powered by AFI
In Antioch, in 20 A.D., the wealthy and childless Greek Ignatius adopts a talented young child and renames him "Basil." In his new home, Basil befriends Helena, an ambitious young slave, and under Ignatius' encouragement, grows to be an accomplished sculptor. When Ignatius dies, his brother Linus bribes the officials to deprive Basil of his inheritance and then sell him as a slave. Helena, who now performs with her lover, the successful magician Simon, warns Basil that Linus is planning to kill him. Assisted by Luke, a physician and disciple of Christ, Basil escapes to Jerusalem to the house of Aaron, a Jew whose father, Joseph of Arimathea, removed Christ from the cross and buried Him in the family sepulcher. Joseph shows Basil the Holy Grail, the cup from which Jesus drank during the Last Supper, and asks Basil to design a silver chalice for it, featuring carvings of the heads of Jesus and His disciples. Basil begins the chalice and creates likenesses of the disciples, but is unable to fashion an image of Jesus. Meanwhile, Mijamin, the leader of a group of Sicarii assassins, asks Simon to help him raise an army by performing "miraculous" tricks to lure the Christians away from their religion and into his army. Simon, who longs to be more than a common magician, convinces Mijamin to help him start a new religion. To demoralize the Christians, they decide to steal the Grail and publicly crush it in the presence of the Christian disciple Peter, against whom Simon holds a long-standing grudge. Basil, upon learning that Helena is in Jerusalem, attends Simon's next performance. When Simon compares himself to Jesus, Joseph's granddaughter Deborra, who has accompanied Basil, shouts accusations of blasphemy, inciting the crowd against her. Basil helps her escape the crowd's wrath. Later, Basil presents the nearly finished chalice to Joseph, who then asks him to go to Rome to meet Peter. Sensing Basil's reluctance to leave, Joseph mistakes the artist's platonic devotion to Deborra for love. The law dictates that Deborra cannot inherit Joseph's fortune unless she is married, and so Joseph, hoping that Basil and Deborra will wed, tells her that Basil loves her. Aware that the ambitious Helena will never leave Simon, Basil tells Deborra that although Helena is his true love, he will marry her so that she can receive her inheritance. They marry in a private ceremony before the dying Joseph. After Basil and Deborra leave for Antioch to collect Joseph's gold, Simon and Mijamin raid Aaron's house for the Grail, but when they find it is gone, they follow the newlyweds. At their camp, as Basil and Deborra sleep in separate tents, Mijamin steals the cup, but Basil follows him, and fights his men to regain it. After leaving Deborra and the Grail in Antioch, Basil proceeds to Rome to meet Peter. There he meets Kester, a witness to his adoption, who promises to help him reclaim his own inheritance. Having been persuaded by Helena to go to Rome, Simon quickly gains Caesar Nero's favor, but the attention feeds his delusions of grandeur. Promising that he will fly like a bird to Nero's glory, Simon petitions the ruler to build a 300-foot tower from which he will take flight. Nero orders Christian slaves to commence building, but many rebel and are crucified. Upon learning of Basil's marriage, the jealous Helena convinces Nero to commission Basil to create a bust, thus resulting in the artist's enforced stay at court. As Basil works on the statue, he witnesses the executions of Christians from his window. He is so angered that he fervently begins to pray and the face of Christ appears to him, causing him to abandon Nero's commission. In the morning, a messenger secretly delivers the completed chalice to Peter and tells Basil that Deborra is in Rome with the Grail. After the tower is completed, the citizens of Rome assemble to see Simon's miracle. Simon, now believing that he is God, tells Helena that he needs no special cables or other chicanery to fly. Ignoring her pleas, Simon jumps from the tower and falls to his death. Feeling cheated, the crowd becomes unruly and Nero, fearing they will turn on him, contrives another entertainment. Ordering Helena to climb the tower and fly, Nero promises that, if successful, her life will be spared. Knowing that her life is over, Helena stoically climbs the tower and then falls to the feet of the crowd. Angered by the failed miracles, angry mobs sack Simon's house, then move on to pillage his neighbors. In the confusion, Basil finds Deborra and professes his love for her. When the Grail and chalice are stolen from Peter's house, Basil chases the robber through the streets, but the man is killed by one of the mob before Basil can catch up with him. When Basil reaches the dead man, only a broken piece of the chalice is left. Later, as Basil and Deborra prepare to sail to Antioch, Peter blesses them and prophesies that the Grail will reappear when mankind needs it.