website counter
Joseph of Arimathea and Montacute

Was Joseph of Arimathea buried on St Michael's Hill, overlooking the village of Montacute?

Joseph of Arimathea was a Jew of importance who secretly followed Jesus; some say he was Jesus' Uncle (Wikipedia). After the crucifixion he helped shroud Jesus and transport him to the empty tomb. He is said to have left the Holy land with a vessel containing Jesus' blood, and came to Britain. Some legends say he was involved in trading tin with the West Country. On arrival he stuck his staff into the ground on Wearyall Hill in Glastonbury where it rooted and bloomed. There is still a cutting in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey which descended from the original hawthorn.

'Chalice Well' at the foot of the Tor has a high iron content and the reddish water is said to be due to the washing or burial there of the vessel that contained Jesus' blood. Other stories say the cup containing Jesus' blood was buried with Joseph in a secret grave. 

One of these says Joseph of Arimathea was buried on Montacute Hill. The story says the Prophesy of Melkin predicts Joseph of Arimathea is buried with the Holy Grail on the Isle of Avalon, but the actual wording of the prophesy says he

 "Hath found perpetual sleep
And he lies on a two-forked line
Next the south corner of an oratory
Fashioned of wattles" 

The 'two-forked line' has been interpreted to mean Joseph is buried at a distance from Glastonbury and the Isle of Avalon, and Internet sources refer to Archbishop Usher's 1639 publication Britannicarum ecclesiarum antiquitates in which he apparently quotes 'Maihew’s Trophea' about a claim that Joseph of Arimathea was buried on Ham Hill. Further interpretation leads to the conclusion that Montacute Hill is a more likely candidate than Ham Hill for the grave of Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail. There have been suggestions that the Holy Cross and associated artefacts found on St Michael's Hill in the 11th century (see my page 'Montacute's legend of the Holy Cross') were grave goods from the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

Thomas Gerard of Trent wrote in 1633 of the "Chapell built on the topp of the hill where the Castle stood by some Priour of this House and dedicated to St. Michaell" that "This place by some latter zealous Recusants hath bin had in greate veneration, for they believe that (but I thinke out of their traditions) that the body of Joseph of Aremathea, that Joseph which buried the body of our blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, was here interred." He goes on to point out "The Chappell succeeded the Castle and was by all probability builded in King Henry the first's time, and yet St. Joseph who dyed in the yeare of Christ 76 must be buryed here welneere 1044 yeares after his deathe." (in 'The particular description of the county of Somerset' by Gerard, Thomas, 1592-1634; Ed. Bates, E. H.). I have recorded his notes on Montacute and nearby villages in my page 'Montacute in 1633 by Thomas Gerard of Trent'

Wikipedia (24.11.2021) says "In none of these earliest references to Christianity's arrival in Britain is Joseph of Arimathea mentioned". William of Malmesbury's De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae ("On the Antiquity of the Church of Glastonbury", circa 1125) has not survived in its original edition, and the stories involving Joseph of Arimathea are contained in subsequent editions that abound in interpolations placed by the Glastonbury monks "in order to increase the Abbey's prestige – and thus its pilgrim trade and prosperity". In his Gesta Regum Anglorum (History of The Kings of England, finished in 1125), William of Malmesbury wrote that Glastonbury Abbey was built by preachers sent by Pope Eleuterus to Britain, however also adding: "Moreover there are documents of no small credit, which have been discovered in certain places to the following effect: 'No other hands than those of the disciples of Christ erected the church of Glastonbury';" but here William did not explicitly link Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea, but instead emphasizes the possible role of Philip the Apostle: "if Philip, the Apostle, preached to the Gauls, as Freculphus relates in the fourth chapter of his second book, it may be believed that he also planted the word on this side of the channel also."

Next you might like to read my notes on Saxon Montacute or check out Montacute snippets for my notes on a different topic