Joseph of Arimathea
fl. ca. 30 CE, Palestine

Joseph of Arimathea was, along with Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin and a secret disciple of Jesus, according to the canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). He donated his tomb (as it wasn't being used at the time), so that Jesus could have a burial place. Nothing more is said of him.

Now, in the apocryphal book The Gospel of Nicodemus, he is said to be the recipient of the cup of the Last Supper, still containing the blood of Christ, caught while on the cross. He received it while imprisoned for the removal of Christ's body from the tomb. Nothing more is said of him.

Then, according to Robert de Boron's Le Roman du Graal, he was left in prison, sustained by the miraculous powers of the cup, for forty or so years, until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. At this point, he is freed, and escapes west so as to spread the good news, bringing his family (including his brother-in-law Brons) with him. He dies along the way to Britain. Nothing more is said of him.

Later accounts made by the good brothers of Glastonbury Abbey claim that he in fact came all the way to their village and established the first church in England, independent of the Roman Catholic Church. He had with him the Holy Thorn, which is now a thorn tree, springing from a part of the Crown of Thorns. There is some claim that the Cup of the Last Supper (here identified with the Holy Grail, something I take issue with as a Celtic scholar, but will not get into here) was then placed in Chalice Well, which has red-stained water to this day.

Even later legends state that Joseph was in fact Jesus' uncle, that he was a tin merchant, and as tin was most plentiful in Cornwall, he took the young Jesus to visit Britain ca. 12 AD. This is the basis for William Blake's poem "Jerusalem", the preface to Milton:

And did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

Some (see Holy Blood, Holy Grail) identify Joseph with Lazarus, Lazarus' sister Mary with Mary Magdalene, and tie it all up into a neat little package about a secret bloodline descended of Jesus, meant to rule on the thrones of England and France. Yeah, right.

His feast day is March 17, the same as St. Patrick, who gets more press. Ironic, as it's Joseph who's associated with a drinking vessel.


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Mary Jones 2004