From  the  book  “THE  COMING  OF  THE  SAINTS”

by  J. W. Taylor (first published in 1906)



'The Holy Grail. ... What is it ?

The phantom of a cup that comes and goes ?' 'Nay, monk! what phantom?' answer'd Percivale.

'The cup, the cup, itself, from which our Lord Drank at the last sad supper with His own. This, from the blessed land of Aromat -After the day of darkness, when the dead Went wandering o'er Moriah - the good saint, Arimathean Joseph, journeying brought To Glastonbury, where the winter thorn Blossoms at Christmas, mindful of our Lord. And there awhile it bode; and if a man Could touch or see it, he was heal'd at once, By faith, of all his ills. But then the times Grew to such evil that the holy cup Was caught away to Heaven, and disappear’d.

To whom the monk: 'From our old books I know That Joseph came of old to Glastonbury, And there the heathen Prince, Arviragus, Gave him an isle of marsh wheron to build; And there he built with wattles from the marsh A little lonely church in days of yore, For so they say, these books of ours, but seem Mute of this miracle, far as I have read. But who first saw the holy thing today ?'

Tennyson, “The Holy Grail”


THE counterpart, or rather  'complement', of the Provencal tradition is to be found in Aquitaine, in Brittany and in England.

In the Provencal legends, as we have seen, the name of St. Joseph of Arimathea occurs as that of one member of the group of Eastern missionaries who come to the Rhone Valley in the neighbourhood of Marseilles, but one who simply passed through Provence on his way to Britain.

Again we find his traces at Limoges (the ancient Lemovices and Augustoritum). The old Aquitaine legends concerning St. Martial, the supposed first missionary Apostle of Limoges, which have a definite history reaching, at least, as far back as the tenth century [Fastes Episcop, vol. ii, p. 104), mention the name of St. Joseph of Arimathea incidentally. St. Martial, accompanied by his father and mother (Marcellus and Elizabeth), St. Zaccheus (the publican of the Gospels) and St. Joseph of Arimathea - all Hebrews - are represented as arriving at Limoges in the first century. St. Martial is said to have remained at Limoges; the name of St. Zaccheus is permanently associated with the romantic village and pilgrimage of Rocamadour, while that of St. Joseph has no local resting-place.1 Again we find traces of the disciples or companions of St. Joseph at Morlaix in Brittany. The local tradition here is that Drennalus, a disciple of St. Joseph of Arimathea and first bishop of Treguier, preached the Gospel in this district about A.D. 72 (North-Western France, Augustus Hare).

Again, we find faint legendary traces of the presence of St. Joseph of Arimathea in Cornwall. He is represented as coming in a boat, as bringing the infant Jesus with him and as teaching the Cornish miners how to purify their tin. But here, too, St. Joseph had no settled resting-place.

Yet, again, we find his name at Glastonbury. Not only so, but the little town and adjacent country appear to be filled with ancient memories and traditions of his mission, in very much the same way as the Rhone Valley seems to be filled with traces of the family of Bethany.

'Weary all Hill', the winter thorn, the story of the Holy Grail (or cup) he is said to have brought with him, the chalice spring, and last, but not least, St. Joseph's chapel, all remain traditionally associated with his reputed coming to the Britons. In short, the tradition here is not only a report of his coming but of his life, his labours, and his end.


1 In addition to the legend we find quasi-historical references to the mission of St. Martial in ecclesiastical literature: "Martialis, Lemovicum in Gallia episcopus et apostolus, una cum St. Petro (ut volent) ex Oriente Rorhani venit, indeque ab eo in Gallias amandatur; ubi Lemovicensibus, Turonnensibus, aliisque ad-fidem conversis, abiit (ut exactis ejus liquet) Ann. 74 (G. Gave, Script. Eccles. Hist. Liter. Basileae, 1741, vol. i, p. 36).


But this is not all. The old romances of history - romances of the Middle Ages, compiled to a large extent from old records in the Abbey of Glastonbury - appear to carry us further still.

St. Joseph of Arimathea is never represented as coming to Britain alone, but as accompanied by other Hebrews, and notably his son 'Josephes'. These companions and relations are said to have intermarried with the families of the British kings or chieftains, and from them, by direct descent, in something like four hundred years, are said to have arisen the greater heroes of King Arthur's Court - the Knights of the Round Table.

About, the middle of the first century A.D. the western country on both sides of the Severn was held by the British in comparative security, being outside the main lines of Roman conquest, and it was purposely to these (as we are told) that St. Joseph and his companions came.

Now in ancient British records - the very oldest we possess - a Christian mission of about this date is definitely mentioned. Gildas, who lived early in the sixth century, wrote as follows (referring to Great Britain):

“These islands received the beams of light - that is, the holy precepts of Christ - the true Son, as we know, at the latter part of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, in whose time this religion was propagated without impediment and death threatened to those who interfered with its professors.

These rays of light were received with lukewarm minds by the inhabitants, but they nevertheless took root among some of them in a greater or less degree, until the nine years' persecution by the tyrant Diocletian, when the Churches throughout the whole world were overthrown. All the copies of the Holy Scriptures which could be found were burned in the streets, and the chosen pastors of God's flock butchered, together with their innocent sheep, in order that (if possible) not a vestige might remain in some provinces of Christ's religion” (History of Gildas, sections 8, 9).

The account of Eusebius is quite in accordance with this. He writes: 

“Tiberius . . . threatened death to the accusers of the Christians: a Divine providence infusing this into his mind, so that the Gospel, having freer scope at its beginning, might spread everywhere over the world.” 

Speaking of the events from A.D. 37-41, he goes on to say: “Thus ... the doctrine of the Saviour, like the beams of the sun, soon irradiated the whole world. Throughout every city and village Churches were found rapidly abounding and filled with members from every people” (Eccles. Hist., bk. ii, chaps, ii, iii).2

As Tiberius Caesar died in A.D. 37 this very much antedates the earliest received record of any Christian mission to this country, but the date need not be insisted on too rigidly; the more especially as the news of the death of one emperor and his succession by another would often takes years before it filtered to the farthest corners of the Roman Empire and its dependencies. What we do know is that through the reigns of Tiberius, Claudius and the earlier years of Nero there was but little or no hindrance to the spread of the Gospel, and that troops were continually passing between Britain and Rome during all this time. No persecution of any importance reached Great Britain until the reign of Diocletian (A.D. 285) when, according to the Venerable Bede, “The persecution was more lasting and bloody than all the others before it, for it was carried on incessantly for the space of ten years with burning of Churches, outlawing of innocent persons and slaughter of martyrs. At length it reached Britain also, and many persons, with the constancy of martyrs, died in the confession of their faith” (bk. i, cap. vi).3

Such persecutions would - and did, no doubt - destroy nearly all the earliest written records. In many places they not only did this but practically wiped out (as they were intended to do) the existing Christianity of the day, so that fresh missions had to be undertaken in later years, but none the less the earlier message most certainly had been delivered, and the second coming brought a revival of the older teaching rather than a new and original message.

This is the more easily understood when we remember that the earliest missionaries appear to have gone directly to the peoples of the various nations, and did not, so far as we can judge, seek to influence them through their conquerors.

In Britain, for example, the original message must have been delivered to the native Britons directly and not by means of Roman


2 Messrs. Haddan and Stubbs (and some other critics) speak of Gildas as copying Eusebius and applying his remarks to Britain without reason or authority. A close examination of the writings of both does not support this view, for Gildas and other old English writers, who follow him in their statements that 'the British were very slow to receive the gospel, and that it made but little progress among them for many years', strike a special note which cannot be found in other writers on the spread of early Christianity. This certainly supports some definite historical source for the account (see also William of Malmesbury).

3 In this persecution they not only destroyed the churches, but they prejudiced Church history beyond recovery, for as Velserus observes, “They burnt all the monuments which concerned the Christian Church” (Wm. Borlase, Antiquities of Cornwall, Oxford, Jackson, 1754).


intercourse (or only accidentally in this way), for we have the historical evidence of Tertullian who, writing at the latter end of the second century, speaks of the 'places of the British inaccessible to the Romans' as having been already won for Christ. (See Appendix E.) But by what route leading to a district 'inaccessible to the Romans' could the early Christians of the first or second century have brought the news of the Gospel?

