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Perillos: The Grail Castle?

Is a deserted village the best clue to the whereabouts of the Grail Castle?

Delivered at the Sauniere Society Conference, Newbattle Abbey, April 2002


The Grail and the story of King Arthur is a myth, in the sense that things got added to it. The first Grail account did not mention the nature of the Grail, whereas Wolfram von Eschenbach particularly identified it with a black stone, speculated by some to be a meteor, by others to be a cousin of the Ka’aba stone.

The story of the Grail is like the myth of Jesus: From an interesting person, believed to have resurrected, he grew into the son of god, to the child of a virgin birth, its father the Holy Spirit. One aspect of the Grail mythology is the addition of the “Grail castle” to the original mythology.

First, therefore, we need to enter the world of the Grail stories, to uncover the basic theme. Malcom Godwin synthesised how ther were three distinct trends in the Grail history.
The first Grail story was Chretien de Troyes, from Northern France. The second tradition is Great Britain, with the Celtic and Arthurian tradition. Third is a series of specifications, with the most prominent one being Wolfram von Eschenbach, whose story focuses on the Grail keepers as the Knights Templar and the Grail itself, which is labelled as a stone fallen from heaven.

The story of “Perilous” or Perillos resides in this third category. It appears in the Perlevaus history of the Grail. Perlesvaus was written between 1192 and 1225, and hence a dating of 1205 is often given for the work.
The work itself is interesting. Malcolm Godwim states how the author must have had access to a rare library, for he seems to be familiar with most of the Arthurian literature of the period. This includes archaic Welsh material. The central story line seems to be about the slaughter of the pagans to embrace the New Order, that of Christianity. It seems to be story derived from a Latin book, which was discovered in a holy house in the Isle of Avalon, which at that time was identified with Glastonbury.

Welsh material ties in with Stuart McHardy’s research in a recent publication, The Quest for Arthur. It is in that material that we chance upon the idea that Arthur might be a Christian, trying to convert Scotland to Christianity, following and paving the path for such saints as Patrick, Ninian, Mungo/Kentigern, and Baldred, the latter living in the coastal town of Dunbar and on the famous Bass Rock, not that far from here.
It is McHardy who suggests that at some point, Arthur goes on a pilgrimage to Rome, and hence deserts his country. This pilgrimage is therefore important in the Grail, as the king at one point goes on a “grail quest”, a vision quest, to revitalise the land.

Truth or myth, who can say? Let us return to the Perlesvaus account.

In short, the story is about the fertility of the land. Arthur notes how his kingdom is decaying: harvests fail, society is in decline. Everything “descends” into pagan ways. Arthur decides to go on a quest, a pilgrimage, to the Perilous Chapel. Though expecting to be accompanied, his compagnion dies before the start of the quest, making it a solitary adventure for the mythical Arthur.
When he reaches Perilous, Arthur is told that his country is in decline because one of the knights failed to ask the correction question regarding the Lance and the Grail. Arthur is able to rectify the situation and when he returns home, the status of his land is fine again.

This is a classic story, with a novelistic element, of fertility, and how decay has been rescued and has turned to rejuvenation, a concept so central to pagan beliefs, but also Christianity, with the restoration to life of the dead Jesus.

The general region of the Pyrenees, at which foot Perillos is located, is linked to the Grail.
Wolfram of Eschenbach, places the Grail castle, Montsalvage, in Montsegur. He also identifies his principal heroes with genuine characters that featured in the fight for the defence of that castle during the Cathar era… defended by one Raymond de Perella, a man similar in name to most of the Lords of Perillos: Raymond of Perillos – though he himself is no predecessor to the Perillos family, despite claims to the contrary of a modern “heir” of the Perillos family promoting himself on the Internet very much like Glasgewian Prince Michael. The Pyrenees was also the region where Otto Rahn came down to this region to try and locate that precious relic.
If leaving Scotland for Rome, one can only wonder whether Arthur passed by Perillos. Perillos is located just to the North of Perpignan and as that town was important throughout history, one can wonder whether one might have sailed towards Perpignan and have stopped there, before continuing over land or by ship to Rome. (Perpignan was situated on one of the most important “Roman highways”, the road passing literally just in front of Perillos.)
If it did happen, the castle of what is now called Chateau Perillos, but which is in fact Opoul Castle, in the 6th Century AD was, officially, deserted. Though a site of great pagan importance, the rocky outcrop was officially abandoned after the Romans. The lords of Perillos were still 500 years removed into the feature – but were present at the time when the Perlesvaus accounts were written down. At that time, the Lords of Perillos began their dramatic and enigmatic rise into the courts of Europe, in the end ending up as close confidants to the kings of Aragon, as well as grandmaster of the Order of Malta.

