May 192019
 

Prior to Thomas Becket’s rise to fame, Dunstan was the most celebrated saint in England. Dunstan was born in Baltonsborough, Somerset. He was the son of Heorstan, a noble of Wessex. Heorstan was the brother of Athelm, the bishop of Wells and Winchester. The anonymous author of the earliest Life places Dunstan’s birth during the reign of Athelstan, while Osbern fixed it at “the first year of the reign of King Æthelstan”, 924 or 925. This date, however, cannot be reconciled with other known dates of Dunstan’s life and creates many obvious anachronisms. Historians therefore assume that Dunstan was born around 910 or earlier.  As a young boy, Dunstan studied under the Irish monks who then occupied the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Accounts tell of his youthful optimism and of his vision of the abbey being restored. While still a boy, Dunstan was stricken with a near-fatal illness and effected a seemingly miraculous recovery. Even as a child, he was noted for his devotion to learning and for his mastery of many kinds of artistic craftsmanship. With his parents’ consent he was tonsured, received minor orders and served in the ancient church of St Mary. He became so well known for his devotion to learning that he is said to have been summoned by his uncle Athelm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to enter his service. He was later appointed to the court of King Athelstan.

Dunstan soon became a favorite of the king and was the envy of other members of the court. A plot was hatched to disgrace him and Dunstan was accused of being involved with witchcraft and black magic. The king ordered him to leave the court and as Dunstan was leaving the palace his enemies physically attacked him, beat him severely, bound him, and threw him into a cesspool. He managed to crawl out and make his way to the house of a friend. From there, he journeyed to Winchester and entered the service of his uncle, Ælfheah, Bishop of Winchester.

The bishop tried to persuade him to become a monk, but Dunstan was doubtful whether he had a vocation to a celibate life. The answer came in the form of an attack of swelling tumors all over Dunstan’s body. This ailment was so severe that it was thought to be leprosy. It was more probably some form of blood poisoning caused by being beaten and thrown in the cesspool. Whatever the cause, it changed Dunstan’s mind. He took Holy Orders in 943, in the presence of Ælfheah, and returned to live the life of a hermit at Glastonbury. Against the old church of St Mary he built a small cell five feet long and two and a half feet deep. It was there that Dunstan studied, worked at his handicrafts, and played on his harp. It is at this time, according to a late 11th-century legend, that the Devil is said to have tempted Dunstan and to have been held by the face with Dunstan’s tongs. Legend also says that the Devil asked Dunstan to make new shoes for his hooves, but when they were attached they pained the Devil so much that he begged for them to be removed.  Subsequently the Devil is said to avoid houses where horseshoes hang over the door.

Dunstan worked as a silversmith and in the scriptorium while he was living at Glastonbury. It is thought likely that he was the artist who drew the well-known image of Christ with a small kneeling monk beside him in the Glastonbury Classbook, “one of the first of a series of outline drawings which were to become a special feature of Anglo-Saxon art of this period.” Dunstan became famous as a musician, illuminator, and metalworker. Lady Æthelflaed, King Æthelstan’s niece, made Dunstan a trusted adviser and on her death she left a considerable fortune to him. He used this money later in life to foster and encourage a monastic revival in England. About the same time, his father Heorstan died and Dunstan inherited his fortune as well. He became influential, and on the death of King Æthelstan in 940, the new king, Edmund, summoned him to his court at Cheddar and made him a minister.

Again, royal favor fostered jealousy among other courtiers and again Dunstan’s enemies succeeded in their plots with the king was preparing to send Dunstan away. But following a death scare whilst hunting Edmund recanted his treatment of Dunstan and instead made him abbot of Glastonbury. He went to work at once on the task of reform and began by establishing Benedictine monasticism at Glastonbury. Nevertheless, not all the members of Dunstan’s community at Glastonbury were monks who followed the Benedictine Rule.