A complete answer to this question is found in the writings of Diodorus Siculus, who lived in the time of Augustus: it was the route of the tin traders.

The passage describing this ancient British industry of tin mining and tin smelting is as follows (bk. v, cap. ii):

They that inhabit the British promontory of Belerium, by reason of their converse with merchants, are more civilized and courteous to strangers than the rest. These are the people that make the tin, which with a great deal of care and labour they dig out of the ground; and that being rocky, the metal is mixed with some veins of earth, out of which they melt the metal and then refine it. Then they beat it into four square pieces like a die and carry it to a British isle, near at hand, called Ictis. For at low tide, all being dry between them and the island, they convey over in carts abundance of tin. But there is one thing that is peculiar to these islands which lie between Britain and Europe : for at full sea they appear to be islands, but at low water for a long way they look like so many peninsulas. Hence the merchants transport the tin they buy of the inhabitants of Gaul, and for thirty days journey they carry it in packs upon horses’ backs through Gaul to the mouth of the river Rhone.

And again:

“This tin metal is transported out of Britain into Gaul, the merchants carrying it on horseback through the heart of Geltica to Marseilles and the city called Narbo” (Narbonne, vol. v, cap. 2) (Diodorus Siculus, Booth's trans., vol. i, p. 311).

So that, before Christ was born, we find the very route exactly described by Diodorus that was afterwards traditionally chosen by St Joseph of Arimathea.

We can retrace it step by step. From Marseilles up the Rhone as far as Aries or farther; then the thirty days journey across Gaul, through the country of the Lemovices to the sea-coast; the stopping at Limoges; the arrival in Brittany at Vannes or Morlaix; the four days sailing in the traders' vessels (Diodorus) across the English Channel to Cornwall and, finally, the journey inland to the British stronghold.

This well-known journey of the tin merchants presents no difficulty from the mouth of the Rhone to Cornwall, and it is only the journey beyond it - the inland journey from Cornwall to Glastonbury - that would call for the courage and determination of the explorer in an unkown land.4

The recognition of this route as almost certainly the route of the early missionaries, gives a special force to the Cornish tradition. Cornwall was not really Christianized until the end of the fifth or beginning of the sixth century, and then mainly by Christian missionaries from Ireland, [ NOT  SO  AS  OTHERS  WERE  TO  FIND  OUT  DECADES  LATER    IN  DEEPER  RESEARCH  -  Keith Hunt] so that we should not (prima facie) expect to find any tradition of St. Joseph here. Yet here is the tradition of the actual coming of St. Joseph preserved through all the centuries, and not only so, but the coming is especially associated with the old industry of the tin workers.

The legend is that “Joseph of Arimathea came in a boat to Cornwall and brought the child Jesus with him, who taught him how to extract tin and purge it of its wolfram. When tin is flashed the tinner shouts, Joseph was in the tin trade’” (Cornwall, S. Baring-Gould, p. 57).

Again, “There is a traditional story that Joseph of Arimathea was connected with Marazion when he and other Jews traded with the ancient tin-miners of Cornwall” (Guide to Penzance, Land's End and Scilly, 5th edition, London, Ward, Lock & Co.).

Anyone who knows the eastern coast of Cornwall, the 'promontory' of the Lizard and Land's End, including Mount's Bay, cannot fail to identify Ictis with St. Michael's Mount. It is close to all the old tin-mining region and still answers exactly to the description of Diodorus. Every day, at low tide, the carts go across from the mainland to the Mount over the sand or by the old immemorial causeway, and every detail corresponds to the ancient history.

The only alternative offered is that of the Isle of Wight, and this is so far from the tin-producing region, and so very unlikely to have been accessible by land within two thousand years, that it is surprising to find anyone bold enough to suggest its claims as worthy of consideration.


4 On closer study of the probable route it even appears that the last part of the journey was by no means dangerous or through an unknown country. There is an old tradition that a trading route existed from pre-Roman times between the tin mines of Cornwall and the lead mines of the Mendips. Traces of this 'way' may perhaps still be found in the 'Here path' over the Quantocks.


All the best authorities, including the late Professor Max Miiller, accept the identification of St. Michael's Mount with Ictis, and there can hardly be any reasonable doubt that they have the best grounds for doing so.

Whatever may have happened to the far Cornish coast toward Scilly - the supposed old Lyonesse - it is very evident that little or no change has taken place in Mount's Bay from immemorial times. We find quaint old pictures of the Mount in medieval times and histories of it under the Norman kings. 'Edward the Confessor found monks here serving God, and gave them by charter the property of the Mount.' Long before this it is said that St. Kayne, or Kenya,5 who lived in the latter end of the fifth century, went a pilgrimage to St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall' (Borlase, Antiquities, p. 351 and notes; Carew, p. 130; and Capgrave, p. 204). So that the Mount through the whole of the Christian era has remained very much as we see it today, and from the very earliest times it was regarded as sacred and as a place of pilgrimage.

All the adjacent country is rich in remains of old mining works and debris. Some of these, like those of the Ding-Dong Mine, may be traced to a high antiquity; others, though long neglected, belong rather to medieval or almost modern times. The oldest rude pits containing smelted tin are called 'Jews' houses', there being a tradition that the tin mines were in very remote periods 'wrought by the Jews with pickaxes of holm, box and hartshorn - tools sometimes found among the rubble of such works' (Edwards).

'There is scarcely a spot in Cornwall where tin is at present found that has not been worked over by the "old men", as the ancient miners are always called; . . . upon whatever spot the old miner has worked there we are told the Phoenician has been or the Jew has mined. The existence of the terms "Jews' houses", "Jews' tin", "Jews' leavings", "attall" and "attall Saracen", prove the connection of these strangers with the Cornish mines' (Hunt, Romances of the West). [The “HUNT” here has  no  connection  to  myself  as  far  as  I  know  - Keith Hunt].

From the supplement to Polwhele's History of Cornwall (Falmouth, 1803) we find that the oldest smelting-places are called 'Jews' houses', the old blocks of tin occasionally found are called 'Jews' pieces', and the stream works of tin that have been formerly deserted by the labourers are called 'Jews' works' or 'attall Saracen'. 'The Jews appear to have called themselves or were called by the Britons of Cornwall "Saracens".'


5 Kenia, 'daughter of Braganus Prince of Brecknock'. She died on the eighth day before the Ides of October, A.D. 490 (Gressy's Saints).


Now, although the ancient presence and influence of the Jew in Cornwall is marked and undeniable - names and places like 'Boje-wyan' (abode of the Jews), 'Trejewas' (Jews' village) and 'Market Jew' being well-known examples of such influence, and these, as well as the historical 'Jewish windows' in St. Neot's church and other Jewish monuments and memories abundantly supplementing the older traditions of the 'Jews' houses' and 'Jews' leavings' - it is by no means easy to fix the date of the earliest Jewish appearance and influence on the country.

In the reign of King John we know that the Jews were working or farming the tin mines, not as slaves but as masters and exporters,6 and whether the bulk of the Jewish traditions date from this time or from a much older period it is difficult to determine.

The tin used by the Greeks came from the 'Cassiterides', and these islands were 'situated in the extremes of Europe toward the West' (Herodotus, 400 B.C.). Mr. Copeland Borlase, the best authority on the subject, unhesitatingly states that Cornwall is the country indicated by Herodotus. The earliest workers of the tin mines here, however, are really unknown.

They do not appear to have been the British themselves, nor do they appear to have been the Phoenicians, who were the commercial traders or middle-men rather than the actual workers of the tin. For, although occasional Phoenician antiquities have been discovered in Cornwall, there are no traces here of any genuine Phoenician graves. The oldest graves that have been found - those of the Harlyn Bay discoveries, near Padstow - are remarkable as showing that the earliest settlers in Cornwall and, as some think, the first tin workers, were buried exactly like the prehistoric Egyptians, in a crouching position on the left side with the knees almost touching the chin.7

All the graves have slanting lids, a method of covering still in common use among the Turks; and the race here buried, though prehistoric in Cornwall, need not be regarded as belonging to any very remote antiquity, but may have lived at any time from 400 B.C. to near the Christian era. Gold, bronze and iron ornaments, and


6 ‘In the time of King John, the tin mines (were) farmed by the Jews for 100 marks’ and later, 'the Jews being banished they' (the tin mines) 'were neglected'
(Camden's Britannia, vol. i, p. 9).

