Over the last few days I have been waiting for what I called “a bridge”. A bridge to cross from Mary Magdalene to the early life of the church, the experiences of those who were actually there and witnessed the events of the time, the few days of what must have been panic and disappointment afterwards, when their hopes and dreams appeared to die on the cross. I wanted to look at that, them move from the confusion of his disappearance from the tomb to their glorious realisation that Jesus was not dead, the 40 days he was with them and what happened then.
The “bridge” I was looking for came completely unexpectedly from an unusual source indeed, watched by approximately 1.4 billion people across the world; the opening ceremony to the Olympic Games London, two nights ago. As the opening hymn Jerusalem was sung out across the arena I gasped, and my eyes popped out on stalks as I saw the Glastonbury Tor featured with its thorn tree atop. The Tor featured throughout the whole games, being the place where all the nations flags were stood side by side. For you see, for some of us who are my age do know of the history behind the ‘myth and legend’ of Glastonbury; but many people under the age of around 45 have no idea as none of it is taught anymore here.
It is Britain’s story that Christianity was brought here in the earliest days; backed up by historical documents by reliable Greek, Roman and Jewish sources who say that in A.D.36 Joseph of Arimathea and a group of others known as the Bethany party were forced into exile. According to Acts 8: 1-14, in A.D. 36 the Church of Jerusalem was scattered abroad. Even the Apostles were later forced to flee. Cardinal Baronius was considered an outstanding historian of the Roman Catholic Church. He was Curator of the famous Vatican library. Quoting from his Ecclesiastical Annals he says this about that exodus in A.D.36 and Joseph of Arimathea and his companions; “in that year, the party mentioned was exposed to the sea in a vessel without sail or oars. the vessel drifted finally to Marseilles and they were saved. From Marseilles Joseph and his companions passed into Britain and after preaching the Gospel there died”. In this book Baronius quotes from Acts of Magdalene and other manuscripts in his possession. The names of the castaways of this particular boat are given as Joseph of Arimathea, Mary Magdalene, Martha, the handmaiden Marcella, Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead and Maximin, the man whose sight Jesus restored. Other manuscripts state that Philip and James accompanied Joseph. Others report that Mary the wife of Cleopas, and Mary, mother of Jesus were occupants of the boat. That there were many congregated at this time is obvious by the manner in which the various names appear in early Gallic church records. It is known that a number of converts had preceded Joseph to Marseilles.
Philip, one of the original twelve Apostles was certainly present. A wealth of uncontroversial testimony asserting his commission in Gaul state that he received and consecrated Joseph and appointed him Apostle to Britain. A British Druidic delegation of Bishops arrived in Marseilles to greet Joseph and his companions on their arrival, inviting them to return to Britain [where he was already well-known through his own business interests in tin mining, I will cover who Joseph was, how he was known so well etc. as well as Nicodemus in the coming posts]. The emissaries of the British Prince Arviragus offered Joseph lands, a safe haven and protection against Roman interference. Joseph already knew Arviragus well and in a sense this was a homecoming for him. Arviragus was Prince of the noble Silures in Britain, in the Dukedom of Cornwall. He was the son of King Cunobelinus and cousin to the renowned British warrior Caradoc, whom the Romans named Caractacus. Together they represented the Royal Silurian dynasty, the most powerful warrior kingdom in Britain.
This then is the group that entered Britain. Cardinal Baronius quotes from Mistral in Mireio, and another ancient document in the Vatican library.
St Mary, wife of Cleopas
St Mary Magdalene
St Sidonious [Restitutus]
St Joseph of Arimathea
Marcella, handmaiden to the Bethany sisters.
Along with tradition, may other writers and extant information insist there is another member of this party, Mary the mother of Jesus. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea was the younger brother of Mary’s father, thus Jesus’ great uncle from the Talmud and we know he was married, and had a son called Josephes, who we will look at in future posts. However there is also evidence which I will detail in another post that Joseph was actually Mary’s younger brother, not her uncle… in Jewish tradition at that time when the husband died the Jewish law automatically appointed the next male kin legal guardian to the family. So Joseph had already been legal guardian of Mary for perhaps quite some time, before Jesus died. It has now become doctrine within the Catholic Church that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus, that she was a virgin after she had Jesus and that she had no other children following him. We shall explore this later, as documents from the Catholic Church under Pope John Paul 11 show that at the highest levels of the Church, this question of virginity as well as other doctrinal matters is disputed.
