Continuing with our study by John Keyser
Joseph of Arimathea .... with others.
In the Spanish town of CIUDAD RODRIGO, we find another version of
the same legend.
This simply states that Mary Salome, Mary Cleopas, Mary
Magdalene (the sister of Lazarus), Lazarus, Maximin, Chelidonius,
Marcella and JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA came to AQUITAINE GAUL and there
preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God, "as the histories of
the Gauls and the local traditions plainly teach."
A number of the RHONE VALLEY CHURCHES trace their origins
back to LAZARUS and other of Joseph's companions in the boat. On
the south side of the old harbor at Marseilles - near the Fort
St.Nicolas - stands the CHURCH OF ST.VICTOR, built in the 13th
century and was once attached to an abbey founded early in the
4th century. "With its lofty crenellated walls and square towers
built of large blocks of uncemented stone, it resembles a
fortress" (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1943 edition P.965). The
Church of St.Victor was constructed above CRYPTS dating mainly
from the 11th century. These crypts embody architecture of both
the Carolingian period and THE EARLY CENTURIES OF THE CHRISTIAN
ERA. Tradition reveals that LAZARUS INHABITED THE CATACOMBS UNDER
ST.VICTOR, and many "momentos" of his stay in Marseilles can
still be seen.
Author J. W. Taylor visited the Church of St.Victor in
Marseilles, and relates what he saw:
"A door on the south side of the nave leads down to a
subterranean church, large end lofty, which dates from
the fourth century. This was built by the Cassianite monks, and
from its position has been untouched and could not well be
destroyed through all the centuries since.
And all this vast fouth-century church has been visibly built
around A STILL OLDER NATURAL CAVE OR GROTTO known as the ORIGINAL
FIRST-CENTURY CHURCH OR REFUGE OF ST.LAZARUS....
The great height of this underground abbey church, its darkness,
its stillness, the few scattered but perfect round pillars
supporting the root; and the 'FIRST-CENTURY CHAPEL' which is
enshrined by it all combine to produce a picture of early
Christian life and architecture, striking and irresistible.
No explanation that I know of has been, OR CAN BE, offered other
than that OFFERED BY TRADITION - that here was the place where
LAZARUS OF BETHANY lived and preached and ministered and died,
and that therefore within some two hundred or three hundred years
afterwards this church was built in honour of HIS MEMORY and to
enshrine his body which was then present here.
And all through the ages ever since this faith has been firmly
held, and lives as strong today as ever. If we come back from the
crypt or subterranean church into the (upper) church of ST.
Victor, at the west end of the nave, under the organ-loft, we
find a life-sized STATUE OF ST.LAZARUS ... and underneath the
status two pieces of stone REMOVED FROM THE OLD SEPULCHRE AT
BETHANY out of which our Saviour raised him. On the pediment of
the statue is this inscription:
'Divo Lazaro a Christo suscitato qui Massinensium primus
Apostolus hujus ecclesiae crytant ministerio et passione
In memoriam missionis A.D.MDCCCXCVII grato animo parochus
fidefesque S. Victoris dedicara.'"
Faillon, in his "Monuments Inedits" (Paris, 1859 & 1865),
summarizes Lazarus' journey to Marseilles and his preaching
"Tradition states that St.LAZARUS, after the ascension of Jesus
Christ, remained for a time in the company of the Apostles, with
whom he took charge of the Church which was at Jerusalem. After
this he went to the island of Cyprus in order to escape from the
persecution which arose (about Stephen).
Having filled there for severe] years the office of a missionary
priest, HE ENTERED INTO A SHIP, AND TRAVERSED THE SEA, BY THE
GRACE OF GOD ARRIVED AT MARSEILLES, the most celebrated town of
Provence. Here, exercising the functions of his priesthood, he
served God, to whom he had entirely consecrated his life, in
righteousness and true holiness. He preached the word of Life to
those who had not yet received it, and gained many converts to
Jesus Christ" - Vol.ii, p.114.
The city of Marseilles controlled irregular patches of
coastline and towns all along the Mediterranean coast. They were
under the protection of Rome and generally lived in harmony with
the Roman government, but had their own government and managed
their own affairs as Strabo just described.
Above this area was PROVINCIA or the NARBONNAISE, which
extended from immediately above Marseilles to as far as Vienne.
This seems to have been a Roman district, under direct control of
the Roman government and especially colonized by Rome. In fact,
it belonged to Rome long before the rest of Gaul was conquered,
and was known as PROVINCIA GALLICA all during this time of
conquest and for a long time afterwards. The rest of the
continent above it was known as GAUL or GALLIA. Just over the
border in Gaul was LUGDUNUM or LYONS - the capital of the Segusii
who were at this time also under Roman control or supervision.
Probably here also a measure of self-government was allowed by
the Romans. We therefore find, in the south of France in the
first and second centuries, THREE NOTABLE DISTRICTS AND
GOVERNMENTS: The Massilian in MARSEILLES, the Romans in PROVINCIA
GALLICA, and in Lugdunum or "LYONS of the Gauls" a modified local
government with Roman occupation and control.