Within two years of Dunstan’s appointment, in 946, Edmund was assassinated. His successor was Eadred. The policy of the new government was supported by the queen mother, Eadgifu of Kent, by the archbishop of Canterbury, Oda, and by the East Anglian nobles, at whose head was the powerful ealdorman Æthelstan the “Half-king”. It was a policy of unification and conciliation with the Danish half of the kingdom. The goal was a firm establishment of royal authority. In ecclesiastical matters it favored the spread of Catholic observance, the rebuilding of churches, the moral reform of the clergy and laity, and the end of the religion of the Danes in England. Against all these reforms were the nobles of Wessex, who included most of Dunstan’s own relatives, and who had an interest in maintaining established customs. For nine years Dunstan’s influence was dominant, during which time he twice refused the office of bishop (that of Winchester in 951 and Crediton in 953), affirming that he would not leave the king’s side so long as the king lived and needed him.

In 955, Eadred died, and the situation was at once changed. Eadwig, the elder son of Edmund, who then came to the throne, was a headstrong youth devoted to the reactionary nobles. According to one legend, the feud with Dunstan began on the day of Eadwig’s coronation, when he failed to attend a meeting of nobles. When Dunstan eventually found the young monarch, he was cavorting with a noblewoman named Ælfgifu and her mother, and refused to return with the bishop. Infuriated by this, Dunstan dragged Eadwig back and forced him to renounce the girl as a “strumpet”. Later realising that he had provoked the king, Dunstan fled to the apparent sanctuary of his cloister, but Eadwig, incited by Ælfgifu, whom he married, followed him and plundered the monastery.

Although Dunstan managed to escape, he saw that his life was in danger. He fled England and crossed the channel to Flanders, where he was unable to speak the language and ignorant of the customs of the locals. The count of Flanders, Arnulf I, received him with honor and lodged him in the abbey of Mont Blandin, near Ghent. This was one of the centers of the Benedictine revival in that country, and Dunstan felt at home. His exile was not long. Before the end of 957, the Mercians and Northumbrians revolted and drove out Eadwig, choosing his brother Edgar as king of the country north of the Thames. The south remained faithful to Eadwig. At once Edgar’s advisers recalled Dunstan.

On Dunstan’s return, Archbishop Oda consecrated him a bishop and, on the death of Coenwald of Worcester at the end of 957, Oda appointed Dunstan to the see. In the following year the see of London became vacant and was conferred on Dunstan, who held it simultaneously with Worcester. In October 959, Eadwig died and his brother Edgar was readily accepted as ruler of Wessex. One of Eadwig’s final acts had been to appoint a successor to archbishop Oda, who died on 2nd June 958. The chosen candidate was Ælfsige of Winchester, but he died of cold in the Alps as he journeyed to Rome for the pallium. In his place Eadwig then nominated the bishop of Wells, Byrhthelm. As soon as Edgar became king, he reversed this second choice on the ground that Byrhthelm had not been able to govern even his first diocese properly. The archbishopric was then conferred on Dunstan.

Dunstan went to Rome in 960, and received the pallium from Pope John XII.[3] On his journey there, Dunstan’s acts of charity were so lavish as to leave nothing for himself and his attendants. On his return from Rome, Dunstan at once regained his position as virtual prime minister of the kingdom. By his advice Ælfstan was appointed to the bishopric of London, and Oswald to that of Worcester. In 963, Æthelwold, the abbot of Abingdon, was appointed to the see of Winchester. With their aid and with the ready support of king Edgar, Dunstan pushed forward his reforms in the English Church. The monks in his communities were taught to live in a spirit of self-sacrifice, and Dunstan actively enforced the law of celibacy whenever possible. He forbade the practices of simony (selling ecclesiastical offices for money) and ended the custom of clerics appointing relatives to offices under their jurisdiction. Good order was maintained throughout the realm and there was respect for the law. Trained bands policed the north, and a navy guarded the shores from Viking raids. There was a level of peace in the kingdom unknown in living memory.

In 973, Dunstan’s statesmanship reached its zenith when he officiated at the coronation of king Edgar. Edgar was crowned at Bath in an imperial ceremony planned not as the initiation, but as the culmination of his reign. This service, devised by Dunstan himself and celebrated with a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle forms the basis of the present-day British coronation ceremony.