7 Mr. J. B. Cornish, of Penzance, writes: ‘The idea that these (Harlyn skeletons) are the remains of the pre-Cornish tin workers is my own explanation of the mystery that whereas we know that tin was worked in and exported from Cornwall in the time of Julius Caesar, on the other hand the earliest of modern historical records and all subsequent evidence go to show that the Cornish people themselves did not work the metal’


Roman pottery have been found either within or in close proximity to these early graves.8

Such evidence and tradition as we have seem to point to the settlement in Cornwall of some pre-British Eastern race, who worked the tin mines, were buried, like some of the old Egyptians, in a crouching position on the side, and left an obscure but ineffaceable impress on the language, customs and work of the land and (by inter-marriage?) on the very race or races that succeeded them.9 By the time of Diodorus or Christ these as well as the true Phoenician traders may have lost some of their chief national characteristics, and the natives of the Gassiterides, mentioned by Strabo (44 b.g.) as 'bartering their tin, lead and skins for pottery, salt and brazen manufactures', were probably a mixed race or some combination of the British and the tin workers who had lived for so many ages in 'Belerium' that they possessed equal rights to the British tribes around them though still retaining marked traces of an Eastern if not Semitic origin. In the old records of the Saints we read of Solomon, 'Duke of Cornwall', as living about A.D. 300. This not only suggests the presence of a Jewish population of tin workers, but that one of this race held a position of some local headship or Sovereignty.

Certainly the oldest traditions of the 'houses' and 'leavings' of the 'Jews or Sarasins' suggest a race of workers who kept themselves more or less distinct from the tribes around them, and whose tools of 'holm and box and hartshorn' point to a time long anterior to the dates of the Norman kings.

That they were an Eastern race seems to be borne out by the antiquarian studies of Mr. Bellows, of Gloucester, who in his travels in the Trans-Caucasus discovered specific 'Cornish' implements and customs in common use in this distant country, no similar pattern or use being known of elsewhere.

The shovel or spade and pick which he found used in the East at Tiflis and used by the miners of the Kedabek mines in the Caucasus are (he says) of exactly the same patterns as the ancient Cornish shovel and pick used in tin mining. He also says that at Akstapha, near Tiflis, 'what we call Cornish cream' was set before


8 Harlyn Bay and the Discoveries of its Pre-historic Remains, by R. A. Bullen,
B.A., London Swan, Sonnenschein & Co., 1902. See also British Museum,
Egyptian Room No. 1. No. 3, 275.

9 It is noteworthy that John of Fordun, the Scottish historian (1384-1387), describes the original Irish or Scots' as coming from Egypt. Bede, on the other hand, speaks of Great Britain as containing five nations—the English, Britons, Scots, Picts, and Latins—and says that it was the Picts who came from Scythia by sea and settled in Ireland and the adjacent coasts of Britain.


him, and adds, 'This helps to show, I think, that the Cornish people had their ways of making cream from Asia' (John Bellows, Kegan Paul, 1904, p. 210).

Mr. Bellows does not commit himself to anything beyond this, but it is remarkable that a distinguishing feature of the population of the Caucasus, especially in the neighbourhood of Tiflis, is the ancient Hebrew origin of many of their customs and habits, and the strong Hebrew traditions found there regarding the ancient coming of the Jews to the Caucasus. The well-known Hebrew writers and compilers of the Jewish Encyclopaedia state: 'It is certain that among the peoples of the Caucasus the Jewish type is everywhere represented, and that even among Christian and Mohammedan tribes many Jewish habits and customs have been preserved to the present day. . . . Many of the villages bear Hebrew names, and the marriage and funeral ceremonies correspond in many respects with those of the ancient Hebrews. . . . Some of the Caucasian Jews claim to be descendants of the tribes which were taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar, while others are equally certain of their descent from the Israelites who were taken from Palestine by Shalmaneser.'

Those who have studied the ancient Cornish language, and particularly Dr. Pryce, of Redruth, who in 1790 published his Essay to Preserve the Ancient Cornish Language, profess to have found in it strong indications of an Eastern impress or origin, Dr. Pryce's opinion being that 'Cornish and Breton were almost the same dialect of a Syrian or Phoenician root' (Preface of Archaeologia Cornu-Britannica, W. Pryce, M.D., 1790).10

This Eastern element or origin has generally been put down to the Phoenician trade with Cornwall, but the Phoenicians themselves were, as we have seen, only commercial travellers or visitors, and it seems far more likely that the old Jewish or 'Sarasin' tin workers of 400 B.C. and downwards, were the men who really left their impress on the race.

For the thoughtful visitor and student may well question whether it has really gone today. The language is dead, but the Eastern look of the old villages - such as Mousehole, beyond Penzance and Newlyn - the Eastern use and breed of the Cornish donkey, the facial and other characters of the people - so akin and yet so different


10 In Jago's Glossary ‘Tunic’ (Phoenician) and Cornish sentences are compared. So late as 1730 the Cornish dialect near Penzance and the Breton dialect at Morlaix were so similar that a Cornish boy, using the Cornish language, was able to make his wants known at Morlaix better than when using the same language at home (see Jago's Glossary, p. 21, and Pryce's Essay).


from the red-haired men of Wales - the black hair and eyes, the profoundly nervous constitution - nervous with an intellectual antiquity and strain that tends toward disease as well as progress - the genuine indifference to, or delight in, long sea voyages, and the spirit of adventure in the fibre and the blood 11 - all of this seems to separate the Cornish from the rest of their British family, and increases the interest of the inquirer into the nature and origin of the 'old men', 'the Jews' and 'Sarasins', who are now mysteriously lost but have apparently left such strong and virile traces behind them. If they were of Jewish extraction, it is not improbable that they came from the great Jewish colonies of Egypt, which were originally contemporaneous with the Babylon dispersion to the Caucasus, and this would account for the alternative name of Saracen as applied to them by the British.12

If they were Jews - and the old name is more likely to have lived unaltered than any history - it is only reasonable to suppose that those who were connected in any way with the Phoenician tin trade would be cognizant of this Jewish colony in the Cassiterides. Much as St. James the Greater would necessarily know of the Jews who had been banished to Sardinia, so St. Joseph might hear and know of the Jewish tin workers, and his mission would be undertaken, in the first place, to preach the glad tidings of the coming of the Saviour to the 'lost sheep' of his own race.


If we turn to the account of the journeyings of St. Joseph, as given in the Morte d’ Arthur, we come to some interesting details which seem to harmonize rather curiously with local tradition and nomenclature.

The narrative (bk. xiii, cap. 10) brings St. Joseph and his son to 'Sarras', where the 'Saracens' under 'Tolleme la Feintes', are fighting against the Britons under King Evelake. King Evelake is apparently a local king belonging to one of the provinces of Great Britain, and the Saracen, 'which was ... a rich king and a mighty', is spoken of as marching to meet him, so that the encounter must necessarily have been reported - or imagined - as taking place on this side of the Channel. Moreover - and this is of further interest - King Tolleme the 'Saracen' is said to have been the 'cousin' of King Evelake, so that although they were at war with each other and apparently of different nationality, ties of marriage had taken place


11 'Many Cornishmen seem to think less of a voyage to America or the Cape
than of a railway journey to London' (local conversation).

12 Some of the older writers mention the Jews as coming out of Egypt, and
appear sometimes to regard them as Egyptians (Strabo). Compare the speech of
the 'chief captain' to St. Paul—'Art thou not that Egyptian?' (Acts 21:38).


between the 'Saracens' and the ancestors of King Evelake. Surely there are some fragments of history underlying this tale of the journey of St. Joseph!

Are not the rich 'Saracens' the Jewish or Jewish-Egyptian tin workers of the Cassiterides, and do we not gather, as the tale progresses, that these turned a deaf ear to the message of St. Joseph, while King Evelake and, later on, the greater king of Glastonbury (Arviragus?) were kindly disposed towards his company and more or less won over by the teaching of St. Joseph and his son ?13

Both 'Saracens' and British were probably by no means so uncultivated and barbarous as many have imagined.