Followers of Jesus were not known by the name Christian from the beginning. The term had not then been coined, that was to follow many years after his death. To the Judean, the Greek and the Roman world, the early adherents to this new way were known as ‘Followers of The Way’. Jesus had said, “I am The Way” and to all his followers he was ‘The Way’. The title Christian was claimed to have originated in A.D.36 in Antioch, following the enthusiastic reception given to the disciples who fled there in A.D.36. But it appears they were known as ‘Little Christs’ or ‘Little Men of Christ’. This meant ‘a consecrated person/people’. Early ecclesiastics and historians however state that the word is of British origin and substantiation is found in a statement by Sabellus in A.D. 250, who wrote, ‘the word Christian was spoken for the first time in Britain, by those who first received The Word, from the Disciples of Christ’.
Leaving St Philip in Gaul, St Joseph and the Bethany group set sail for Britain by invitation, arriving at a cluster of islands about twelve miles inland from the coast. King Guiderius and his brother Arviragus and a group of nobles met them. Their first act was to present to St Joseph as a perpetual gift, free of tax, twelve hides of land, a hide for each disciple, each hide was 160 acres, thus a total gift of 1,920 acres. It was the first of many charters this historic sacred site was to receive from the kings and queens of Britain and these charters are officially recorded in the British Royal archives, many still being extant today. These charters were the means of settling state, political and religious disputes in refusing to recognise Papal authority proclaiming Britain’s seniority to unbroken apostolic succession through its bishops dating from St Joseph, the apostle to Britain, appointed and consecrated by the Apostle Philip and on orders from St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. When the Pope visited Great Britain recently; film footage covered the Queen showing him these historic charters of land gifted at Glastonbury in a display for him.
Incidentally, the British claim of seniority was never denied by the Vatican Popes and was affirmed by Papal statement as late as 1936.
Legend now says that St Joseph made his way up the hill, stopped to rest and thrust his staff into the ground, which took root and blossomed into the Holy Thorn. This place is still known as Weary All Hill. On Christmas Day, the Queen retains the tradition of a sprig of this thorn-bush decorating the Christmas table, as have all monarchs before her. The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey stand over the place where St Joseph erected the first altar in a wattle church, thatched with reed which they built. Soon after St Joseph and his apostolic company had settled, they started to construct their church which was 60 feet in length and 26 feet wide following the pattern of the Tabernacle. The task was completed between A.D. 38 and 39. To the back of the little wattle church stood the great Tor, which was the High Place of Worship for the Druids.
School history books still assert that it was St Augustine that brought Christianity to Britain and the Vatican has remained emphatic in correcting this perception. Baronius and Alford, the two foremost historians of the Vatican, each referring to ancient documents in the Vatican Library affirm St Joseph as the Apostle to Britain and the first to introduce Christian teachings to the island. The Popes have also substantiated this statement.
Theodore Martin, of Lvan, writes of the disputes over preeminence in Disputoilis superDignitatem Anglis it Gallioe in Councilio Constantiano, A.D 1517:
”Three times the antiquity of the British Church was affirmed in Ecclesiastical Councila. The Council of Pisa, A.D 1417 ; Council of Constance, A.D. 1419; Council of Siena, A.D. 1423. It was stated that the British Church took precedence over all other Churches, being founded by Joseph of Arimathea, immediately after the passion of Christ’.
The Bishop Usher writes in Brittannicarum Ecclesiarum Antiquitates: “The British National Church was founded A.D. 36. 160 years before heathen Rome confessed Christianity”.
Polydore Vergil, an eminent Roman Catholic divine, who wrote during the denunciations and quarrels between the Pope and Henry V111 of England: “Britain partly through Joseph of Arimathea, partly through Fugatus and Damianus, was of all kingdoms, the first to receive the Gospel.”
Sir Henry Spelman, an eminent scholar, writes in his Cocilia: “We have abundant evidence that this Britain of ours received the faith, and that from the disciples of Christ himself, soon after the Crucifixion.”
Gildas, A.D.520 Britains foremost early historian, wrote in his De Exido Brittannioe, ” We certainly know that Christ, the True Son, afforded His Light, the knowledge of His precepts to our island in the last year of Tiberius Caesar.” The last year of Tiberius’s reign would be according to the respective calendars, A.D. 37 or A.D. 38. Thus the general agreement that the Gospel was brought to Britain within five years of the Passion is in accord with dates recorded.
In another post I will go more into Joseph of Arimathea, who he was, why he was so important and how he protected the Early Church, Jesus’s disciples and mother and used his business contacts and dealings to get them all safely out as best he could. there is also the possibility that as a child, Jesus may have travelled with his great-uncle to Britain on his business trips and we shall look at that as well.
So, Glastonbury Tor, its relation to the very earliest Christian Church and our history here in relation to that, found its way through even to the opening ceremony for the Olympics. I have stated in an earlier post about the hymn Jerusalem…and how above all else it is the one thing that we all identify with when we hear it; and I have my bridge to carry on with our exploration. The first photo is Glastonbury Tor and the second is Glastonbury Abbey ruins. The third is a photo of me underneath the Thorn Tree in the Chalice Well Gardens, Glastonbury, 2001.