingians.  However, a hushing up had been done, for king Dagobert II married a Visigothic princess who lived at Rhedae, and their descendant was Guilhem of Gellone. 

The Abbey of Gellone as it is today, with Guilhem’s now-ruined castle that housed his library visible behind it

            Guilhem was a true cosmopolitan and a scholar – he went to Toledo, the Visigothic capital of Spain, and studied under Jewish and Muslim teachers.  He met Flegetanis, a man of mixed Jewish and “heathen” descent.  Guilhem spoke Arabic, Hebrew, Gothic and Latin. He collected books and manuscripts and opened a library and Academy of Jewish studies at Gellone, near Montpellier, which was a centre for the Mary Magdalene cult.  Flegetanis was one of the many who studied at Gellone.  Later Guilhem converted to Roman Christianity and founded an abbey at his home Gellone, that you can still visit today. 

            But his library of ancient teachings has completely disappeared. 

            Then appeared a troubadour called Kyot de Provence, who told and sang a tale of mystic quests. Kyot said he was basing his story on one written by Flegetanis – Guilhem’s student – then gave this story to Wolfram von Eschenbach, a Bavarian, who declared in 1180 he was writing the truth “which had come from Provence especially for the people of Germany.”  It was then the Germans appropriated the Grail myths as their own, as did writers in Britain.

            Wolfram tells us that Flegetanis set down this tale in heathen writing and then had to “learn his a.b.c”  which implies Flegetanis’s native language was either Arabic – or Gothic? 

            So the Grail stories came to France from the Arabs of Muslim Spain, from Toledo, once the capital of the Visgothic kingdom, where had been a great study centre for the wisdom of the Cabbala of the Jews in the time of the Visigoths.  There was another Cabbala study centre at Montpellier.  From France the legends went to Germany and Britain. 

            But Grail stories began long before that.  Author Hannah Closs compared legends of the East with the Grail stories, often thought to have originated at the time of the Crusades, but she says “Connections with the Arabs and even long before them were far stronger” than suspected.

            Around 1000AD the Grail became Christianised; it was now a holy cup bearing some of the drops of blood of Jesus on the cross that were collected by Joseph of Arimathea, who brought them to what is now Glastonbury. 

            The legendary king Arthur was “born” between 400 and 800AD.  The English storytellers and writers were adapting material that had come from the east and from France, for in Europe Arthur’s court was situated at Nantes in Brittany.   The French writers could well have been combining natural catastrophes of 420 and 520 with the stories of the Visigothic and Merovingian kings.  The legend of Arthur as the once and future king grew up about 600; as did other legends of Kings-that-would-come-back.

            We call these stories “the Grail legends”.  I’m not saying they are true; just that the stories  began in France around the time the Visigoths and Franks were fighting it out.  When you put together various events from the Dark Ages – mysterious or psychic kings, natural catastrophes, the co-operation between Eastern and western philosophies, it is obvious the origins of the Grail legends arose due to historical events in the years between 400 and 800AD.   The “waste land”?  It was what the Frankish Charles Martel left in Septimania after he attacked the Visigoths in 737.

            It does seem that some of the historical personages on which the Holy Grail legends were based were Visigothic, especially Alaric II, and the Visigoths contributed greatly to the Grail legends throughout Europe today. 

            These legends of a “once and future king” are not limited to Arthur, nor to Alaric.   Once and future king stories are common throughout the Mediterranean world.  In France as a whole has been 76 prophecies or stories of lost kings who will return, including Charlemagne.

            In Germany there’s a legend that Charlemagne, the Holy Roman emperor, is not truly dead.  He sleeps in a cave in a mountain of Thuringa, lying on a table of stone and guarded by a shepherd.  While he sleeps his beard keeps growing, and is wound several times around the legs of the table!  His eyes closed as in death, he lives nevertheless in secret and people say; he lives and he lives not.  He will return, and carry Germany to the head of all peoples.  Then, the Reich which has endured a thousand years will cover all of Europe.

            Hitler knew of this myth as did the secret societies that supported him.  Apparently they believed it literally. 

            The Grail is not all sweetness and light.

A much longer version of this article can be seen on;

There is also much more information about the incredible Krakatoa volcano. 


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