Patron saint of FDs, pray for us

Charles 8 Comments

Posted by Richard Rawlinson

It’s a crying shame St Joseph of Arimathea shares his feast day with St Patrick on 17 March. The patron saint of funeral directors gets ignored in a wash of green and Guinness. But the world’s most famous undertaker is particularly special to Britain, and well worth your prayers seeking his intercession. His story takes us from the cross and tomb of Our Lord to Glastonbury and the Holy Grail.

Mentioned in all four Gospels, Joseph was a wealthy merchant and follower of Christ who demonstrated tremendous bravery and kindness: he went to Pontius Pilate asking for permission to take Christ’s body from the Cross at Calvary and prepare Him for burial; he cleaned the tortured, bloodied body, anointed it with oils, shrouded it in linen and carried it to a cave tomb he’d prepared for his own use.

The Bible says nothing more about Joseph but legend continues his story. It’s said he was uncle of the Virgin Mary, a claim originating from the tradition that the senior male relative of a crucified man is responsible for dealing with the body. With Our Lady’s older husband, St Joseph, no longer alive, our Joseph stepped forward.

It’s said he made his money trading metals which took him to the northern reaches of the Roman Empire, including the tin mines of Cornwall. As an account for some of Jesus’s ‘lost’ years between childhood and ministry, it’s claimed great uncle Joseph took Jesus with him on one of these trips, hence William Blake’s Jerusalem:

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?

Joseph’s ties with England continue. He’s said to have accompanied Apostle Philip, Mary Magdalene and other followers of Christ on a preaching mission to Gaul, with Joseph then sailing across the Channel to the island with which he was already familiar.

Possibly the first missionary in Britain between AD37-50, Joseph settled in Glastonbury. Not only did he have firsthand credibility as a missionary but he also brought sacred relics: vials of Christ’s blood and sweat from the Cross, and the cup used during the Last Supper. The Holy Grail, no less.

Here, Bible-extending apocryphal tales mix with Medieval myths about Avalon. Some say Joseph is the original founder of Glastonbury Abbey, which is also claimed as the burial place of King Arthur. The Holy Grail is said to be hidden in Chalice Well, near the Abbey, since destroyed during the Reformation. Glastonbury’s parish church remains dedicated to St Joseph.

These stories make a case for Joseph as patron saint, not just of undertakers, but of all England rather than George, the dragon-slayer. Some also judge Jerusalem as a better choice of national anthem than the one we have.

FDs, do you know how lucky you are?


  1. Charles

    A pleasure, Jenny. Joseph’s role also fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy that the grave of the ‘Suffering Servant’ would be with a rich man.

    1. Charles

      Hi FHL Guy, the patron saint of FDs is a legend. Imagine if he had a parade in NYC like St Patrick, but instead of wearing green everyone processed in mourning attire, but also drinking black Guinness.
      Here’s Jerusalem as part of the package.
      Also, do you like Matt Maher’s Celtic-sounding Litany of Saints at the end of the blog? I dislike most modern church music but this has a sacred quality, IMO.
      More than I can say for Paul Inwood’s Alleluia (ch-ch)

  2. Charles

    I have to say, I have grave doubts (pardon the pun) about the historicity of accounts that Joseph ever came to Glastonbury (or that Arthur is buried there or that there were a community of Goddess worshiping priestesses there in the Iron Age etc etc). In fact I have serious doubts as to the historicity of Joseph himself as he is presented here…but I have to say I think it matters not a jot. There is more than one sort of truth (as I spent many happy hours trying to explain to various groups of students.) Glastonbury is a powerful place, and this is a powerful story.
    For the record, I would be entirely in favour of Jerusalem as a national anthem. Not because of the story of Jesus in England so much as because I see it as a vow to the county and to the land to make it the best it can be in every possible way. I can live with that. I have no problem with the monarchy. I certainly prefer them to any alternative…but royal families come and go…the land remains.

    As to patron saints…in honesty I don’t much care as I’m not a Christian. Both George and Joseph are, I think, mythical figures and both come from outside, one from Turkey the other from Palestine. On the whole, so far as I had a preference, it would be nice to have an English saint who actually existed. That’s just me though.

  3. Charles

    The Telegraph’s George Pitcher on JofA:

    How different the story might have been if the Jerusalem of 2,000 years ago was like the London Borough of Bromley today. The idea that Joseph of Arimathea could have got a quick verbal consent from the head of the local authority to take possession of Jesus’s body would be ridiculous; he’d never have got the paperwork organised in time. Mary Magdalen would have been so tied up with the bereavement services she’d never have got back to the tomb before dawn. And that’s before having to explain to the bureaucrats that the tomb turned out to be empty.

  4. Charles

    When it comes to accounts of Jesus’s ‘lost’ years, I prefer those given in The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, which has him in India studying the Hindu art of healing under the master, Udraka, to whose feet Jesus bowed when he told him he’d taught him all he knew. It explains Jesus’s otherwise uncanny ability to heal sick people, and hints at the existence of some training (as opposed to magic) behind his prodigious mind-control that affected even matter (if we’re to believe the bible).

    As to his poor undertaker, what a nightmare to have a corpse walk out on you – even the Co-op doesn’t get complaints like that!

    1. Charles

      This post gave me heretical sickness:
      1. if Jesus is truly God, then he would not need to learn how to heal, for as God he has dominion over all.
      2. If God is true and thus perfect; learning would mean God does not know all and is limited even further than man and this man is superior to God, which defines the very definition of God.

      From a theological and philosophical prospective you are a heretic.

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