Nightbringer | The Arthurian Online Encyclopedia

Saint Joseph of Arimathea

“Good Soldier”
Giuseppe, Iosepes, Joseph d’Abarimathie, Joseph d’Arimathie, Joseph d’Arrimacie, Jospehe, Yosep

According to the Gospels, Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy and influential member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the council of Jewish leaders. He is described as a disciple of Jesus, albeit secretly, as he feared the repercussions of openly following Jesus due to the opposition from other members of the council.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea approached Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, and requested permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross for burial. Pilate granted his request, and Joseph, along with another prominent follower of Jesus called Nicodemus, took Jesus’ body, prepared it for burial, and laid it in a tomb. According to legend Joseph also acquired the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper and used this to catch Jesus’ blood from the cross. This became the Holy Grail that Joseph later brought to Britain in around 63 AD, when he established the first British Christian church at Glastonbury.

After the Resurrection, he was thrown into a dungeon where Jesus appeared to him and gave him the cup which had fallen out of his possession. After the fall of Jerusalem to Vespasian’s army, he was set free and, with his sister Enygeus and her husband, Hebron or Brons, went into exile with a group of fellow travellers. They began to suffer from lack of food owing to sin, so they held a banquet. Those amongst the company who were not sinners were filled with the sweetness of the cup of Jesus – the Grail.

Brons and Enygeus had twelve sons, eleven of whom married. The twelfth, Alan, did not, so he was put in charge of his siblings, and they went out and preached Christianity. Brons was told to become a fisherman and was called the Rich Fisher. In Robert’s version, Joseph entrusted the Grail to Brons, but did not accompany him to Britain. Elsewhere, we are told that Joseph crossed to Britain on a miraculous shirt. We are also informed that he and his followers converted the city of Sarras, ruled by King Evelake who, having become a Christian, was able to defeat his enemy, King Tholomer. (According to the various sources, the city of Sarras is located either in the East (Asia), or else in Britain. It may have been thought of as the place from which the Saracens derived their name. It is not known outside romance.) John of Glastonbury claims that Joseph brought two cruets containing the blood and sweat of Jesus to Britain, but he does not mention the Grail.

Josephe was Joseph’s son, first bishop of Britain, miraculously consecrated by Christ Himself. Joseph of Arimathea is named in all four Gospels and are said to have donated his own new tomb outside Jerusalem to the body of Jesus. According to tradition which Phyllis Ann Karr encountered orally and not in connection with the Arthurian cycle, Joseph first visited Britain with Jesus during the latter’s hidden years before His public preaching; they came ashore on Cornwall.

After Christ’s resurrection, Joseph and Josephe converted Nascien and Mordrains and their families and returned to Britain, bringing Christianity, the Holy Grail, the flowering thorn which Joseph planted at Glastonbury, and a number of followers, as described in detail in Volume I, Lestoire del Saint Graal, of the Vulgate.

Unlike Nascien and Mordrains, Joseph and Josephe did not miraculously survive into Arthur’s times. Either Joseph or Josephe did, however, return to Carbonek Castle to celebrate the climactic mysteries of the Grail at a Mass attended by Galahad and his companions.

Good Soldier is a nickname of Joseph, commemorating his retrieval of Christ’s body from the cross, according to Perlesvaus.

The romance Sone de Nausay says that Joseph drove the Saracens out of Norway, married the pagan king’s daughter and became king himself. God made him powerless and the land became blighted. Fishing was his only pleasure and men came to call him the Fisher King. At last he was cured by a knight. He provided for the foundation of the Grail Castle-cum-Monastery with thirteen monks, typifying Christ and his twelve apostles.

The interpolations of William of Malmesbury’s History of Glastonbury say Joseph was sent to Britain by Saint Philip who was preaching in Gaul. With regard to Gaul, there is a tradition which says that, with Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Martha and others, Joseph was placed in an oarless boat which was divinely guided to Marseilles. J.W. Taylor says there is an Aquitanian legend that says Joseph was one of a party which landed at Limoges in the first century and that there is a Spanish tale relating how Joseph, with Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and others, went to Aquitaine.

Taylor also cites a Breton tradition that Drennalus, first bishop of Treguier, was a disciple of Joseph. Taylor adduces these traditions as part of an attempt to show that Joseph came first to Gaul, then to Britain. It is worth nothing, however, that the tradition of Mary Magdalene and Lazarus coming to Marseilles is not now regarded seriously by most hagiologists.

Joseph was said not only to have come to Britain, but to have settled at Glastonbury where he was given land by King Arviragus. A local tradition, perhaps not older than the nineteenth century, says he buried the cup of the Last Supper above the spring in Glastonbury and hence the water has a red tinge. A tradition amongst certain metalworkers was that, sometime before the Crucifixion, Joseph actually brought Jesus and Mary to Cornwall. Benjamin suggests that Joseph may be identical with Joachim, the father of the Virgin Mary in the Protevangelium of James, an apochryphal work; but the two names are quite distinct in origin. In the Estoire Joseph is given a son, Josephe. In Sone de Nausay he had a son named Adam, while Coptic tradition claims he had a daughter, Saint Josa.

Galahad himself is called a direct descendant of Joseph; since both Pellam and Lancelot were descended from Joseph’s convert Nascien, the relation would seem either to be spiritual, like that of a godparent and godchild, or to have come through intermarriage between Nascien’s male and Joseph’s female descendants.

Josephe’s cousin (Joseph’s nephew?) Lucans first was appointed guardian of the ark containing the Grail, before Josephe reassigned the keepership of the holy vessel to Nascien’s descendant Alain (or Helias) le Gros. Joseph’s younger son Galahad, born after the arrival in Britain, becomes the direct ancestor of King Uriens.

Malory, or his editors, seem to know nothing of Josephe, ascribing some of his deeds (such as marking the Adventurous Shield) to Joseph.

Arimathea was “a city of Judea”, according to the gospel of Luke (XXIII:51).

See also
Cymentiere | The Legend of King Arthur
Joseph of Arimathea in Glastonbury | The Legend of King Arthur
Judea | The Legend of King Arthur