The historians affirm that the strengthened site really enters the history books in 1172, with the inclusion of the Roussillon region to the crown of Aragon. The formidable rock rise proves, then, to represent an effective bolt on the passage of Languedoc in Roussillon. The fortress was restored and fits proudly in opposing the Aragon defenses vis-a-vis the drawn up citadels, by king Louis, in the front line of France.
The strengthened plate shelters also a sedentarized place whose vestiges affirm a past going back to prehistory and especially to antiquity. Under the Aragon king Jacques 1st, in 1246, the village that was
formed is known under the name of ‘Salvetera’. But the very painful living conditions here will make the people, little by little, give up the hamlet, until it is completely deserted in 16th Century. One century later the castelet would also be definitively forsaken... The place would fall into the usual sleep reserved for places that are deserted definitively.

Let us now move towards a modern myth. What most people often forget is that the Priory of Sion is a myth of the 20th Century. It is not a myth of the Merovingians, or the Middle Ages; it was constructed and promoted by the likes of Pierre Plantard and his entourage. It is, for this story, unimportant whether or not the myth contains truth.
It was a myth promoted by Gerard de Sede and fortuitously picked up by Henry Lincoln, who transported the myth outside of its original territory of destination: France. In England, the story would start to live a life of its own, and it is because of that “life abroad” that we are all here today.

It was in the UK that a magazine, The Unexplained, picked up the consternation surrounding the topic, and added to it. In the early eighties, it wrote:

“More than one of the romances of the Holy Grail tells how Sir Gawain is overtaken by a terrible storm, and takes refuge in the Atre Perileus, the Chapel Perilous. Some 30 miles (50 kilometres) across the hills from Rennes-le-Chateau is the tiny village of Opoul, almost certainly the lands from which Francis d’Hautpoul derived his name. Take a narrow winding road that climbs among the crags behind the village and you will come to an ancient chapel, above which loom the gaunt ruins of – Chateau Perillos. Perhaps there is something in the theory that links the development of the Grail legend – and the bizarre mystery with which it is associated – with the country around Rennes.”

The name of the author was Brian Innes. He is both a named and unnamed star of the international best-seller Templar Revelation by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince. Brian Innes worked together with Lynn Picknett (she as editor, he as director) on the magazine The Unexplained. In the book, he features as a person connected to the magazine whom the authors, Picknett and Prince, identify as a suspect of being members of the Priory of Sion. The authors allege that though there is no evidence for a historical existence of this order, they felt that throught the writing of their book on the Turin Shroud and the tradition surrounding John the Baptist, they had come across people who claimed or were deemed to be members of the Priory of Sion, including a mysterious “Giovanni”.

These authors suspected Brian Innes to be a member of the Priory of Sion, and therefore his “fingering” of Perillos as the location of the Grail castle is interesting. It would put Brian Innes in the same league as Pierre Plantard and co. Is it possible he was? We only have the interpretations and suspicions of one person to build on. But it is known that Innes had a house in the neighbourhood. It is however most bizarre that a man like Brian Innes, believed to be connected to the Priory, is promoting Opoul and its castle, and not Rennes-le-Chateau, as one would come to expect.

However, Innes made the same mistake as the modern tourist: Castle Perillos is actually “Castle Opoul”. The actual Perillos castle is a very small castle and is, in fact, smaller than this room. It is impossible to call it a castle and would have been more like a watchtower. This does, however, leave the mystery of where the official residence of the Lords of Perillos was in Perillos, but perhaps there never was one, seeing that they were in essence rich beyond belief.
Some have speculated they lived at Castle Opoul. That castle is situated on a dramatic, flat rock outcrop. The rock outcrop is by all accounts dramatic. If anyone wants to experience the mythical power of nature, this is the place to be.

