J is for ... Joseph of Arimathea. So, who is Joseph?
In Christian belief, Joseph was a wealthy man who asked for the body of Jesus from the cross and, wrapping it reverently, put the body in his own new tomb, before the resurrection.
|Byzantine icon, public domain. Joseph centre.|
So, what connection does he have with the Arthurian canon? He is supposed to have caught the blood of Jesus in a cup - a cup that would become known as the Holy Grail. It was also said to have been used at the Last Supper. As the first Grail Keeper, he definitely has a place in the Arthurian legend.
He even has his very own mediaeval poem, written by one Robert de Boron, a 13th century poet, who also wrote a poem called Merlin. We don’t know much about him, except a few snippets that appear in the poems themselves, but we do owe him the connection to the Arthurian legend .
Joseph may or may not have existed, but his home town probably didn’t. Arimathea might be based on some existing places, such as Ramathaim-Zophim, which was located somewhere near modern Lod, where the airport is located these days. Interesting, by the way, because that area is connected also with St George and the dragon.
He is venerated by several branches of Christianity and has been made a saint, with his own feast day, August 31.
And he is connected with Christianity in Britain.There is a story that he was a wealthy tin merchant who travelled to Britain on business and that on one of those trips he took the young Jesus with him.
In fact, there is that famous poem about it by William Blake, And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time, which has a tune and includes “chariot of fire”, which has become a film title. Here it is in Wikipedia. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/And_did_those_feet_in_ancient_time
And here is a picture of Joseph, also by Blake.
|William Blake. Public Domain.|
There are a number of stories about Joseph either bringing the Grail to Britain or sending it with his son, Josephus. There is also, of course, the story of the Glastonbury Thorn, which grew from Joseph’s staff, and we do read in Arthurian literature that King Pelles/Pellam, a later Grail Keeper, was related.
There is an account of early Christianity in Britain by 12th century author William of Malmesbury which didn’t mention Joseph till later editions, and only then because the monks of Glastonbury might have slipped the story in. In the late 12th century, the Glastonbury monks wanted some tourist money, so they “discovered” graves they said belonged to Arthur and Guinevere very conveniently in their own grounds. Adding Joseph to the story would have helped.
Who knows? It’s a good story, anyway, which might make a novel in its own right.