Edgar ruled as a strong and popular king for 16 years. In 975 he was succeeded by his eldest son Edward “the Martyr”. His accession was disputed by his stepmother, Ælfthryth, who wished her own son Æthelred to reign. Through the influence of Dunstan, Edward was chosen and crowned at Winchester. Edgar’s death had encouraged the reactionary nobles, and at once there was a determined attack upon the monks, the protagonists of reform. Throughout Mercia they were persecuted and deprived of their possessions. Their cause, however, was supported by Æthelwine, the ealdorman of East Anglia, and the realm was in serious danger of civil war. Three meetings of the Witan were held to settle these disputes, at Kyrtlington, at Calne, and at Amesbury. At the second of them the floor of the hall where the Witan was sitting gave way, and all except Dunstan, who clung to a beam, fell into the room below; several men were killed.

In March 978, king Edward was assassinated at Corfe Castle, possibly at the instigation of his stepmother, and Æthelred (the Unready) became king. His coronation on Low Sunday 31 March 978, was the last state event in which Dunstan took part. When the young king took the usual oath to govern well, Dunstan addressed him in solemn warning. He criticized the violent act whereby he became king and prophesied the misfortunes that were shortly to fall on the kingdom, but Dunstan’s influence at court was ended. Dunstan retired to Canterbury, to teach at the cathedral school. Dunstan’s retirement at Canterbury consisted of long hours, both day and night, spent in private prayer, as well as his regular attendance at Mass and the daily office. He encouraged and protected European scholars who came to England, and was active as a teacher of boys in the cathedral school. On the vigil of Ascension Day 988, it is recorded that a vision of angels warned he would die in three days. On the feast day itself, Dunstan said Mass and preached three times to the people: at the Gospel, at the benediction, and after the Agnus Dei. In this last address, he announced his impending death and wished his congregation well. That afternoon he chose the spot for his tomb, then went to his bed. His strength failed rapidly, and on Saturday morning, 19 May, he caused the clergy to assemble. Mass was celebrated in his presence, then he received Extreme Unction and the Viaticum, and died. Dunstan’s final words are reported to have been, “He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He hath given food to them that fear Him.”

St Dunstan’s is a charity that provides support, rehabilitation, and respite care to blind ex-service personnel of the British Armed Forces. Periodically they have a recipe competition and bake sale to raise money — https://www.50connect.co.uk/food-drink/articles/phil-vickery-whips-up-support-for-st-dunstan%E2%80%99s-g  Here is one of the winning recipes:

Sticky Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake

Ingredients

Cake

175 gm/6 oz unsalted butter
175 gm/6 oz caster sugar
2 whole eggs, beaten
175 gm/6 oz self-raising flour
1 tbsp shredded fresh basil
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
4 tbsp water
25 gm/1 oz poppy seeds

Sticky lemon topping:

3 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp water
zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp lime juice
3 tbsp icing sugar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

Grease and line a 900 gm/2 lb loaf tin with baking parchment paper.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together until pale, light and fluffy, then gradually beat in the eggs, a little at a time. Fold the flour into the mixture, then stir in the basil, lemon zest, water and poppy seeds. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for about 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sticky topping. Heat the caster sugar and 3 tbsp water in a pan until the sugar dissolves. Add the lemon zest, increase the heat and bring to a simmer and cook for about 3-5 minutes.

Place the lime juice and icing sugar in another small pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Drain the lemon zest, add it to the lime syrup then bring to a simmer. Prick the hot, cooked cake using a skewer, then pour over the hot lime syrup and lemon zest. Leave the cake in the tin until cool, then carefully lift out using the lining paper.

Jul 312016
 

neot2

Today is the eve of Lammas which is not in itself a church celebration, but is recorded in Shakespeare as Juliet’s birthday, giving rise to one of my most popular posts: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/juliets-birthday/   Today is also the feast of St Neot, a Cornish monk who is mostly remembered in the names of towns. Neot is mentioned in an interpolated passage in Asser’s Life of King Alfred. He died around 870 and is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

neot1

Neot, who is said to have been four feet tall (121 cm), some sources say even shorter, may have begun his adult life as a soldier, later renouncing the army for life in a monastery. He first served as sacristan at Glastonbury Abbey, then was ordained as deacon and then as priest.  However, he was never happy in a community and asked leave of his abbot to live as a hermit. He moved to a place near Bodmin Moor where he lived in solitude for some time. Apparently he became known for his strictness in devotion as well as his charity for the poor, so a group of monks eventually gathered around him. It is also said that birds and animals were charmed by him – a sort of St Francis in miniature.

