On this day: Joseph of Arimathea

On this day, the Episcopal Church honors Joseph of Arimathea. In the Roman Catholic Church, the disciple who buried Jesus in his own tomb is venerated on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. The Eastern Orthodox Church venerates Joseph of Arimathea on July 31. He is mentioned in all four gospels.

". . . there is an ancient tradition that Joseph of Arimathea was a relative of Jesus and that, being involved in the trade between the Cornish tin mines and the eastern Mediterranean, Joseph took Jesus with him on a business trip to Cornwall in the years before Jesus began his public ministry. That part of the tradition is referred to in a poem of William Blake's that asks: 'And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen?'"

--Celebrating the Saints: Devotional Readings for Saints' Days, by Robert Atwell and Christopher L. Webber, Morehouse, 2001, page 247. Search term: Arimathea.

It's thrilling to hear an English crowd singing Blake's poem set to music composed by C. Hubert H. Parry at a rugby match or at a royal wedding. Click here for a YouTube of the congregation singing "Jerusalem" at the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Here is William Blake's poem, so you may sing along:


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

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!

I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

--William Blake

Joseph of Arimathea is said to have returned to Britain, where he founded the Abbey of Glastonbury, England's first. "By the time medieval chroniclers and romance poets had done with him Joseph emerged not only as the author of Celtic Britain's conversion to Christianity and as bringer of the Grail, but also as the ancestor of Britain's greatest national hero, King Arthur, and the link in some mysterious fashion between Arthur and Israel's national hero, King David.

"Why did English tradition settle on the figure of Joseph rather than on any other? Perhaps the answer is that he actually did make his way from Palestine to Britain. Other apostles voyaged far from Judaea to carry the gospel, and the Roman ways to Britain were open. At any rate no one can say positively that he did not: one cannot prove a negative, especially when records of the time are so meager."

--Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, by Barbara W. Tuchman, New York University Press, 1956.

Click here for the Wikipedia article, "Joseph of Arimathea."

Click here for the Wikipedia article, "And did those feet in ancient time."

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