Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea and the legend of Glastonbury

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One of the most charismatic episodes of Christian legend and history concerns Joseph of Arimathea and his claimed founding of the first church upon British soil.

Britain had been well known to seafarers of the Mediterranean, and the island is mentioned in a Greek document circa 600 BC. It is believed that the Isles of Scilly provided harbour for ships after rounding Spain towards Britain, and a host of flora found otherwise only in the Meditteranean has been found flourishing there. The tin mines of Cornwall, on the south-west coast of England were well known to the ancients, producing vast amounts over thousands of years, the Cornish deposits being so rich that the mines only eventually closed during the twentieth century.

The uncle of Jesus by the maternal line, Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin, and who was responsible by bond of law for the burial of Jesus after his crucifixion. Afterwards, however, Joseph of Arimathea is held to have departed Palestine under persecution from both unsettled Jews and ever more oppressive Romans, taking the gospel to the furthest lands of the earth as commanded, which in ancient times meant Britain. According to legend, Joseph of Arimathea had a financial stake in the Cornish tin mines, and may even have taken his nephew Jesus there on his merchant travels during the boyhood of Jesus. However, after the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea traveled to Britain one last time, to preach and even settle

Apparently in the company of Lazarus, Mary Magdelene, and the disciple of Jesus named Phillip, the group sailed from Palestine to Marseilles, where Lazarus & Mary stayed, while the others travelled on. At the English Channel, St.Philip sent Joseph, with twelve disciples, to establish Christianity in the most far-flung corner of not only the Roman Empire, but also the perceived world.

English legend has it that Joseph sailed around Land’s End and headed for what was to eventually become Glastonbury in Somerset. Here his boat ran ashore and, together with his followers, he climbed a nearby hill to survey the surrounding land. Having brought with him a staff grown from Christ’s Holy Crown of Thorns, he thrust it into the ground where it immediately took miraculous root, and it can be seen there still on Wearyall Hill, where it blossoms every Christmas.

Joseph met with the local ruler and soon secured himself twelve hides of land at Glastonbury on which to build the first place of Christian worship in Britain, a wattle church named the Vetusta Ecclesia, that Joseph declared should always be attended by twelve followers.

Joseph of Arimathea is supposedly buried upon Glastonbury Tor, the name of the hill upon which the church was built. According to legend, two vials, containing Jesus’ sweat and blood, can also be found there, as well as the final resting place of the Holy Grail.

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