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ST JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA

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Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy disciple of Jesus. According to Matthew 27:57-60, he sought Jesus' crucified body from Pontius Pilate to prepare it for burial.

 

After Jesus was taken down from the Cross, his body was placed in a tomb Joseph owned. There the grief-stricken women took care of the body, till the soldiers sealed the tomb with a large boulder.

 

According to other apocryphal legends, Joseph was a wealthy man and a soldier, who was trusted by Pilate because he was in some way connected to the Roman military or government.

 

All that is known for certain concerning him is derived from the canonical Gospels. He was born at Arimathea, hence his surname, "a city of Judea" (Luke 23:51), which is very likely identical with Ramatha, the birthplace of the Prophet Samuel, although several scholars prefer to identify it with the town of Ramleh.

 

He was a wealthy Israelite (Matthew 27:57), "a good and a just man" (Luke 23:50), "who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God" (Mark 15:43).

 

He is also called by St. Mark and by St. Luke a bouleutes, literally, "a senator", whereby is meant a member of the Sanhedrin or supreme council of the Jews. He was a disciple of Jesus, probably ever since Christ's first preaching in Judea (John 2:23), but he did not declare himself as such "for fear of the Jews" (John 19:38).

 

On account of this secret allegiance to Jesus, he did not consent to His condemnation by the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:51), and was most likely absent from the meeting which sentenced Jesus to death (cf. Mark 14:64).

The Crucifixion of the Master quickened Joseph's faith and love, and suggested to him that he should provide for Christ's burial before the Sabbath began. Unmindful therefore of all personal danger, a danger which was indeed considerable under the circumstances, he boldly requested from Pilate the Body of Jesus, and was successful in his request (Mark 15:43-45).

 

Once in possession of this sacred treasure, he, together with Nicodemus, whom his courage had likewise emboldened, and who brought abundant spices, wrapped up Christ's Body in fine linen and grave bands, laid it in his own tomb, new and yet unused, and hewn out of a rock in a neighbouring garden, and withdrew after rolling a great stone to the opening of the sepulchre (Matthew 27:59, 60; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53; John 19:38-42). Thus was fulfilled Isaiah's prediction that the grave of the Messias would be with a rich man (Isaiah 53:9).

 

The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of Joseph of Arimathea on 31 July, and the Catholic Church on 17 March.

 

Additional details which are found concerning him in the apocryphal "Acta Pilati".

 

Likewise fabulous is the legend which tells of his coming to Gaul A.D. 63, and thence to Great Britain, where he is supposed to have founded the earliest Christian oratory at Glastonbury.

 

Finally, the story of the translation of the body of Joseph of Arimathea from Jerusalem to Moyenmonstre (Diocese of Toul) originated late and is unreliable.

 

After the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to Joseph in his cell, and gave him the Cup. After the fall of Jerusalem to Vespasian's army, Joseph was freed, and with his sister Enygeus and her husband, Hebron or Bron, went into exile with a small group of fellow Christians.

 

William of Malmesbury's, in his History of Glastonbury, said that Joseph ended up in southern France, in or near Marseilles, where he lived with St Philip, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene were preaching to the Gauls. St Philip sent Joseph away with eleven disciples to preach in a new land that had not heard the Gospel.

 

Carrying the Cup of the Last Supper, which bore the sweat, tears and blood of Jesus, they travelled in an oarless boat, until he and his fellow travellers ended up on the shores of Glastonbury. The year was 63AD or, possibly even as early as 37AD.

 

It was said that Joseph achieved his wealth in the metals trade, and in the course of conducting his business, he probably became acquainted with Britain, at least the south-western parts of it. Cornwall was a chief mining district and well-known in the Roman empire for its tin.

 

Somerset was reknowned for its high quality lead. There were also ancient mines under the Mendip Hills in Somerset around the villages of Charterhouse and Priddy.

 

Glastonbury TorIt was only natural, then, that Joseph should have been chosen for the first mission to Britain, and appropriate that he should come first to Glastonbury, that religious center for legendary activity in the West Country.

 

Local legend has it that Joseph sailed around Land's End and headed for his old lead mining haunts. Here his boat ran ashore in the Glastonbury Marshes and, together with his followers, he climbed a onto nearby hill to survey the surrounding land.

 

At the foot of Glastonbury Tor, Joseph bade his friends to bow down to pay and give thanks. Having brought with him a staff grown from Christ's Holy Crown of Thorns, he stopped and announced that he and his twelve companions were 'Weary All'. Standing up, Joseph thrust his staff into the sod of Wearyall Hill.

 

Glastonbury ThornMiraculously, the staff took root and budded. He was planting the Gospel in England.

 

Today descendents of the original Glastonbury Thorn still bear fruit at each and every Christmas.

 

After Joseph arrived, he and his followers met a favourable response from the local chief, king Arviragus. Arviragus gave him some land, known as the 'twelve hides' at Glastonbury, and Joseph and his fellows stayed to preach to the local people.

 

Chalice WellAt the foot of the Tor, Joseph built a wattle church, called the Vetusta Ecclesia.

 

He decreed that twelve monks should always be in the church to pray.

 

Jesus, appearing to Joseph and his friends, blessed them and their work. In honour of his Mother, Joseph dedicated the church to Mary.

 

Several years later, Joseph died, and he was buried next to the wall of the little wattle church. According to legends, he buried the Cup or preserved it in or near the Chalice Well.

 

When two papal envoys arrived in about 180AD, they found that the Vetusta Ecclesia was almost in ruin. They had the building repaired. Worship began in earnest.

 

According to the ancient Welsh Triads, Glastonbury held one of the three perpetual choirs of Britain, in which one hundred monks worshipped and sang the liturgy and Psalms all day and all night.

 

A separate story has Joseph bringing the boy Jesus and his mother Mary to Cornwall. The party were coming to Britain to purchase lead from the Mendips in Somerset.

 

The area they visited was around the villages of Priddy in Somerset. This is the legend behind William Blake's Jerusalem.

 

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

And was the Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen?'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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