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Saints, Mermaids & Phoenicians Contents

Cornish  Legends

Saints, Mermaids & Phoenicians

did Jesus visit cornwall?

the legend:

The Bible tells us that Jesus as a young boy visited the temple in Jerusalem  and that his parents had thought he had gone missing. His parents were both worried and annoyed and having found him they stayed a few days with Mary's brother Joseph at his home in the village of Arimathea. Mary's brother  was a merchant who traveled the known world trading for metals and at the time of their visit he was preparing for one of his trips to Britain to buy tin and other metals. Jesus liked his uncle and asked his parents if he could go with him,  but Mary and Joseph told him he was too young and had to finished learning his trade as a boat builder and carpenter.

Some years later, Jesus' earthly father having died,  Mary and Jesus traveled once again to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. They again stopped overnight with Joseph at his home in Arimathea. It was agreed that after the visit to Jerusalem Jesus and Mary would travel with his Uncle on his next journey to trade for metals. Mary wanted to take Jesus to visit his Grandmother who had returned to Brittany and Joseph always called on her before traveling over to Cornwall.

Now Joseph was an important person being one of the official metal dealers for Rome. This meant that he had a large retinue. and traveled in a number of ships.  The route they would have followed was the old Roman tin route which went from Antioch,  Cyprus, Ephesus, Sicily, Cyrenia, Sardinia ,  Massilia (Marseilles) where they would leave the ships to travel overland to Brittany and then to  Cornwall for tin and onto Somerset for lead.

Once they arrived in Brittany, they spent time with Jesus's grandmother and then Joseph and Jesus travelled on in three ships to Cornwall.

 The first place that they landed in Cornwall was the anchorage at what is now St Just in Roseland creek. This is a safe anchorage where the boats could be left tucked away  from the winds. Once they were settled they took a small boat up the different creeks to where the tinners were working. One such trip was up Devoran creek to the tin streams of the Bissoe valley and the area which is now St Day & Chasewater. They visited with the miners at the ancient Creeg Brawse mine.

Once Joseph had purchased his tin supply he sailed up the coast to Looe Island where they  again traveled inland to the mining districts around Warleggan on the Bodmin Moor.  Returning to the boats they traveled west into Penwith and the tin mining area of St Just and Ding Dong mine which is reputed to be the oldest mine in Cornwall. having once again traded with the locals they rejoined the boats at Whitesands Bay and traveled north to a  place called Pilton on the Severn estuary. Here they again left the vessels and traveled into the Mendip hills to the lead mines at Priddy. again the metal was traded for and taken to the vessel which then sailed across the estuary to Caerleon on what is now the coast of Wales. Caerleon was another important trading centre more items were traded and Joseph and Jesus sailed once again this time heading west. They crossed the Severn estuary and called into the Islands around Avalon. Jesus found the area peaceful and the people friendly. It is said that whilst Joseph was sailing around the Islands trading with the different villages Jesus, just as at the temple in Jerusalem stayed and talked  to the Druids in Avalon discussing the ancient beliefs. until the time came for them to return home. Jesus knew he had found the place where he would live whilst preparing himself for his mission.

Some years later Jesus once again traveled via Cornwall to Avalon where he built himself a wattle and daub hut to live in whilst he awaited his destiny. The Druids respected him as a teacher and he traveled all over the south-west and on one visit to the Camel estuary he struck the ground with his staff and created a spring which local people still use and call the "Jesus Well". The Druids enjoyed the company of Jesus but eventually the time came for him to return too Judea and crucifixion. 



This then is the legend as  the various oral accounts have passed it down. But is there again any written evidence to back up this legend? I have turned to a number of sources for information but my main source has been The Rev. H. A. Lewis who was a Bard of the Gorsedd and a vicar in Cornwall in the 1930's and 40's where he published a number of little pamphlets on the legends. 

In "The Holy Land of Britain” the Rev. H.A. Lewis writes the following:-

"While I have always upheld the value of oral tradition, when sifted and tested, the grounds on which I came to accept the idea of Glastonbury as a residence for Our Lord, and later for Our Lady, were rather what I should call the precious grains of oral tradition perpetuated and enshrined in documents, which were mostly ancient." 

So let us look at what we can find to back up the legend of Jesus visiting Cornwall. The previous pages on the voyages of the Phoenicians show that a trade existed.

While no writer can be quoted as saying explicitly either that Our Lord lived there, or that he built the Wattle Church, Gildas writing in “De Excidio,” in the 6th century say's:- 

"Despite the coldness of the climate and the distance of these islands from the natural sun, yet the True Sun first shed his beams on them at the height of ("tempore summo") the reign of Tiberius Caeser." 

The translation of "Tempore summo" may be disputed, but in any case Gildas says it was during the reign of Tiberius. Tiberius died A.D.37. The height of his reign would be about 20 - 25A.D.

Lewis claimed that it was more likely that Gildas meant that Christ himself came here than that some disciples reached our shores and preached the Gospel before A.D.37. The legends of Joseph of Arimathea do not suggest that he came with his twelve followers before 63A.D., some 26 years after Tiberius died.