Diodorus Siculus, although writing before the time of our Lord, describes them as civilized and courteous to strangers. He writes: 'They are of much sincerity and integrity, far from the craft and knavery of men among us, contented with plain and homely fare, and strangers to the excess and luxury of rich men.' His description, too, of their work shows that they had then made very considerable progress in the useful arts and in commerce. From other descriptions (of the British) we read that their ordinary clothing was of 'tartan, spun, coloured and woven by themselves. The upper classes wore collars and bracelets of gold and necklaces of amber. The chiefs were armed with helmets, shields and cuirasses of leather, bronze or chain mail, while their many weapons of defence - darts, pikes and broadswords - were often richly worked and ornamented' (Conybeare, Roman Britain, pp. 48-50).

The Druids, who were the ministers of religion, education and jurisprudence among the Britons, appear to have possessed some knowledge of the Greek language as well as that of their native tongue. Some of them sang to the music of harps (Diodorus). They professed to understand the movements of the stars (Pomponius Mela). They studied natural science and ethics (Strabo), and especially taught the doctrine of the Immortality of the Soul. [ONE  FALSE  DOCTRINE  AT  LEAST,  THEY  DID  HAVE,  BUT  SO  DID  MUCH  OF  THE  WORLD  -  Keith Hunt]

Again, in contrast to what is sometimes taught regarding British weakness and isolation at this date, we know that the coast was plentifully supplied with ports and harbours, that there was very considerable shipping, that much of the land was cultivated with corn, that a definite British coinage had existed for some two centuries before the Christian era (Brit. Museum), and that in spite of the small chieftaincies into which the government was broken up,


13 The name of the Saracen leader, 'Tolleme la Feinte', meaning 'Tolleme the False', seems to suggest that he had usurped the name and title of Ptolemy, a name which might well have special attraction for an Egyptian Jew at this date (see Morte d'Arthur, bk. xiii, cap. X).


the British 'kings and princes lived for the most part in peace and amity with one another, and the Romans had the utmost difficulty in subduing them'.


Some of these leaders were men of considerable cultivation and ability - men who would have been conspicuous in any age or country for character, for intellect and wit. This is abundantly shown by the remarkable and eloquent speech of Galgacus, the leader of the British forces in the battle with Agricola in A.D. 84. Tacitus, the historian, in his Life of Agricola, has preserved the whole of this wonderful address, and it would probably be difficult even in modern times to find language better chosen, more impassioned in its pathos, or more refined in its irony and satire.14

It must necessarily not only have been spoken by a man of very considerable intellectual force, but have been addressed to men who could understand and appreciate his arguments. It has been assumed by many writers that this address has been 'put into the mouth' of Galgacus by Tacitus. It bears the impress of a strong individuality, and is much more likely to have been directly repeated and preserved. Compare, too, with this the strikingly similar terse and epigrammatic speech of Caradoc before Claudius in Rome. “Kill me,” he said, “as all expect, and this affair will soon be forgotten; spare me, and men shall talk of your clemency from age to age.”


In much of this we have had the finger of actual history or of existing monuments to guide us. Beyond this we have some old but mostly undated writings, chronicles of the twelfth century, romances of the fifteenth century, and some monuments both in Wales and Somerset (then equally the strongholds of the British), which are more or less in harmony with the traditions we have found in Provence and in England.

The most connected account of the British mission of St. Joseph is that given by William of Malmesbury, the historian of Glastonbury.

This was probably written about 1126, and from it I have taken the following:

'In the year of our Lord, 63, twelve holy missionaries, with Joseph of Arimathea (who had buried the Lord) at their head, came over to Britain, preaching the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The king of the country and his subjects refused to become proselytes to their teaching,15 but in consideration that they had come a long journey, and being somewhat pleased with their


14 See Appendix A.

15 Compare Gildas 'received with lukewarm minds by the inhabitants'.


soberness of life and unexceptional behaviour, the king, at their petition, gave them for their habitation a certain island bordering on his region, covered with trees and bramble bushes and surrounded by marshes, called Yniswytren (and later Glastonbury). Afterwards two other kings, successively, although pagans, having information of their remarkable sanctity of life, each gave of them a portion of ground, and this, at their request, according to the custom of the country, was confirmed to them - from whence the "twelve Hides of Glastonbury", it is believed, derive their origin.

'These holy men, thus dwelling in this desert place, were in a little time admonished in a vision by the Archangel Gabriel to build a church in honour of the Blessed Virgin, in a place to which they were directed. Obedient to the Divine precept, they immediately built a chapel of the form of that which had been shown them: the walls were of osiers wattled together all round.

'This was finished in the one-and-thirtieth year (A.D. 64) after our Lord's Passion, and though rude and misshapen in form, was in many ways adorned with heavenly virtues; and being the first church in this region, the Son of God was pleased to grace it with particular dignity, dedicating it Himself in honour of His Mother.

'These twelve saints serving God with peculiar devotion in this place, making addresses to the Blessed Virgin, and spending their time in watching, fasting and prayer, were supported in their difficulties by the assistance and appearance of the Blessed Virgin (as it is reasonable to believe); and for the truth of this matter we have St. Patrick's charter and the writings of the ancients to vouch for us.'


The foregoing is an abridged account from Malmesbury's history. It will be noticed that he takes his authority from 'the writings of the ancients', which he is said to have found in the Abbey Library, and very probably from the history of one Melchin, who wrote about the year A.D. 560, and who is quoted by John of Glastonbury as follows: 'The disciples . . . died in succession and were buried in the cemetery. Among them, Joseph of Marmore, named of Arimathea, receives perpetual sleep, and he lies in linea bifurcata near the south corner of the oratorio, which is built of hurdles.'16

The history of this 'oratorio of hurdles', or wattled church, said to have been built by St. Joseph of Arimathea; the building of the


16 Melchin, or Melkyn, is said to have lived before Merlin, and to have recorded the coming of St. Joseph in a book (see the Flores Historiarum, London, 1890, p. 127).


great church of St. Peter and St. Paul to the east of it, so as not to interfere with the integrity of the older church; and the history of the Abbey buildings surrounding them is very remarkable. Professor Freeman writes:

'The ancient church of wood or wicker, which legend spoke of as the first temple reared on British soil to the honour of Christ, was preserved as a hallowed relic, even after a greater church of stone was built by Dunstan to the east of it. And though not a fragment of either of those buildings still remains, yet each alike is represented in the peculiar arrangements of that mighty and now fallen minister. The wooden church of the Briton is represented by the famous Lady Chapel, better known as the chapel of St. Joseph; the stone church of the West Saxons is represented by the vast Abbey church itself. Nowhere else can we see the works of the conquerors and the works of the conquered thus standing though but in a figure, side by side. Nowhere else, among all the churches of England, can we find one which can thus trace up its uninterrupted being to days before the Teuton had set foot upon English soil. The legendary burial-place of Arthur, the real burying-place of Eadgar and the two Edmunds, stands alone among English minsters as the one link which really does bind us to the ancient Church of the Briton and the Roman' (The Origin of the English Nation, by Professor Freeman, Macmhlan's Magazine, 1860, p. 41).

The most remarkabe feature of the Glastonbury buildings is this continued representation of the wooden church of the Britons by the Lady Chapel or chapel of St. Joseph. For, through all the ages since the wattled church was first erected, and through all the vicissitudes affecting the later buildings of the Abbey, the approximate size and shape of the first British church appear to have been religiously maintained.

There is, perhaps, nothing really corresponding to this to be found in Christendom. Every effort seems to have been made to preserve the original church, 'the first ground of God, the first ground of the saints in Britain, the rise and foundation of all religion in Britain, the burying-place of the saints, built by the very disciples of our Lord.'17


17 In the charter granted by Henry II. (1185) for rebuilding Glastonbury, he styles it 'the mother and burying-place of the saints, founded by the very disciples of our Lord' (Hitchins, History of Cornwall, vol. i, p. 349); and in the charter of Edgar it is said to be 'the first church in the kingdom built by the disciples of Christ' (Gonybeare's Roman Britain, p. 254).


First we are told it was encased with boards and covered with lead, then it appears to have been built over in stone, the interior being beautified with all manner of costly gifts, among which we read of an altar of sapphire presented by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.

