How’d the Holy Grail Make It to England?

Anyone familiar with Monty Python and the Holy Grail has heard reference to an old legend: Joseph of Arimathaea took the Holy Grail to England.

Ostensibly, Joseph is linked with the Castle Augghhh.

Unrelated to the Pythons, a few weeks ago I stumbled across this wonderful scene from the 2012 Proms:

I’ve listened to it a few times since then. But while I found the music quite lovely, I didn’t give much thought to why the English would hold a hymn about Jerusalem so dear.

Then, a few days ago, I looked up the lyrics, written by English mystic-poet William Blake:

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands 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 Englands green & pleasant Land.

The poem pertains to Joseph of Arimathaea bringing a young Christ to England!

Whence the connection between Joseph and England? As far as old myths go, the connection is less obvious than Saint James’ connection with Spain. It’s the stuff of high Arthurian legend and, on the lower end of the literary spectrum, Dan Brown’s world of poorly-researched paranoia. After all, Britain and Judea were about absolute opposite ends of the Roman Empire, the western and eastern most ends.

Unrelated to my own repeated listening to “Jerusalem,” PrayTell marked the feast of Saint Joseph of Arimathaea with this article and unwittingly shed light on the question that I’ve found so perplexing since the first time I watched Monty Python search for the Grail.

The legend holds that Joseph was not a stranger but rather one of Jesus’ distant relatives. He was also, according to the same myth, the owner of a tin tin mine in the Cornish region of Britain, thus his connection to Christ, the Grail, and the British Isles.

This is, of course, far-fetched. However, the same PrayTell article does point out some some tertiary support. The Cornish region was, in fact, home to tin mines which traded across the Roman Empire and had business dealings with Judea. Moreover, Christianity had many early inroads in Britain before taking a more permanent hold at the end of the sixth century.

So did Joseph of Arimathaea take his distant cousin to Cornwall? Did Joseph hide the Holy Grail away in some distant British castle?

Probably not. There’s certainly no evidence to support the notion. But it is *just* within the realm of possibility.


Edit: I feel I should point out an important distinction. The connection between Cornish tin miners, their trade with other Roman provinces during the first century, and Arthurian Grail legends is distinct from claims of  so-called “Anglo-Israelism.” Arthurian legend is just that: mythology. Anglo-Israelism, on the other hand, is pseudo-science used to support blatant antisemitism. It is detestable.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s