The old wattle Church of Glastonbury was held in a veneration which far transcended that which would be accorded to an early Christian sanctuary, even if it were supposed to have been erected by or in the time of the Apostles. William of Malmesbury, who has never been accused of being a credulous legend-monger, in describing the holy fane as he saw it, mentions in particular some strange stones in the pavement, and suggests that they embodied or concealed a holy secret. The same writer records a traditional vision of St. David, where Our Lord appeared and told the saint that he had already dedicated the building to his Mother.

He also quotes a far older unknown historian, quoted, as he says, already by St. Augustine, as saying that "the Ealde Chirche’ was built by no human art." 

The legends of the Holy visit still linger at Glastonbury, and far more so at Priddy in the Mendips. Why the tradition was not. more emphasized at Glastonbury puzzled me. That it existed is beyond doubt, but the monks of the Middle Ages appear to have elaborated the cult of Our Lady and St. Joseph, almost to the exclusion of the holier tradition of Our Lord. This may have been the policy of the Church of Rome to down play Glastonbury in favour of their own power base. See the later page on the "The Coming of Rome".  

If you vist the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey you will find a stone in the South wall of the Lady Chapel, with the two mysterious and isolated names ‘IESUS—MARLA’? The words carved in stone in the 12th century may have been reproduced from memories of what was carved in the rough woodwork of the original building. And, while they did not blazon it in their writings, may not the monks of later years have deliberately enshrined the Holy Tradition in their name “ Domus Dei “ 

The Rev. Lewis writes that "a monk called Edward Stourton wrote about them in the abbacy of Adam de Sodbury (1312—1334), but his work, alas, is lost. Is it too fantastic a flight of fancy to picture the Old Church, “Built by no human art,” but by the human hands of the Son of God, and inscribed with those names by him, in dedication." 

William of Malmesbury (12th century), who actually saw the old Wattle Church, is, by his own confession, very cautious in repeating unsubstantiated legends, yet he records, with no apparent suspicion, the following supposed vision of St. David in the 6th Century. (“De Antiquitate,” Hearne, p. 25). The translation here is by Mr. H. F. Scott-Stokes, who was a noted sceptic on Glastonbury legends:- 

“In what reverence the great David, Archbishop of the Menevesians, held the place is so well-known, that it needs no report of mine to elucidate it. Through him a divine miracle corroborated the antiquity and sanctity of the Church. For, thinking to consecrate it, he came with seven Bishops, of whom he was the primate, to Glastonbury. But when all was ready for the ceremony, on the night before it was to take place (as he thought), he bade sleep welcome. And, having relaxed all his senses to rest, he saw the Lord Jesus standing by, and courteously inquiring why he had come. He at once explained, but the Lord recalled him from his intention by saying that he himself had long ago dedicated the Church in honour of his Mother. and the sacrament ought not to be profaned by human repetition.”

Now we turn to the “Vita Sancti Dunstani.” Bishop Stubbs, (“ Memorials of St. Dunstan,” 1874), gives the following version of the passage by the anonymous writer called Saxon Priest “B,” which he says is probably the oldest and most accurate. He thinks the writer was perhaps a contemporary of St. Dunstan.

“Now there was a certain royal island within the confines of the realm of Athelstan, called in the old language of the vicinity Glastonia, embracing broad tracts of country, surrounded by waters abounding in fish, and river-beds rich in lead; adapted to the satisfaction of every human need. Also, best of all, consecrated by the gifts of God himself. Indeed, when they came into these parts, the first neophytes of catholic law, under the guidance of God, found a Church, constructed by no human art, but actually prepared divinely for the salvation of man. Which Church the Creator of Heaven himself, by many miraculous acts and mysterious virtues, showed was to be consecrated to Himself and to Mary his Mother.”  

Finally, on Glastonbury,  the words of the old bard Melchinus or Melkinus (traditionally 6th century) but who is most obscure in origin and date. But of whom John of Glastonbury, following Glastonbury tradition, says was “before Merlin.” Apart from tradition, the language suggests great antiquity, and, whatever’ else we may call it, it does not sound in the least monastic. The passage is quoted, apart from John of Glastonbury, in the “Nova Legenda Angliae,” and the following translation is from the text as given by Skeat (“ Joseph of Arimathie,” p.70—7!).

“The Isle of Avalon, hungry for the burial of the natives, once adorned, above all others in the world, by oracular circles (‘sperulis vaticinantibus’) of prophecy, will for the future also be furnished with worshippers of the Highest. Abbadare, mighty in judgment, noblest of natives, with one hundred and four knights (‘milibus’ for ‘militibus’) fell asleep there. Amid whom, Joseph of Marmor, named of ‘Armathia,’ found his perpetual rest. And he lies inside the forked  line near the southern angle of the oratory erected there (of wattles prepared before), over (‘super’) the powerful adorable virgin, by that circle of thirteen inhabiting the spot. Joseph forsooth, has with him in his sepulchre two cruets, white and silvery, filled with the blood and sweat of the prophet Jesus. When his sepulchre shall be found, it will be seen in future years complete and undamaged, and it will be open to the whole world. Thenceforth. neither dew nor rain shall ever fail those who inhabit this most noble island. