Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy disciple of Jesus.
According to Matthew 27:57-60, he sought Jesus' crucified body
Pontius Pilate to
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
The Greek Orthodox Church celebrates the
feast of Joseph of Arimathea on 31 July, and the Catholic Church on 17
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
the foot of the Tor, Joseph built a wattle church, called the Vetusta
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
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
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?'