According to Asser, King Alfred visited him for his counsel, but we need to be a little skeptical of the source. In the same book Asser tells of King Alfred burning the cakes when hiding from the Danes at Athelney. It’s certainly a good story, but undoubtedly apocryphal. Butler in his Lives of Saints (1866) has a long-ish section on Neot in relation to Alfred but it all seems to be nonsense. For example, Butler credits Alfred with founding Oxford University, and suggests that he considered Neot for the position of professor of theology. This is all hopelessly anachronistic thinking, let alone inaccurate. Nonetheless, the basics of Neot’s vita seem simple enough, and perfectly believable.

neot3

Neot was buried in Cornwall and his bones were preserved as a holy relic in the Cornish village of his name. St Neot’s body was removed from Cornwall to Eynesbury in Huntingdonshire in around 980 when a monastery was founded there and renamed St Neots in his honor. The town now lies in Cambridgeshire on the river Ouse, close to the Bedfordshire border. According to some accounts, the monks returned with their prize, pursued by angry Cornishmen. The bones were housed in the priory for many years but were lost during the reign of Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

neot4

Although Neot’s feast day is 31st July it is customarily celebrated at St Neot on the last Sunday of July, which, by coincidence is today this year. He is regarded as the patron saint of fish, although I’m not sure what that means. There are many churches dedicated to St Neot and at least one Holy Well. Legend has it that the well contained three fish, and an angel told St Neot that as long as he ate no more than one fish a day, their number would never decrease. At a time St Neot fell ill, and his servant went and cooked 2 of the fish; upon finding this, St Neot prayed for forgiveness and ordered that the fish be returned to the well. As they entered the water, both were miraculously returned to life.

A Cornish fish dish is obviously warranted for the day, but I’ve already given several – especially for pilchards, crab, and stargazy pie. However, for St Neot I can go with simplicity – Cornish scrowled pilchards. “Scrowled” just means grilled.

neot5

As I’ve mentioned several times before, “pilchard” (as well as “sardine”) is a generic term for a number of small fish in the herring family. Cornish pilchards are Sardina pilchardus (very helpful).  Traditional scrowled pilchards can be grilled whole or with the heads removed.  Sprinkle them generously with sea salt and grill them quickly on both sides so that the skin browns and crisps. Then the trick is to slap a cooked fish between slices of bread and munch away, bones and all. Couldn’t be simpler. White bread will work, but homemade whole wheat is better. These days it is common in Cornwall to eat grilled fish with a salad of cucumber and tomato. Works for me.

Mar 172014
 

ja4

Joseph of Arimathea was, according to all four Gospels, the man who donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus after Jesus’ crucifixion. He is mentioned in all four canonical Gospels. According to Mark 15:43, he was an “honourable counsellor (bouleut?s), meaning a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, who was waiting for the kingdom of God”. In Matthew 27:57, he is described as a rich man and a disciple of Jesus. In John 19:38, we find out that Joseph was secretly a disciple of Jesus: as soon as he heard the news of Jesus’ death, he “went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.”

ja3

Pilate, reassured by a centurion that the death had taken place, allowed Joseph’s request. Joseph immediately purchased fine linen (Mark 15:46) and proceeded to Golgotha to take the body of Jesus down from the cross. There, assisted by Nicodemus, Joseph took the body and wrapped it in the fine linen and applied myrrh and aloes Nicodemus had brought, according to John 19:39. Jesus’ body then was conveyed to the place that had been prepared for Joseph’s own body, a man-made cave hewn from rock in the garden of his house nearby. This was done speedily, “for the Sabbath was drawing on”. This event is also mentioned in Luke 23:50–56. Joseph of Arimathea is venerated as a saint by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and some Anglican churches. His feast day is March 17 in the traditional Roman Catholic liturgical calendar. Eastern Orthodox churches commemorate him Sunday of Pascha (i.e., the second Sunday after Easter) and on July 31, the date shared by Lutheran churches.

