The Repentance of Lancelot

When I was reading the stories about King Arthur and the knights of the round table, this particular story caught my attention.  Everyone knows by now because of television and movies that the knights were looking for the holy grail, the cup of Jesus. When Jesus was praying in the garden before he was crucified, he prayed that God would let the cup pass from him.  The cup was the sacrifice he was about to make for mankind. In another place, he told the Apostles that they could not drink from the cup that he had to drink from. It is clear in the Bible that this cup was not a literal cup, but a symbolic cup for the sacrifice of the Christian life because Jesus urges us to take up our cross and follow him.  In these stories, there is also symbolism when they talk about the holy grail, the cup of Christ. No one ever talks about how Christianity had an influence on these knights. Everyone always talks about Lancelot’s sins. They talk about how he committed adultery with Queen Gwenevere, but they never talk about Lancelot’s repentance, and according to this story, he repented. I will try to recount the story I read and thought about for you:

red chapel on grassy field with trees
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Lancelot was riding along when he saw a cross and realized he was coming to a small church building, and he wanted to enter, but he knew he was bad, so he couldn’t.  He tied his horse to a tree and hung his shield on the tree.  He peeked inside the door of the chapel and saw shining silver candlesticks on a beautiful silk cloth that covered the altar. He really longed to go in, but he knew he couldn’t.  He went back to his horse and took the saddle off his horse. He took his sword and helmet off, then put his shield on the ground and laid down on his shield to rest at the foot of the cross. (As far as I am concerned, this church building represents Christianity.  Lancelot wanted to be a Christian.)

selective photo of teal cross decor
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Lancelot lay there half asleep and half awake.  Along came a couple of men carrying a wounded knight. As they passed Lancelot, he heard one of them say, “Lord, when will you come to me?  When will I receive holiness so I can be blessed?  I don’t have many sins, and I have waited so long.” Lancelot was half awake and half asleep and dreaming.  All of a sudden he saw a large candlestick in front of the cross, but no one had put it there.  Along with the candlestick, the holy grail was sitting there on the altar covered with silk next to the cross where Lancelot was sleeping.  (This candlestick can only mean understanding.)  When it appeared, the knight who had been wounded got up and prayed on his knees in front of the holy grail, and he was healed. (The healing can only be symbolism for what accepting the sacrifice of Christ can do for us.) After that, the holy grail and the candlestick went back into the chapel.   Lancelot wanted to follow them, but his sins were so heavy, he couldn’t follow.

black steel helmet near black and gray handle sword
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After that, the knight who had been healed stood up.  He kissed the cross and looked at Lancelot lying there with his eyes shut.  He said to the squire that was with him, “I am astonished that he can lay there with his eyes shut and that he couldn’t even get up when the holy grail and the candlestick were so close to him.”  The squire answered saying, “He must have a terrible sin that is weighing him down that stops him.”  To that, the knight replied, “He is one of the knights of the round table who have taken up a quest for the holy grail. He must be very unhappy!”  The squire replied, “Sir, you have your shield here, but not your sword or helmet.  He is asleep, just take his. He will never know who took it.”  The knight took Lancelot’s sword, helmet, and his horse because Lancelot’s horse was better than his.

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After they left, Lancelot woke up, he thought he had been dreaming all of it. He heard a voice that said, “Sir Lancelot, you are harder than rock.  You are more biter than wood and more barren than a fig tree with no leaves.  Leave this holy place!”  When Lancelot heard this, he cried and wept bitter tears cursing the day he was born.  He began to gather his stuff and go, but his sword, his helmet, and his horse were all gone.  (These things being taken while he slept is a symbol of his repentance. He could no longer fight because he had no sword.–a note from me, not the story.) When he saw them gone, he hit himself and cried out, “It is all my own fault!  My sin and wickedness have done this to me!  When I sought worldly pleasures and desires, I got everything I wanted!  I won every fight!  I got the best of everyone whether I was right or wrong!  However, now that I seek spiritual things, my great sin hinders me so much I couldn’t even speak when the holy grail came close to me. ”  He stayed there extremely sad even until night. He lamented his sins all night long.  When the sun came up, the birds sang, and the world was so beautiful that he felt better.  He decided to leave, even though he was still sad because of his sin, and he had to walk because his horse was gone.

The stories of King Arthur and the knights of the round table are very, very old stories. They were told by word of mouth and some were written down long ago.  There is always a lot of discussion as to their origin and who told them first.


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