All that was best in Great Britain came to it and, for a time, all who were noblest and kingliest sought to be buried here. Speaking of this oldest church, dedicated, as we have seen, to St. Mary, but later known as the Chapel of St. Joseph, William of Malmesbury says: 'Here are preserved the human remains of many saints, nor is there any space in the building that is free from their ashes, so much so, that the stone pavement and, indeed, the sides of the altar and the altar itself above and below, is crammed with the multitude of the relics. Rightly, therefore, is it called the heavenly sanctuary on earth, of so large a number of saints is it the repository.’

In 1184, it and the greater churches to the east of it - all the Abbey buildings - were destroyed by fire, and only a few of the treasures and relics were preserved.

Still, within two years the old church of St. Mary (or Chapel of St. Joseph) was rebuilt, “where, from the beginning the ‘Vetusta’18 has stood, with squared stones of the most perfect workmanship, profusely ornamented5; and lest there should be any later interruption or misconception of the old tradition, a brass plate was subsequently fixed to a pillar in the monk's churchyard, and on the south side of the chapel containing a representation of the original church of wattles, its dimensions (60 ft. in length and 26 ft. in breadth), and an inscription in Latin. The plate (or a copy of the original) is still preserved. It is of an octagon form, 10 in. by 7 in.; the holes by which it was riveted to the stone still remain. The old Latin inscription which covers it in black letters is of uncertain date, but said to be not later than the fourteenth century. It records the arrival of the first missionaries with Joseph of Arimathea in the year 31 after our Lord's Passion, and the Divine dedication of this first church to the Blessed Virgin. It records also the addition of a chancel at the east end of this church, and lest the place and magnitude of the (original) church should be forgotten by this augmentation, a column was erected on a line passing through the two eastern angles of that church protracted to the south, which line divided the aforesaid chancel from it”.

What was the reason of this continued careful preservation of the exact dimensions of the ‘Vetusta Ecclesia’, for which I think there is scarcely any parallel to be found elsewhere ?


18 ‘Vetusta’, or ‘Vetusta Ecclesia’, the ancient church.


If you go to Glastonbury today, still you see it. Shameful as has been the wreckage of the churches, the 'Chapel of St. Joseph', dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, that was finished in 1186, has suffered least; and there today is the site and shape of the little church of St. Joseph, 'the first ground of God . . . built by the very disciples of our Lord'. Its dimensions correspond roughly - roughly, for computations vary, and the size of the original church would necessarily be increased by its over-building - but, allowing for this, its dimensions correspond roughly with those of the Jewish tabernacle, and one cannot help wondering (if there is any truth in the legend) whether St. Joseph did not so design it, and impress upon all who helped him the value and significance of its shape and size.19

Standing on the half-pace or chancel steps of the ruins of the Abbey church, and looking from the choir-lawn down the long nave-lawn with the Chapel of St. Joseph at its farthest limit - whether intended so or not - one sees what I have ventured to call the Bible of Glastonbury.

There - reputedly built by Jewish builders - stood the original wattled church or Lady Chapel, built as the Tabernacle was set up, and as the Temple was built, with the House of God to the west of the sacred enclosure; and, opening out from it, directly continuous with it, toward the east where we are standing grew the great church - or what has been the great church - of St. Peter and St. Paul, one of the greatest, or perhaps the very greatest, of all English churches.

The sins of greed and cruelty have wrecked it - sins of both king and people - for until seventy years ago it is said that the stones were carted away at a shilling the cart-load, and the coffins were melted down for cisterns; but it is the great church which has suffered most. St. Joseph's Chapel, though shattered and broken, is still standing and remains - if one may carry the illustration further - a type of that Jewish recognition and obedience of the Moral Law which often stands, thank God! When Christian faith is lost, and within the portals of which the honest heart may still find shelter until Faith returns and the Christian altar is again set up, as one hopes to see it yet, in the ruined Abbey church at Glastonbury.


19 The latest and perhaps the best computation of Tabernacle measurements (by the Revd. W. S. Galdecott) makes the length of the Tabernacle from the beginning of the inner court to the extreme limit of the 'Holy of Holies' 55 ft., or to the centre of the Great Altar of Sacrifice nearly 60 ft. The width of the covered portion or tent of the Tabernacle would be exactly 24 ft. (see Galdecott's Tabernacle, pp. 171, 183).


For now, as of old, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'

The chain of traditions marking the journey of St. Joseph, the story of his mission at Glastonbury, and the historical writings referring to British Christianity in the first two centuries, are not without very considerable confirmations from the old Welsh records and traditions regarding British saints.

Three Jewish missionaries are definitely mentioned in these, though by their British names only, as bringing the Gospel into Britain at the close of the first century. The names of the missionaries are given as Ilid,20 Cyndaf and Mawan, and the account is the more remarkable since all the names involved and the setting or story of the mission (from the British standpoint) are entirely different from those of William of Malmesbury, and yet in main essentials the two stories are in agreement.

Mawan, according to one of the copies of the Silurian Catalogue, is said to have been a son of Cyndaf, and Cyndaf (by his British name signifying chief, or head, or patriarch) is evidently recognized as the leader of the mission, and one who must have been honoured by the British in order to have been given this title. Both Cyndaf and Ilid are definitely stated to have been 'men of Israel', and the account of their coming, together with Mawan, the son of the noble Cyndaf, is obviously directly paralleled in the later monkish record of the coming of St. Joseph and his son Josephes.

The actual references in Welsh literature are not easy to consult. Some are found in the third series of Triads published in the Myvyrian Archiaology, and others (according to Rees) are to be met with in the Silurian copies of 'Achau y Saint' (Essay on the Welsh Saints, by Professor Rees, London, 1836).

In the Welsh account the coming of the Hebrew missionaries is associated with the return from captivity in Rome of 'Bran the Blessed' (Bran Vendigaeth), for which there is but little or no good foundation, and also with the coming of Arwystli Hen, or Aristobulus, an Italian or Roman Christian (Rees), for whose presence in Britain and work as 'bishop of the Britons' we have the additional authority of the Greek martyrologies and the list of Hippolytus.21


20 'Hast thou heard the saying of St. Ilid? 

One come of the race of Israel, There is no madness like extreme anger.'

(Chwedlau y Doethion, Iolo-morganwg MS.) 

21 Cressy states that 'St. Aristobulus', a disciple of St. Peter or St. Paul in Rome, was sent as an Apostle to the Britons, and was the first Bishop in Britain; that he died in Glastonbury, A.D. 99, and that his Commemoration or Saint's Day was kept in the church on March 15th (Rees, Welsh Saints, p. 81).


Accordingly, although the 'setting' of the story in the British account is one in which a king of the Britons is supposed to share with Hebrew and Roman missionaries, the glory of bringing the Faith to Britain, the coming of the mission, its character as composed of several members, and the detail that the Jewish head of the mission was accompanied by his son, are absolutely identical in the two versions.

After examining both in the light of such contemporaneous or later history as is available, one is bound, I think, to admit that where there are discrepancies the balance of probability lies with the historian of Glastonbury.

There does not appear to have been any national or general acceptance of Christianity in Britain for over a hundred years after the coming of St. Joseph, although British missionaries (Mansuetus, Beatus and Marcellus) preached the Gospel in foreign countries during the century intervening. Mansuetus (St. Mansuy), an Irish or Caledonian Briton, became bishop of Toul in Lorraine, and is said to have died in A.D. 89.22 His Commemoration is on September 3rd. Suetonius Beatus is said to have been converted in Britain, baptized by 'Barnabas', a companion of Aristobulus, and to have afterwards become the Apostle of the Helvetians. He died at 'Under seven' in Helvetia, A.D. 110.23 His Commemoration or Saint's Day is on May 9th. Marcellus, the first British martyr (though not martyred on British soil), became 'bishop' of Tongres and Triers, and is said to have been martyred in A.D. 166.24

These are remembered as British missionaries, and it is impossible to believe that they could have wandered about preaching the Gospel if their own country had meanwhile remained ignorant of the Faith. There can be but little doubt that Gildas is right in picturing the


22 This is confirmed by a second-century Christian sarcophagus which has been discovered at Malaincourt, in Lorraine, and which bears an inscription indicating (according to M. l'Abbe Narbey) that it was the tomb of one of St. Mansuy's friends who accompanied him from Ireland (see Acta Sanctorum, Supplement, vol. i, pp. 313, 343, 349)

23 This is confirmed by local traditions and the cave of St. Beatus on the borders of Lake Thun. St. Beatus is remembered as a British missionary; the site of his first church is still shown, and the district around Interlaken, 'Unterseen' and Beatenberg is fairly full of old traditions regarding him.

