A Discussion of Joseph of Arimathea's Legendary Descent
By David Nash Ford
Ancestor of Kings?
Early Welsh Genealogies show us that most of the Early British Monarchies claimed descent in one way or another from Beli Mawr (the Great) who can be identified with the Celtic God, Belenos. However, in his mortal form, Beli was said to have been the husband of Anna, the daughter of St. Joseph of Arimathea.
At first sight, this claim may seem quite extraordinary. St. Joseph was the man who had taken Christ's body down from the cross and given up his own tomb for Christ's last resting-place. Apocryphal legend tells us that Joseph of Arimathea was the Virgin Mary's paternal uncle. After the resurrection, he left Palestine with Saints Philip, Lazarus, Mary Magdalene & others, and sailed through the Mediterranean to Southern France. Lazarus & Mary stayed in Marseilles, while the others travelled north. At the English Channel, St.Philip sent Joseph, with twelve disciples, to establish Christianity in the most far-flung corner of the Roman Empire.
Joseph had been chosen for such a task, because he knew Britain well already. He was a merchant by trade and had conducted business with the Dumnonian tin-miners and Durotrigian lead-miners of Britain many times before. Some even say that he sometimes brought his nephew, Jesus, with him on these trading missions. Hence the words of Blake's famous hymn, Jerusalem:And did those feet, in ancient time,
Walk upon England's mountains green?
West Country legend has it that Joseph sailed around Land's End and headed for what was to eventually become Glastonbury in Somerset. Here his boat ran ashore and, together with his followers, he climbed a nearby hill to survey the surrounding land. Having brought with him a staff grown from Christ's Holy Crown of Thorns, he thrust it into the ground and announced that he and his twelve companions were "Weary All". The thorn staff immediately took miraculous root, and it can be seen there still on Wearyall Hill.
Joseph met with the local ruler and soon secured himself twelve hides of land at Glastonbury on which to build the first monastery in Britain. From here he became Britain's evangelist. So it is not surprising that the monarchies of that country wished to establish themselves as St. Joseph's descendants: especially considering the more pagan ancestors already claimed in their pedigrees. By marrying Joseph's daughter to a pre-Christian deity, the royal genealogists were able to show that Christianity had been victorious over the old pagan ways. But why specifically choose Beli Mawr as Anna's husband?
Chronologically speaking, if Anna married a Briton after her father arrived in this country, then we must assume that she was nearer to Jesus' age than her cousin, Mary (ie. born c. 0). Beli is recorded in the Mabinogion and Welsh Genealogies as having been the father of Caswallon (or Cassivellaunus), the leader of the Celtic tribes who repelled Cæsar's invasions of 55 & 54 bc. He could, therefore, not possibly have married Anna of Arimathea. Moreover, the local ruler whom Joseph received his land gift from, is said to have been Arfyrag (or Arviragus), Beli & Anna's supposed great great grandson.
In fact, here we have another case of pagan gods taking on the guise of Christian saints in order to smooth the path of conversion. For Celtic mythology tells us that Beli (or Belenos) did not marry a lady named Anna, but the great Celtic Goddess named Anu. Anu appears in the Celtic World under several names but they all stem from the same route: Anu, Danu, Dana, Don. She was a Mother-Goddess particularly associated with the founding and prosperity of Ireland. She was especially popular in Munster, though her most lasting memorial is a mountain in County Kerry called the "Breast of Anu" (Dá Chích Anann). St. Anne probably owes her popularity in Brittany to this goddess, as do the names of numerous St. Anne's Wells throughout Britain.
However, the claims of the British Kings cannot be quite so easily dismissed. The Celtic God-King, Bran Fendigaid (the Blessed), who may or may not have been an early King of Siluria, is also often accredited with being the man to have brought Christianity to the British Isles. Unfortunately, this is due to a confusion with the historical Cunobelin (Arfyrag's father) who, though he died prior to the Roman Invasion of AD 43, was thought to have been taken captive to Rome where he became converted to Christianity. He appears to be the same figure as the Ancestral Fisher-King of Arthurian legend, Bron or Brons, said, in late legend, to have been given the Holy Grail by St. Joseph of Arimathea. This was, in reality Bran's magic cauldron of Celtic myth. Brons was also thought to have been a relative of St. Joseph: the husband of his sister, Enygeus. The mythical Bran was Beli Mawr's grandson: just the right age to marry St. Joseph's daughter; and Enygeus is a Latin form of Anna. Could Bran have been her husband? Was he blessed by his father-in-law?