Joseph of Arimathea
Glastonbury abounds in Myths and Legends. There are the Arthurian and Celtic stories and that have inspired contemporary pilgrims interested in goddess and pagan views. Running beside these this is another stream of what might be called Christian myths and legends.
There is of course the great Abbey, which has its own myths and history. Running beside this are a number of intriguing tales relating to Joseph of Arimathea. As with so many legends, there is little or no factual
of these tales, and they were certainly amplified and encouraged by the monks of the Middle Ages in order to increase the fame and popularity of the great Abbey. But we need to remember that, as with all myths and legends, there is always spark of eternal truth lying behind them, even though that truth may have been embellished in order to make it more readily understandable to lay listeners.
In this paper, we will look at some aspects of these stories.
We do not have a concrete historical information on Joseph, but medieval interest in genealogy raised claims that Joseph was a relative of Jesus. specifically, Mary's uncle, or according to some genealogies, Joseph's uncle. He was said to have owned the grave in which Jesus was buried and to have had close links with his nephew. The following legends are told about his activities.
A merchant – Joseph was said to have been a trader in metals and in the course of his activities, visited England – to the tin mines in Cornwall and the lead mines in the Mendip Hills of Somerset.
The young Jesus – there is an old Cornish story that relates how. on one of his journeys:
"Joseph of Arimathea came in a boat to Cornwall, and brought the child Jesus with him,
and the latter taught him how to extract the tin and purge it of its ‘.
Whilst in England, Jesus and Joseph travelled to Glastonbury and there young Jesus is said to have helped build, with his own hands, the original church of daub and wattle, the vetusta ecclesia - dedicated to Mary, his mother. in what is now the Abbey grounds.
The Crucifixion – During the crucifixion, Joseph gathered drops of blood and sweat from the dying Jesus and these were contained in two glass ‘cruets’. On his death, Jesus was buried in a grave owned by Joseph.
Pilgrimage -after the death of Jesus, Joseph gather together a small band of pilgrims, said to have included Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the pilgrims set off to travel across Europe eventually ending up in Glastonbury.
Glastonbury – There is an interesting legend of Joseph’s arrival in Glastonbury. After his long journey, he was weary and on a hill”
‘He set his walking staff on the ground to sleep, it miraculously took root, leafed outand blossomed as the "Glastonbury Thorn".
The hill on which the staff was grounded is now known as Wearyall Hill and the thorn, and its modern daughters, blooms at Christmas time; to honour the birth of Jesus.
Joseph had brought with him the two ‘cruets’, one red and one white, with the blood and sweat of Jesus and these are said to be buried somewhere in Glastonbury. Some legends say that he also brought with him, the cup of the Last Supper the holy Chalice and this also is buried somewhere – one of the places is claimed to be the foot of the Tor in what is now the garden of Chalice Well. This magical chalice Is also sometimes claimed to be the Holy Grail – the object of the search of Arthur and the Knights of the round table.
Joseph settled with his disciples and built 12 huts around the church that has been built by the young Jesus, the vetusta ecclesia. This original church was preserved when the great abbey was built but was later destroyed by the great fire. The stories of the origins of the Abbey church have led to its claim of being the oldest above-ground Christian church in the world.
Many see Josephs’ arrival as the ushering in of the Age of Pisces and the birth of Christianity in England.
Wwhether Jesus’s mother Mary, was one of the disciples that settled in Glastonbury is not clear. But the ancient original church was held in high regard by the monks, and the legends relating to it, led to the concept of Glastonbury Abbey being the most sacred land in England, and hence the great poem hymn of William Blake - Jerusalem – ‘and did those feet in ancient times etc.'’