24 This is confirmed by one of the traditional records of the bishops occupying the see as given by F. Godfrey Henschen, in his De Episcopatu Tungrensi (Acta Sanctorum, v. 20). The list is as follows: 1. Maternus, 2. Nayitus, 3. Marcellus, 4. Metropolus, 5. Severinus, 6. Florentius, 7. Martinus, 8. Maximus, 9. Valentinus and 10. Servatius. Maternus is said to have lived in the Apostolic age, being sent by St. Peter as first missionary priest, so that Marcellus may well have finished his work as third in succession among the Tungri. Tongres is the ancient Aduatica, the capital of the 'Tungri', mentioned by Caesar in his Commentaries. It was certainly the seat of a bishop about a.d. 300. Trier (Treves) sent Agroesius, a bishop, and Felix, an exorcist, to the Council of Aries in A.D. 314.


Britons as very slow in receiving Christianity, though it was brought to them in the very earliest years; and those in whom the Faith 'took root' at Glastonbury naturally turned (as Christ had commanded them) to those who were ready to receive their message, even at the cost of long journeys to distant cities and to far countries.

The 'Vetusta Eoclesia' of Glastonbury remained as a witness for the Faith; but it was not until the year of the great Gallican persecution at Lyons and Vienne in A.D. 177 (when several of the Gallican Christians would probably find refuge in Britain) that we find any indication of a national Christianity.

Then, according to several accounts, which probably have some basis in fact, a local king of the Britons, called Llewrwg, or Lucius, accepted the Faith, established an archbishopric in London, and wrote to Pope Eleutherius asking for counsel and direction in the government of his people.

Considerable doubt has been thrown on the existence and history of King Lucius, but without any adequate reason. Pope Eleutherius, a Greek, is said to have occupied the See of Rome from A.D. 177 to 192.

Two letters of his have been preserved in the records of the Church of Rome (Mansi). One is to the Christians of Lyons and Vienne at the time of the great persecution, and the other is directed to Lucius, King of Britain. This is in answer to a request from King Lucius for instruction in the right way of governing his people. This letter, and the occasion which called for it, appears to be in strict harmony with what we know of Roman occupation at this date, and of the opportunity it afforded a native chieftain or king (living in amity with his overload) of admiring and envying Roman discipline and order.

It is also in essential harmony with the Welsh account in the 35th Triad (Third Series), which records how the native king bestowed 'the freedom of country and nation with privilege of judgment and surety on all those who might be of the Faith of Christ, and how he built the first Church at "Llandaff" '(?). The only question that arises is whether the last word is not a mistake for Llundain, or London.

For, whether founded by Lucius or not, it must have been at this time or shortly after that the bishopric of London was instituted. About a hundred years afterwards it was the chief episcopal see; and the chief church in the kingdom is said (by an old tradition) to have stood on the present site of St. Peter's, Cornhill.25


25 The episcopal succession of the old London see, according to Jocelyn of Furness (twelfth century), quoted by the late Bishop Stubbs in Episcopal Succession in England, Oxford, 1859 (p. 152).


However this may be, there can hardly be any doubt that it was toward the end of the second century that British Christianity received its main impetus, and that up to this time its progress had been slow. From the writings that have come down to us it may reasonably be gathered that few converts were made by the original missionaries, but that their holy lives (and possible descendants) had kept the memory of their religion green and fragrant, and that the Church of Glastonbury still remained a monument of their devotion. After they were dead further Christian teachers and guides were sent for, and these were astonished to find a Church already provided by God (as it was said), for the conversion of souls.

This keeps to very ancient authority and is a very probable resume of the facts so far as these can in any way be gathered together.

From this date the British Church must have grown rapidly in numbers and importance, for at the end of the following century or the beginning of the next (300-305), when the great Diocletian persecution had begun, a great number of British Christians, according to Gildas, suffered for their faith, and among these Alban, Amphibalus, Julius, Aaron, Stephanus and Socrates are remembered by name as martyrs. Julius and Aaron are said to have been inhabitants of Caerleon-upon-Usk (the city of Legions), and churches in the neighbourhood were dedicated to their memory. These have been now destroyed, but there is still a chapel of Llanharan, in Glamorganshire, which probably owes its name to the British - or Hebrew-British - saint who suffered in the Diocletian persecution.

In spite of, or perhaps by reason of, this very persecution 'the blood of the martyrs being the seed of the Church', the years immediately succeeding appear to show the British Church at the acme of her prosperity. The archbishopric of London became powerful and comparatively wealthy, Restitutus, who held the see in A.D. 314, heading the British contingent to the great Council of Aries.  One of his colleagues, 'Adelphius' of Caerlon-upon-Usk,


N.B.—Compare the names in Cressy.

1. Theanus.

2. Elvanus.

3. Cadar.

4. Obinus.

5. Conan.

6. Palladius.

7. Stephanus.

8. Iltutus.

9. Theodorus.

1. Theanus, about 185.

2. Elvanus.





7. Stephanus, d. 300.

8. Augulus, d. 305.

9.  Restitutus, about 314.


identified by Professor Rees with St. Cadfrawd,26 a British saint of this period, appears to have belonged to the chief royal family of the Britons, being descended, like Lucius, from Bran and Caractacus, while (about the same time) in the far west of Cornwall where, if our theory be right, 'Saracen or Jewish' influence was paramount, we read that Kelvius, son of Solomon, Duke of Cornwall, not only accepted Christianity but became a Christian priest,27 and 'Moses', said to be a Briton, but presumably of some Hebrew relationship, became an 'Apostle to the Saracens'.

With the resignation of the Imperium by Diocletian in 305, and the consequent elevation of Constantius, a new era dawned for the Catholic Faith. Constantius had married Helena, a British princess (?), already favourable to Christianity, and when he died the following year (A.D. 306), at York, and was succeeded by his son Constantine, both mother and son became known adherents of the Cross.

It was under this banner, and as the first Christian emperor, that Constantine won his last great battle at the Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312.

So that the highest British influence - and this in more than one direction - the highest Roman influence - that of the Emperor himself - and even the highest unknown Jewish or Saracenic influence of the West Country, appear to have been alike enlisted at this date in the cause and spread of Christianity.

It is small wonder, therefore, that the national British Church during the first half (at least) of the fourth century somewhat suddenly increased in power and influence, until it seemed to enfold the whole of the land within its communion.

The Church of Britain became great, both at home and abroad, holding independent but sisterly relationship to the Church at Rome and bound by closer ties - by ancient intercommunication, custom and liturgy - with the Churches of Gaul, and again (through these) with the Churches of Asia.28


According to Geoffrey of Monmouth, at the beginning of the fourth century, there were three archbishops - those of London, of York and of the City of Legions (Caerleon-upon-Usk) - and under


26 The Welsh or British ‘Cadfrawd’ means ‘brother in battle', for which the Greek …. or Latin-Greek  would be a natural synonym, the more warlike prefix ‘Cad’ being dropped on adopting a religious life.

27 He is said afterwards to have been appointed as bishop to the see of Angiesea, where he died in A.D. 370 (Cressy's Church History).

28 The ruined chapel at Tintagel and some other old western churches were dedicated to the memory of St.Julitta of Tarsus, but the immediate link of association appears to have been lost.


these there were twenty-eight bishops with their dioceses (Hist., bk. iv, cap. xix).29

However extraordinary this statement may appear, it must not be contemptuously or lightly dismissed as incredible, for it seems to be directly confirmed by the records of the Council of Aries in A.D. 314, when Restitutus of London, Eborius of York, and Adel-phinus of Caerleon attended as chief representatives of the British Church. These bishops evidently represented the three great provinces of Britain and were not casually chosen. Again, we have the authority of Athanasius that bishops from Britain were present at the Council of Sardica in Illyria, in A.D. 347, and that of Sulpicius Severus, that several bishops from Britain were present at the Council of Ariminum (in Italy) in A.D. 359.