He appears in some early New Testament apocrypha, and a series of legends grew around him during the Middle Ages, which tied him to Britain and the Holy Grail.

Since the 2nd century, a mass of legendary detail has accumulated around the figure of Joseph of Arimathea in addition to the New Testament references. Joseph is referenced in apocryphal and non-canonical accounts such as the Acts of Pilate, a text often appended to the medieval Gospel of Nicodemus and The Narrative of Joseph, and mentioned in the works of early church historians such as Irenaeus (125–189), Hippolytus (170–236), Tertullian (155–222) and Eusebius (260–340), who added details not found in the canonical accounts. Hilary of Poitiers (300–367) enriched the legend, and Saint John Chrysostom (347–407), the Patriarch of Constantinople, was the first to write that Joseph was one of the Seventy Apostles appointed in Luke 10.

ja7

During the late 12th century, Joseph became connected with the Arthurian cycle, appearing in them as the first keeper of the Holy Grail. This idea first appears in Robert de Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathie, in which Joseph receives the Grail from an apparition of Jesus and sends it with his followers to Britain. This theme is elaborated upon in Boron’s sequels and in subsequent Arthurian works written by others. Later retellings of the story contend that Joseph of Arimathea himself traveled to Britain and became the first Christian bishop there.

The Gospel of Nicodemus, a text appended to the Acts of Pilate, provides additional details about Joseph. For instance, after Joseph asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, and prepared the body with Nicodemus’ help, Jesus’ body was delivered to a new tomb that Joseph had built for himself. In The Gospel of Nicodemus, the Jewish elders express anger at Joseph for burying the body of Christ:

And likewise Joseph also stepped out and said to them: Why are you angry against me because I begged the body of Jesus? Behold, I have put him in my new tomb, wrapping in clean linen; and I have rolled a stone to the door of the tomb. And you have acted not well against the just man, because you have not repented of crucifying him, but also have pierced him with a spear.

The Jewish elders then captured Joseph, and imprisoned him, and placed a seal on the door to his cell after first posting a guard. Joseph warned the elders:

The Son of God whom you hanged upon the cross, is able to deliver me out of your hands. All your wickedness will return upon you.

When the elders returned to the cell, the seal was still in place, but Joseph was gone. The elders later discovered that Joseph had returned to Arimathea. Having a change in heart, the elders desired to have a more civil conversation with Joseph about his actions and sent a letter of apology to him by means of seven of his friends. Joseph traveled back from Arimathea to Jerusalem to meet with the elders, where they questioned him about his escape.

According to The Gospel of Nicodemus, Joseph testified to the Jewish elders, and specifically to chief priests Caiaphas and Annas that Jesus had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven and he indicated that others were raised from the dead at the resurrection of Christ (repeating Matt 27:52–53). He specifically identified the two sons of the high-priest Simeon (again in Luke 2:25–35). The elders Annas, Caiaphas, Nicodemus, and Joseph himself, along with Gamaliel under whom Paul of Tarsus studied, traveled to Arimathea to interview Simeon’s sons Charinus and Lenthius.

Medieval interest in Joseph centered on two themes, that of Joseph as the founder of British Christianity (even before it had taken hold in Rome), and that of Joseph as the original guardian of the Holy Grail. Legends about the arrival of Christianity in Britain abounded during the Middle Ages. Early writers do not connect Joseph to this activity, however. Tertullian (AD 155–222) wrote in Adversus Judaeos that Britain had already received and accepted the Gospel in his lifetime, writing of:

… all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons–inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ.

