Saint of the Day – 31 August – Saint Joseph of Arimathea (Died 1st Century) “The Secret Disciple of Jesus” Born in Arimathea, Palestine and died in the 1st century. coffin-bearers, pallbearers, funeral directors, morticians, undertakers, tin miners, tin smiths, Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, Glastonbury Cathedral. Additional Memorial – 16 October (translation of relics to Jerusalem).
The only definitive information we have concerning Joseph of Arimathea comes to us from the four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. Many other legends exist that detail what happened to him after these events took place and, although they make interesting reading, none of them can be verified as the truth.
What we do know is that Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin and a follower of Jesus, although a secret one “for fear of the Jews” (Jn 19:38). Described as a “good and just man” in the Gospel of Luke (23:50), he was one of the Jewish leaders who did not take part in the condemnation of Jesus on the night we call Maundy or Holy Thursday. Instead, after Jesus’ death, Joseph boldly asked Pontius Pilate for His Body so that it could receive a proper burial before the Sabbath, which began at sundown. This was a more courageous act on Joseph’s part than we might imagine, as Jesus had died a condemned criminal, publicly executed for sedition.
Remarkably, Pilate agreed and Joseph, along with another of Jesus’ secret followers, Nicodemus, arranged to have the body prepared for burial according to Jewish custom – Jesus was then laid in Joseph’s own tomb, which was as yet unused and newly hewn out of rock. Finally, a large stone was rolled in front of the tomb’s entrance, the same stone that would later be found rolled away on Easter Sunday morning.
At this point, the biblical story of Joseph comes to a close and the legendary stories begin. During the Middle Ages, Joseph’s narrative somehow became connected with the lore surrounding King Arthur; he is featured in a 12th-century tale by Robert de Boron as the Keeper of the Holy Grail, which was the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. An earlier version of the story has Joseph receiving the cup from an apparition of Jesus, which later finds its way to Great Britain by way of some of Joseph’s followers. A revised version has Joseph himself coming to the British Isles with the Grail, which he subsequently buried in a secret place. It was this Holy Grail which was at the centre of so many Arthurian quests.
Glastonbury Abbey also lays claim to part of Joseph’s legend. It is said that when Joseph arrived in Great Britain with the Grail around the year 63, he landed on the island of Avalon and climbed the hill there. Weary from his journey, he thrust his staff into the ground and rested, by morning, the staff had taken root and produced a thorn tree, which reportedly bloomed every Christmas. It was also upon this land that Joseph and 12 of his followers are said to have built Glastonbury Abbey, although it was actually constructed around the seventh century. Today it is maintained as an important archeological site.
Legends aside, it is Joseph’s service to Jesus our Saviour and Redeemer, that Christians remember today.
Merciful God, Whose servant, Joseph of Arimathaea
with reverence and godly fear,
prepared the Body of our Lord and Saviour for burial
and laid it in his own tomb –
Grant to us, Your faithful people,
grace and courage to love and serve Jesus
with sincere devotion all the days of our life.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.