Of the four hundred bishops of the Western Church there assembled he writes: “Unto all . . . the Emperor had ordered provisions and appointments to be given. But that was deemed unbecoming by the Aquitans, Gauls and Britons; and refusing the Imperial offer they preferred to live at their own expense. Three only from Britain, on account of poverty, made use of the public gift after they had rejected the contribution offered by the others; considering it more proper to burden the exchequer than individuals” (Sulpitii Severi Historiae, 1. ii, c. 55).

These three, though forming, probably, only a small minority of the British bishops present, show by the fact of their poverty that in some parts, at least, the life of the priesthood had become difficult, and by the end of the century we find that the period of success had been followed by one of failure and danger. For the sudden success and influence of the British Church was undoubtedly largely political and connected with the accession of Constantine to the Imperial purple. Among the great mass of the people the Christianity of the day was probably largely nominal and withered with the slow decadence of Roman authority and influence. Among the few it was a passion and a life worthy of the best ages of Christendom, and showing distinctive features characteristic of its special origin.

About A.D. 400, or slightly later, we come to the very earliest period touched by the literature of contemporaneous British Christianity. This literature, as found in the scattered writings of St. Patrick, is so remarkable and has been so little regarded in its bearing on the history and religious life of the period, that some


29 A For further information on Caerleon see The Legacy of Arthur's Chester, by R. B. Stoker.


extended notice of it seems necessary in order to bring out its value and full significance.

St. Patrick was born about A.D. 387, from an extended ancestry of Christians, his father, Calpornius, having been a deacon, and his grandfather, Potitus, a priest, so that he must have had a good practical acquaintance with the Christianity not only of his own age, but with that of previous ages.

His 'Confession' in the Book of Armagh, his 'Epistle to Coroticus' and his wonderful 'Hymn of the Deer's Cry', are the chief writings which have been preserved to us, and we may find in these many valuable sidelights regarding British life and Christianity reaching back to the very beginning of the fifth century.

In his 'Confession' we find a brief word-picture of the British Church when he was sixteen years of age (about A.D. 400). It is that of a Church which had been powerful but had lost its first glory and love, and was now becoming decadent. He writes: “We had gone back from God and had not kept His commandments and were not obedient to our priests, who used to warn us for our salvation.”29

In the hymn of the 'Deer's Cry' we find the Church fighting against the influence of the Druids, and in the conditions under which this was written, and in those which called forth the 'Epistle to Coroticus', when this (local) king had suddenly made a raid on St. Patrick's converts, destroying many and carrying others into slavery, we get a historical picture of the life and times exceedingly similar to that portrayed in the (later) books of the Arthurian legends. But it is the hymn of the 'Deer's Cry' which demands the most attention, standing out, as it does, beyond and apart from all other contemporaneous Christian literature.

According to the account in the 'Liber Hymnorum' (eleventh century):

'Patrick made this hymn in the time of Laoghaire, son of Nial.

The cause of making it. . . was to protect himself with his monks

against the deadly enemies who were in ambush against the

clerics. And this is a corselet of faith for the protection of body

and soul against demons and human beings and vices. Every one

who shall say it every day with pious meditation on God, demons

shall not stay before him.

'It will be a safeguard to him against every poison and envy;

it will be a comna to him against sudden death; it will be a

corselet to his soul after dying.

'Patrick sung this when the ambuscades were sent against him by Laoghaire that he might not go to Tara to sow the Faith, so that there seemed before the ambuscaders to be wild deer and….Faed Fiada is its name.'


29 See Appendix H.


St. Patrick's hymn of the ‘DEER’S  CRY’

(c. A.D. 450)

I bind myself today to a strong virtue, 

An invocation of the Trinity. I believe in 

A Three-ness with confession of an One-ness 

In the Creator of the Universe.

I bind myself today to the virtue of

Christ's birth with His baptism.

To the virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,

To the virtue of His resurrection with His ascension,

To the virtue of His coming to the Judgment of Doom.

I bind myself today to the virtue of ranks of Cherubim,

In obedience of angels,

In service of archangels,

In hope of resurrection for reward,

In prayers of patriarchs,

In predictions of prophets,

In preachings of Apostles,

In faiths of confessors,

In innocence of holy virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

I bind myself today to the virtue of Heaven,

In light of sun,

In brightness of snow,

In splendour of fire,

In speed of lightning,

In swiftness of wind,

In depth of sea,

In stability of earth,

In compactness of rock.

I bind myself today to God's virtue to pilot me,

God's might to uphold me,

God's wisdom to guide me,

God's eye to look before me,

God's ear to hear me,

God's word to speak for me,

God's hand to guard me,

God's way to lie before me,

God's shield to protect me,

God's Host to secure me.

Against snares of demons,

Against seductions of vices,

Against lusts of nature,

Against every one who wishes ill to me

Afar and anear,

Alone and in a multitude.

So have I invoked all these virtues between me and these.

Against every cruel merciless power which may come against

my body and my soul, Against incantations of false prophets, 

Against black laws of heathenry, 

Against false laws of heretics, 

Against craft of idolatry,

Against spells of women, and smiths, and Druids, 

Against every knowledge that defiles men's souls.

Christ to protect me today

Against poison, against burning, 

Against drowning, against death-wound, 

Until a multitude of rewards come to me!

Christ with me, Christ before me,

Christ behind me, Christ in me,

Christ below me, Christ above me,

Christ at my right, Christ at my left,

Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height!

Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of me, 

Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks to me, 

Christ in every eye who sees me, 

Christ in every ear who hears me.

I bind myself today to a strong virtue, an invocation of the

Trinity. I believe in a Three-ness with confession of an One-ness in the

Creator of the Universe. 

Domini est salus, Domini est salus, Christi est salus. 

Salus tua Domine, sit semper nobiscus.30

What is it that gives this hymn its peculiar power and charm? Is it not the cultivated Hebrew model on which the construction of the hymn is based, and the late Hebrew note which rings mysteriously and repeatedly through all the gradations of this strange prayer-poem?

The old angel invocations brought from Persia are translated into Christian phraseology or, rather, turned into the material for a purely Christian hymn; and the whole is in strange accord with such influence and impress as might well be handed down from the teaching of the high-born 'men of the race of Israel' mentioned in the old Welsh writings, and left (perhaps by St. Joseph) in the oldest liturgies of Glastonbury.

East and West seem both to be united in this hymn, and through the long line of St. Patrick's Christian ancestry and through the traditions of Glastonbury, where St. Patrick is said to have spent a good portion of his life, we may perhaps trace living notes of that music which made the harp of Erin to sound in unison with that of the descendants of King David.

From the distinctly Hebrew invocation of 'Creator of the Universe' at the beginning of the hymn - through the 'ranks of Cherubim', 'angels' and 'archangels', 'patriarchs' and 'prophets' of the second part, down to the final measure of

'Christ before me, 

Christ behind me, 

Christ in me, 

Christ below me, 

Christ above me, 

Christ at my right, 

Christ at my left',

the Hebrew form or modelling, and sometimes the very words of the 'Cry', recall the voices of the later Hebrew poets and prayer writers


30 Version by Whitley Stokes in his Goidelica, and quoted by Dr. Magnus Maclean in the Literature of the Celts.


as they invoked the protection of the great Creator and His holy angels.31

A much less romantic but more direct connection between St. Patrick and St. Joseph is that afforded by the old tradition that it was St. Patrick who drove the venomous reptiles out of Ireland, for it is worthy of note that there is another legend regarding this which gives the first place to St. Joseph of Arimathea.

According to Ussher (vols, v, vi and xvii),32 it is stated to have been through the wisdom and advice of St. Joseph of Arimathea (learnt from the teaching of King Solomon) that Ireland was freed from venomous reptiles (vol. vi, p. 300). If St. Patrick was the Saint who accomplished the work, the source of his knowledge is directly tributed to St. Joseph.