Platform shaped mountains, or rock outcrops, have been associated with kingship. This is the case in Jebel Barkal in Nubia, in the time of ancient Egypt. It is also the case with Traprain Law, in East Lothian, the capital of the Goddodin, or the Votadini, the Celtic or Pictish tribe that ruled the Lothians from the 2nd till roughly the 7th Century AD. Even in the New World, in the recently uncovered city of Caral, we find platform shaped hills linked with kingship and religion, in those days not split apart as in modern times.
The link between Scotland and Perillos is very visible. In 1398, one Raymond de Perillos went to Ireland, to St Patrick’s Purgatory, one of those famous early Christianising monks. The family also had extremely close links to the Beaujeu family, and it was that family that was linked to the Douglas family, coming to Scotland to help fight the family that at one point stood next to Robert the Bruce. It should be pointed out that the castle of the Douglases at one point was known as “Castle Perilous”. The castle of Lord Douglas was so called in the reign of Edward I., because Lord Douglas destroyed several English garrisons stationed there, and vowed to be revenged on anyone who should dare to take possession of it. Sir Walter Scott calls it “Castle Dangerous”. The link between Scott and Rosslyn Chapel is well-documented, as is the link between the Douglasses and the Sinclairs. It seems that chosing the theme of Arthur inside Newbattle Abbey was therefore a very inspired decision by our organiser, John Millar.
That there might have been a link with Perillos was only uncovered through the efforts of an Irish woman, who will for the moment remain nameless.
It is also the Lord of Perillos, returning from the Crusade, which is very similar to returning from a Quest, who confronts the monster Babaos, in a parallel to Arthur who confronted Melwas, who symbolises Hell and the Diabolic Beast.

However, the most intriguing link between the Grail legends and the plateau of Opoul is that in the middle of this plateau, one can still see the remains of a chapel which was and is called “Salvaterra”; Terresalvache, “Holy Land”, “Hallowed Land”, so closely linked to the story of the Grail. The word Montsalvat is an Occitan term, whose literal translation is "Mont Sauvé" /Safe Mountain. Is this chapel the remains of the true Grail Chapel? If not the actual grail chapel, the evidence does seem to suggest that someone who was “Grail-made” to decided to build and name a chapel after the Grail accounts.

We should, however, not forget that Perilous is also linked to the Round Table.
In the story of the Round Table, there is the story of the “Perilous Seat” or the “Siege Perilous”. This is a seat on the Round Table, which is kept empty. In the end, a character sometimes named Gawain, Perlesvaus, Perceval and Galahad, takes this seat and “mysterious items hit the fan”. In one account, the occupier of the seat rides off to discover the Grail, whereas in another account, the occupier gives off such radiance that the other knights decide to search for the reason behind this radiance.
Whatever scenario is applied, the Perilous Seat is deemd to be the territory of the “greatest knight” of them all, and hence was kept empty until the righteuous one, The Chosen One, would lay claim to it.
The first in Arthurian legend was 'Perceval' and then in later legends 'Galahad' who became known as a Grail Knight deemed worthy enough to sit in it when both embarked upon the 'Siege Perilous'. The siege perilous was much revered and believed that it would crack if anyone not worthy of sitting in it tried to do so. Other reports said that the seat would devour any person who had presumed themselves worthy enough to sit on it.
The seat was said to have cracked when Perceval sat in it, but it was later healed when he became a Grail Knight. This place is said to have also been seen as the place where Christ would have sat.

A royal notary, Courtade, wrote an inventory of the region, this in the 17th history, as part of the preparation for the Treaty of the Pyrenees.
He mentions that on the lands of Perillos one can find a “royal” tomb, of a being that cannot be named and the land of the sepulchre can not be divided or sold or leave the possession of the Perillos family. He writes how this location cannot change ownership, even through “spoliation”, the act of getting things done within the law, but against the “spirit of the law”. Of course, the French Revolution changed all of this, leaving modern researchers with a puzzle, rather than a straightforward answer.

Is Perillos the region of the Grail? The name definitely suggests so. The history is definitely open to the suggestion and one suspected Priory of Sion member has hinted as much. The Grail, and particularly Arthur, has been connected to the Great Bear, amongst others by such authors as Greg Rigby. When the Great Bear is doubled, we get the symbol of the heraldic devices of the land of the Sabarthez represented by two bears and … a Grail, between both animals. Let us also add that the bear is the totem animal of the Roussillon, where the primordial ally was the family of Perillos. Coincidence?

In the end, one can only wonder whether a possible secret residing in and around Perillos added to the growing body of lore surrounding a mythical enigma, the Grail. That this occurred, should not cause much amazement. Even in our own times, we often find how one mystery is added to another. In fact, quite often, the addition of one myth to another adds more power of belief in the combined possibility. This is the case with the pyramids of Gizeh, to extra-terrestrial hypotheses, and particularly the latter’s connection, or possible connection, to crop circles. Two mysteries are added, and somehow melt in our mind into a coherent self-explanatory myth. Why would the story of the Grail have been any different? But if this is so, what is that linked Perillos to this story?
Though the answer might have been – if not likely have been – unknown to the writer of the story himself, the answer might still be out there, waiting to be discovered.