To the middle district - or Provincia Gallica - which was
almost as Roman as Rome was, came another companion of Joseph in
the boat - TROPHIMUS.
Trophimus settled in the city of ARLES, which was formerly
called ARELATE. Some 54 miles northwest of Marseilles, Arles
stands on the left bank of the Rhone where the river divides to
form its delta. Arles was an important city at the time of Julius
Caesar's invasion, and later became the seat of the prefecture of
the Gauls and one of the foremost cities in the western empire.
Today the city still contains some of the old Roman buildings --
including an arena that holds more than 25,000 people.
"St.Trophimus is known there AS THE FIRST BISHOP OF THE CITY"
(The Coming of the Saints, p.132}.
Some stones, said to be from the first-century meeting_
place built by him, are still standing, and the later cathedral
(originally dedicated to Stephen) was rededicated to the MEMORY
OF TROPHIMUS when his body was removed here in 1152. "The
cathedral is still called the cathedral of St.Trophime, and the
TOMB OF ST.TROPHIMUS forms a font or baptistry on the left side
of the nave as you enter it" (Ibid., p.132). His body was
subsequently moved to AUTUN.
Local traditions state that he came from the East, was of
Greek nationality and the personal friend of Paul and Peter. One
tradition claims that Paul visited him on one of his missionary
journeys, and the house (or the site of the house) in which they
met is known today as "La maison des Saints." According to George
F. Jowett, "Trophimus was sent to Gaul by Joseph [of Arimathea]
... He was consecrated the first bishop of Arles and there
performed an outstanding service ... His Christianizing
endeavours embraced a large area which formed the DISTRICT OF
NARBONNE. He became the first Metropolitan of the Narbonne, with
Arles as his Bishopric. For centuries it continued to be a
prominent stronghold of the Christian faith in Gaul" ("The Drama
of the Lost Disciples," p.165).
MAXIMIN'S PRESENCE in the south of France is remembered by
the little town named af ter him -- ST.MAXIMIN. Thirty to forty
miles from Marseilles by train, the village sits in an extensive,
cultivated plain full of vineyards and olive gardens. The plain
itself is surrounded on almost every side by distant high
mountains or hill ranges. In the center of this fruitful plain is
what appears to be one vast towering structure - the big white
church of St.Maximin. From the distance the adjoining town is
hardly visible, and one sees nothing else but the church until
entering St.Maximin itself, when the church disappears from view.
The village itself is a quiet, semi-Eastern-looking town, with
high white houses and a small central "Place" or plaza. The plaza
contains a fountain and four sets of trees to form a promenade.
On one side of the plaza a lane leads up to the church. Here, and
in the surrounding countryside, the MEMORY OF MAXIMIN is the
With regard to another of Joseph's companions, SIDONIUS or
RESTITUTUS (the man or boy born blind), we are told in a
PROVENCAL TRADITION that he accompanied the Bethany family to
Provence. But of his life after arriving in southern France, we
have two different traditions. One states that he was the same as
CHELIDONIUS and worked with Maximin, after whose death he took
charge of the Church of God at AIX. The other tradition
identifies his history with the little VILLAGE OF ST.RESTITUT and
the more important old town of St.Paul Trois Chateaux (the old
Roman colony of Augusta Tricastinorum), of which church he is
said to have been the leader and founder.
The Church of "St.Restitut" is said to have formerly
contained his relics. Notes Augustus J. C. Hare, "its west bay,
which has the appearance of a tower, is surmounted by a cupola
and contains two storeys. In its lower storey (is) the TOMB OF
ST.RESTITUT" ("South-Eastern France," London, 1890).
MARTIAL, accompanied by his father and mother (Marcellus and
Elizabeth), Zaccheus (the publican of the gospels) and JOSEPH are
represented as arriving at LIMOGES in the first century. Martial
remained at Limoges (the ancient Lentovices and Augustoritum) and
old Aquitaine legends, going back at least as far as the 10th
century, say he was the FIRST missionary apostle of Limoges
("Fastes Episcop," vol.ii, p.104).
The other Christians who accompanied Joseph in the little
boat, also left their imprint in the traditions of southern
Rabanus states that EUTROPIUS "was the first Bishop of
Aquitaine" and preached at ORANGE (Aurasicum) and SAINTES
(Sanctonas), whereas SATURNINUS preached at TOULOUSE (Tolosam)
where he was killed by a mob who threw him down from the capitol.
On to Avalon!
While there are STRONG TRADITIONS surrounding the companions
of Joseph in southern France, the traditions of Joseph himself
having resided here are nonexistent! As we have seen, the legends
of Provence show that Joseph came to Marseilles and the Rhone
Valley as one member of the group that arrived in the disabled
boat. However, the evidence seems to indicate that he simply
passed through this region to another destination. We find faint
traces of him at LIMOGES (in company with Martial) and at
ROCAMADOUR, the traditional dwelling-place of Zaccheus, who is
said to have journeyed WITH JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA and Martial as
far as this town, "and to have stayed here because of its
resemblance to his old home in Palestine" ("The Coming of the
To be continued
Entered on this Website February 2008