Tertullian does not say how the Gospel came to Britain before AD 222. However, Eusebius of Caesarea, (AD 260–340), one of the earliest and most comprehensive of church historians, wrote of Christ’s disciples in Demonstratio Evangelica, saying that “some have crossed the Ocean and reached the Isles of Britain.” Saint Hilary of Poitiers (AD 300–376) also wrote that the Apostles had built churches and that the Gospel had passed into Britain. Hippolytus (AD 170–236), considered to have been one of the most learned Christian historians, puts names to the seventy disciples whom Jesus sent forth in Luke 10, includes Aristobulus of Romans 16:10 with Joseph, and states that he ended up becoming a pastor in Britain. In none of these earliest references to Christianity’s arrival in Britain is Joseph of Arimathea mentioned.

ja9

The first literary connection of Joseph of Arimathea with Britain came in the ninth-century Life of Mary Magdalene attributed to Rabanus Maurus (AD 766–856), Archbishop of Mainz; however, the earliest authentic copy of the Maurus text is one housed in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. Rabanus states that Joseph of Arimathea was sent to Britain, and he goes on to detail who traveled with him as far as France, claiming that he was accompanied by “the two Bethany sisters, Mary and Martha, Lazarus (who was raised from the dead), St. Eutropius, St. Salome, St. Cleon, St. Saturnius, St. Mary Magdalen, St. Maxium or Maximin, St. Martial, and St. Trophimus or Restitutus.” Rabanus Maurus describes their voyage to Britain:

Leaving the shores of Asia and favored by an east wind, they went round about, down the Tyrrhenian Sea, between Europe and Africa, leaving the city of Rome and all the land to the right. Then happily turning their course to the right, they came near to the city of Marseilles, in the Viennoise province of the Gauls, where the river Rhône is received by the sea. There, having called upon God, the great King of all the world, they parted; each company going to the province where the Holy Spirit directed them; presently preaching everywhere.

The route he describes follows that of a supposed Phoenician trade route to Britain, as described by Diodorus Siculus. The book by William of Malmesbury De Antiquitate Glastoniensis Ecclesiae (“On the Antiquity of the Church of Glastonbury”, circa 1125) has not survived in its original edition, and the stories involving Joseph of Arimathea contained in future editions are full of interpolations placed by the Glastonbury monks “in order to increase the Abbey’s prestige – and thus its pilgrim trade and prosperity.”  In his Gesta Regum Anglorum (“History of The Kings of England”, finished in 1125), William of Malmesbury wrote that Glastonbury Abbey was built by preachers sent by Pope Eleuterus to Britain, however also adding: “Moreover there are documents of no small credit, which have been discovered in certain places to the following effect: ‘No other hands than those of the disciples of Christ erected the church of Glastonbury’;” but here William did not link Glastonbury with Joseph of Arimathea, but with Philip the Apostle: “if Philip, the Apostle, preached to the Gauls, as Freculphus relates in the fourth chapter of his second book, it may be believed that he also planted the word on this side of the channel also.”

In 1989 A. W. Smith critically examined the accretion of legends around Joseph of Arimathea, by which the poem hymn of William Blake, Jerusalem, ( “And did those feet in ancient time”) is commonly held as “an almost secret yet passionately held article of faith among certain otherwise quite orthodox Christians” and Smith concluded “that there was little reason to believe that an oral tradition concerning a visit made by Jesus to Britain existed before the early part of the twentieth century.” Folklorist Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould recounted a Cornish story concerning how “Joseph of Arimathea came in a boat to Cornwall, and brought the child Jesus with him, and the latter taught him how to extract the tin and purge it of its wolfram. This story possibly grew out of the fact that the Jews under the Angevin kings farmed the tin of Cornwall.” In its most developed version, Joseph, a tin merchant, visited Cornwall, accompanied by his nephew, the boy Jesus. C.C. Dobson (1879–1960) made a case for the authenticity of the Glastonbury legend. The case was argued more recently by Dr Gordon Strachan (1934–2010) and by Dennis Price.

ja8

The legend that Joseph was given the responsibility of keeping the Holy Grail was the product of Robert de Boron, who essentially expanded upon stories from Acts of Pilate. In Boron’s Joseph d’Arimathe, Joseph is imprisoned much as in the Acts, but it is the Grail that sustains him during his captivity. Upon his release he founds his company of followers, who take the Grail to Britain. The origin of the association between Joseph and Britain is not entirely clear, but it is probably through this association that Boron attached him to the Grail. In the Lancelot-Grail Cycle, a vast Arthurian composition that took much from Boron, it is not Joseph but his son Josephus who is considered the primary holy man of Britain.

