Joseph of Arimathea in Glastonbury

Joseph of Arimathea, is according to one legend said to have landed by boat on Wearyall Hill which is located on the outskirts of Glastonbury town and again underlines the fact that in past times the area around Glastonbury flooded making certain areas accessible only by small boat at certain times of the year. This also supports the belief that this area of the country was what some legends referred to as the Isle of Avalon.

Once he arrived in the area it is believed that Joseph of Arimathea built a church out of wattle and daub which stood next to or on the site of the what is now called the Lady Chapel in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. In AD 1184 a fire destroyed the original church which was described by some as 'holiest earth in all of England' and was often even then a place that pilgrims travelled to.

This church was still standing when the Saxons entered into Somerset during the seventh-century and was being used by Celtic monks. It is believed that it officially became a Benedictine monastery in AD 673. The Abbey was rebuilt by King Ine, of Wessex (AD 688) during AD 720, ten years after his war with the Britons of Cornwall.

It is believed by some that Joseph of Arimathea, a tin trader who came to the West Country for Mendip lead and Cornish tin, actually brought the boy Jesus to Glastonbury, his nephew, and then returned here later to spread the word of Christianity after the death of Jesus, starting in Glastonbury and bringing with him the sacred Chalice used and the Last Supper or the Chalice holding His blood or sweat. This particular trip is said to have been the inspiration for William Blake's poem Jerusalem, which begins:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?

Other legends tell that Joseph brought Mary (the Holy mother of Jesus) with him on this return visit.

Joseph of Arimathea, who took Jesus' body down from the Cross and placed it in his sepulchre, is said to have returned to Britain some years later - AD 37 or 63 - bringing the Christian message with him. With eleven followers, he made his way to Glastonbury, wishin to be among the friendly and influential Druids he had met during his earlier visits. On arrival, he stuck his wooden staff into the ground, and it immediately took root and blossomed as a young tree. He took this as a divine sign that he had reached his journey's end. This tree is now immortalised as the Holy Thorn or Glastonbury Thorn, which has the special attribute of blossoming twice a year, in the spring and at Christmas.

Joseph of Arimathea was alleged to have brought the Chalice Cup of the Last Supper with him, as well as two cruets containing the blood and sweat of Christ. Although the latter two were said to have been buried with him in his Glastonbury grave, the whereabouts of the Chalice Cup was, and still remains, unknown, though some commentators have said that it too was buried with Joseph of Arimathea. It has become entagled in myth, and is identified with the Holy Grail of Arthurian fame.

The local king, Arviragus, gave Joseph of Arimathea and his disciples twelve hides of land - a hide being a medieval measure of land equal to the area that could be tilled with one plough in a year. On this land they built their wattle-and-daub church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, which has its traditional site as the location of the Lady Chapel within the abbey. It had the name Vetusta Ecclesia, or Old Church, and, though dilapidated in later years, did not disappear until a tragic fire swept through the abbey on the night of 25 May 1184.

The legends continued in the century following Joseph of Arimathea's arrival. Pope Elutherius, at the request of King Lucius, Arviragus' grandson, sent two emissaries, Deruvian and Phagan, to invigorate the work of Glastonbury. These two are credited with the foundation of the abbey, though other accounts say that it was founded in the fifth century by Saint Patrick, who was the abbot at Glastonbury before leaving to convert the Irish people to Christianity. The patron saint of Wales, Saint David, is said to have travelled to Glastonbury at a later date, accompanied by seven bishops to dedicate the Old Church, but was warned in a dream that the Lord had already done so. Instead, David added another church and dedicated that.

As far as it is known, the Celtic Benedictine monks did not tell the Saxons who had originally built the church. Maybe they did not know or thought it best not to tell. It has been assumed by some that maybe the Abbey had always had some form of religious significance, the connection between the old church site. The legend of Joseph of Arimathea and that of Jesus visiting England may be based upon the knowledge that the Saxons had a legend that told of the church "not built of man but prepared by God himself".

See also
Glastonbury | The Legend of King Arthur
Glastonbury Abbey and Church | The Legend of King Arthur
Glastonbury Thorn | The Legend of King Arthur
King Arthur and Guenevere's grave | The Legend of King Arthur
Glastonbury Tor | The Legend of King Arthur
Saint Collen | The Legend of King Arthur
Glastonbury Zodiac | The Legend of King Arthur