Our website is made possible by displaying online ads to our visitors.
Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our site.

A Patron Saint for Funeral Directors

First slide

St. Joseph of Arimathea (1st century)

Feast day: March 17

St. Patrick has a lock on March 17. Who could compete with all the parades, music, corned beef and cabbage, and back-to-back reruns of "The Quiet Man?" Alas, certainly not the dozen or so other saints who share the feast day with Patrick. And that's a shame, because one saint who has gotten lost in the March 17 hoopla is St. Joseph of Arimathea.

All four Gospels mention Joseph as a wealthy man, a secret disciple of Our Lord, possibly a member of the Sanhedrin religious court. That first dreadful Good Friday when the apostles were scattered and in hiding, Joseph found the courage to go to Pontius Pilate and request the body of Jesus. Along with Nicodemus, another clandestine disciple, Joseph took Christ's body from the cross, wrapped it in linen and carried it to a cave tomb he had prepared for his own use. That act of kindness has made him remembered and honored throughout the Christian world, and it is the reason funeral directors regard St. Joseph of Arimathea as their patron saint.

The Gospels tell us no more about Joseph, so, as often happens, legend has stepped in to fill the void. At some point, we don't know when, St. Joseph of Arimathea became linked with the Holy Grail. According to legend, Joseph was the uncle of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a merchant whose business interests took him as far as the island of Britain. The story tells us that when Jesus was a boy, Joseph took him along on a voyage to England. The 18th-century poet William Blake immortalized this tale in his poem Jerusalem: "And did those feet in ancient time Walk on England?s mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God On England's pleasant pastures seen?"

Now fast forward to the crucifixion, where the legend places Joseph at the foot of the cross. As the Precious Blood dripped from Our Lord's wounds, Joseph caught it in the cup Christ had used at the Last Supper. Later, he transferred the Blood into two cruets. After Christ's ascension into heaven, Joseph took the cruets and the cup, known as the Holy Grail, and with 12 priests brought the Gospel to England. The missionaries are said to have settled at Glastonbury where they built a chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

A persistent tradition in England says Joseph's chapel, known as "the Old Church," survived at Glastonbury until 1184 when it was destroyed in a great fire. In 1186 the current Lady Chapel was consecrated on the site of Joseph's church. Although we have no historical evidence to tell us when Glastonbury Abbey was founded, we do know when it came to an end. In 1539, Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and convents of England. Glastonbury's abbot, Richard Whiting, nearly 80 years old, refused to submit. On Nov. 15 of that year, the courageous old man was dragged to a hill above his abbey and hanged, drawn and quartered. For his faithfulness, the Church venerates the last abbot of Glastonbury as Blessed Richard Whiting.

In 1965, amid the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, Queen Elizabeth II erected a large wooden cross with an inscription that alludes to the St. Joseph of Arimathea legend. It reads: "The cross. The symbol of our faith. The gift of Queen Elizabeth II marks a Christian sanctuary so ancient that only legend can record its origin."

Craughwell is the author of Saints for Every Occasion (Stampley Enterprises, 2001) and Patron Saints Catholic Cardlinks (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004).

Copyright 2005 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2005