So through all the whole course of the British Church, the history of which, I venture to think, was very much as I have described: first, difficult; secondly (under kingly protection and encouragement), exceedingly prosperous; thirdly, decadent or largely nominal; and, finally, oppressed or militant, we seem to find repeated traces of a quite special Hebrew influence, almost regal in its claims and associations; lofty, refined and poetic in its bearing on thought and on literature, and bravely aristocratic in its consciousness of high lineage and of moral strength.33

And if we seem to find traces of this in the Christian names and scanty records of the earlier centuries, there can be no mistake about its insistence in the work of the later writers - the history romancers or legend reciters of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

All the extensive literature of the 'Grail-Quest', which dates from


31Compare with the old Hebrew invocations:

‘O Lord our God, King of the Universe! Let me not be affrighted by thoughts,

Bad dreams, or evil imaginations. Protect us and remove from us foes, pestilence, sword,

hunger, and troubles. Remove Satan from before and behind us. 

In the shadow of Thy wings shalt thou hide us. God our Keeper and our Preserver!

St. Michael on my right hand;

St. Gabriel on my left hand;

St. Raphael in front of me;

St. Uriel behind me;

The majesty of God above me.’

32 On the authority of Valdes.

33 What is the source of the curious minor chanting of the ‘hwyl’ in the
impassioned religious sermons of the Welsh? The only thing it really resembles
(and resembles very closely) is the minor chanting of the Hebrew Rabbis in the
public reading of the Psalms. Anyone who has heard both cannot fail to be
struck by the striking likeness between these methods of quaint prose-poem


about 1200 onwards, is grouped around the tradition of St. Joseph and his son Josephes who came to Glastonbury, bringing the Holy Cup of the Last Supper with them, and full of the idea that these were the ancestors of those great knights who formed the flower of Arthur's court.

In the 'Grand St. Grail', one of the earliest of these histories, we are told that after the death of St. Joseph and Josephes the keeping of the Holy Grail was confided to Alain, the son of Brons and cousin to Josephes. At Alain's death his brother Josue becomes Grail keeper, and after him six kings, the last of whom is Pelles.

The daughter of King Pelles has a son named Galahad, who becomes the special hero of the Holy Grail. His father is said to have been Lancelot, and this makes him ninth or tenth in descent from the time of St. Joseph.

Galahad is one of the knights of King Arthur's Round Table, and it is worthy of note that the ten generations described as intervening between the times of St. Joseph (A.D. 60-90) and King Arthur (500) are seriously consistent with such measure of history as may well underlie the romance.

In the most readily accessible books of the 'Sangreal' (apart from the Mort D'Arthur), The High History of the Holy Grail, which was probably compiled about 1220 from the book of Josephes in the Abbey Library at Glastonbury (see Appendix M), and has been translated by Dr. Sebastian Evans (extracts from which are given in the Appendix M), it is impossible not to recognize the important and essential part played by this Hebrew lineage or descent. Every book bears witness to this, and the very names of many of the knights or their associates seem to imply their Jewish origin. Elinant of Escavalon, Joseph, Josephes, Lot, Joseus, Josuias (p. 249), Galahad (?), Alain (?), Petrus, Brons or Hebron, Bruns Brundalis, Urien, Jonas (ii, 39), Pelles and Pelleas and Ban may be taken either as examples of Hebrew names or as indicating some special Hebrew association.34 (The sons of Bani or Ban returning with Ezra to Jerusalem were 648. Pelias (or Pelleas) put away his wife at the command of Ezra.)

However apocryphal many of the legends may be regarding them, their names are, I believe, the names of historical persons, and the stories of their lives are in rough harmony with that imperfect militant Christianity which was not only the ideal of the medieval compilers, but may well have been the actual achievement of these distant descendants of the Judean Maccabees.


34 See Apocrypha, 1 Esdras 5:12, 37; 9:34.


In the Morte Dy Arthur, which contains almost entire the Quest of the Sangreal ('Quete del St. Graal'), and in the High History of the Holy Grail, we find curious and startling digressions regarding King David, King Solomon and Judas Maccabees. These are mixed with the legends of the Arthurian Knights, and no direct explanation is offered or has been offered for their presence.

But if, as many of the old writers affirm, King Pelles, Sir Perceval, Sir Lancelot and Sir Galahad might be considered as descendants of these Hebrew kings, their chief ancestors being St. Joseph of Arimathea himself and the Brons or Hebron who married the sister of St. Joseph (Sir Percyville, Robert de Borron, Grand St. Graal, High History, etc., and others), not only do these interpolations become less unintelligible, but the fusion of cultivated Hebrew with Celtic stock may to some extent account for that wonderful achievement in moral ideal and Christian chivalry which characterizes the story of King Arthur's court and the quest of the Holy Grail.

Mr. Alfred Nutt, who has made a special study of the Grail legends, considers them to be essentially British in origin, and suggests that they were carried from Britain to France at the time of the Celtic immigration into Brittany (between the fourth and sixth centuries). He professes to trace their beginnings from pre-Christian or Pagan times in Britain, but recognizes that the Joseph of Arimathea history is undoubtedly one of the conversion of Britain. Regarding this he writes:34a

‘If what may be called the Joseph of Arimathea Early History be considered closely, it will be seen that in both its two main forms it is essentially a legend of the conversion of Britain. Both forms start with Joseph, but at a later stage go widely asunder. In Borron, it is kinsmen of Joseph, Brons, or Alain, or Petrus who are the leaders of the evangelizing emigration : it is to them that the Holy Vessel is confided. In the Grand St. Graal Quete version of Joseph's son, Josephes, is the leading spirit, and the fortunes of the Grail are bound up with those of Joseph's direct descendants or with the converted heathens Mordrains, Nasciens and their kin. This second is the popular version, the one which affected the later stages of the Conte del Graal. The fact that what may be called the Vulgate Early History (whether in its Brons or Josephes form) is in reality a conversion of Britain legend is important when we recollect that the personages of the Conte del Graal and allied versions are British and that the scene of the story is Britain.' 


34 The Legends of the Holy Grail, pp. 39, 40.


Later on, in a somewhat lengthy argument, which is very difficult to follow, Mr. Nutt appears to advance several theories in explanation of the Grail legends. None of these, however, are very illuminating or satisfactory, and although Mr. Nutt appears (in Celtic and medieval romance) to acknowledge an historic King Arthur who 'died in the first third of the sixth century', he attempts nowhere to explain that insistence on Hebrew lineage and wonderful atmosphere which may be regarded as among the distinguishing features of the legends of the Holy Grail. In the High History this Hebrew relationship is repeatedly mentioned. Sir Perceval; his mother, Yglais; his sister, Dindrane; Sir Lancelot, the hermit knight; Joseus; King Pelles, the Fisher King; and the King of the Castle Mortal, are all represented as being directly of the lineage of Joseph, and in one or two passages35 this appears to include Gawain and King Arthur also. In the Grand St. Graal we read that Gawain was the son of Lot of Orcaine, and that King Lot was descended from Petrus. If so (as Gawain was the nephew of King Arthur), the King himself and nearly all his Table Round are represented as having Hebrew relationship and being for the most part of Hebrew lineage.

For my own part, after reading Mr. Nutt's book and heartily acknowledging his work and scholarship, I turn with greater confidence to the simple accounts given us in the old Histories.

If the mediavel writers had not found the historical groundwork of their writings already recorded for them, they would never have dreamed of Jewish characters as types of British knighthood. There was not so much love for the Jew in medieval times that his people or the descendants of Briton and Jew should be exalted as the greatest heroes of contemporary fiction. The medieval romancers only invented new and prolonged adventures for recognized heroes whose reputed lineage and even names they did not dare to alter.

There is, after all, but little reason to disbelieve the tale we are told by the compiler of the High History, viz., that the Latin original, written by a scribe named Josephus, was in the Abbey Library of the Isle of Avalon (or Glastonbury), where the bodies of King Arthur and Guinevere were buried, and that the names and relationship of the chief actors and the main outlines of their adventures were regarded as historical and worthy of belief (see Appendix M).36


35 See p. 251 (possibly wrongly translated?).

36 ‘About 1280 the trouveur, Sarrazin, cites the Grail (li Graaus) in verification of the then accepted truism that King Arthur was at one time Lord of Great Britain. This appeal to the Grail as the authority for general belief shows that it was at that time recognized as a well-spring of authentic knowledge’ (Sebastian Evans in his epilogue to the High History of the Holy Grail).