Later authors sometimes mistakenly or deliberately treated the Grail story as truth. Such stories were inspired by the account of John of Glastonbury, who assembled a chronicle of the history of Glastonbury Abbey around 1350 and who wrote that Joseph, when he came to Britain, brought with him vessels containing the blood and sweat of Christ (without using the word Grail). This account inspired the future claims of the Grail, including the claim involving the Nanteos Cup on display in the museum in Aberystwyth. However, it should be noted that there is no reference to this tradition in ancient or medieval text. John of Glastonbury further claims that King Arthur was descended from Joseph, listing the following imaginative pedigree through King Arthur’s mother:

 Helaius, Nepos Joseph, Genuit Josus, Josue Genuit Aminadab, Aminadab Genuit Filium, qui Genuit Ygernam, de qua Rex Pen-Dragon, Genuit Nobilem et Famosum Regum Arthurum . . .

[Helaius  grandson of Joseph begat Joshua, Joshua begat Amminadab, and Amminadab begat a Son, who gave birth to Ygernam, from whom came King Pen-Dragon, who begat the noble and famous King Arthur . . . ]

Elizabeth I cited Joseph’s missionary work in England when she told Roman Catholic bishops that the Church of England pre-dated the Roman Church in England.

Another famous story claims that when Joseph set his walking staff on the ground while he slept, it miraculously took root, leafed out, and blossomed as the “Glastonbury Thorn.” The constant retelling of such miracles encouraged the pilgrimage trade at Glastonbury until the Abbey was dissolved in 1539, during the English Reformation.

ja6

The Glastonbury Thorn is a form of Common Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna ‘Biflora’ (sometimes incorrectly called Crataegus oxyacantha var. praecox), found in and around Glastonbury, in Somerset. Unlike ordinary hawthorn trees, it flowers twice a year (hence the name “biflora”), the first time in winter and the second time in spring. The trees in the Glastonbury area have been propagated by grafting since ancient times.

ja5

It is associated with legends about Joseph of Arimathea and the arrival of Christianity in Britain, and has appeared in written texts since the medieval period. A flowering sprig is sent to the British Monarch every Christmas. The original tree has been propagated several times, with one tree growing at Glastonbury Abbey and another in the churchyard of the Church of St John. The “original” Glastonbury Thorn was cut down and burned as a relic of superstition during the English Civil War, and one planted on Wearyall Hill in 1951 to replace it had its branches cut off in 2010.

Somerset, where Glastonbury is located, is noted for a number of famous ingredients including Cheddar cheese and traditional cider (as well as perry which is like cider but made from pears). Although Cheddar cheese originated in Cheddar in Somerset it has no Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) within the European Union. However, only cheddar produced from local milk within four counties of South West England, may use the name “West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.”  Well worth sampling; you won’t want a pallid, tasteless, yellow block of soap after that.

Here is a classic casserole of rabbit baked in cider.  Make sure you are using a good English cider (not sparkling).  I recommend serving diced potatoes and carrots as side dishes, but you can also just cook them in the casserole with the rabbit.

ja10a

Somerset Rabbit Casserole

1 rabbit, jointed in about 12 pieces
2 oz butter
1 onion, sliced
5 oz button mushrooms, halved
1 oz flour
½ pint of dry Somerset cider
3 tbsp single cream
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Melt half the butter in a frying pan. Sauté the rabbit pieces until lightly browned. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place in a casserole.

Add the onion and mushrooms to the frying pan and sauté for 4 or 5 minutes until light golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the casserole.

Melt the remaining butter in the frying pan, add the flour and cook for a minute or two stirring constantly to make a blond roux. Remove from the heat and gradually stir in the dry cider with a whisk so as not to form lumps.

Return to the heat and bring to the boil, stir constantly.  Cook for a minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce over the rabbit. Cover the dish and cook at 375°F/190°C for about an hour or until the rabbit is tender. Do not overcook.  Rabbit can easily dry out if cooked too long.

Just before serving stir in the cream. Serve with poached new potatoes and diced carrots.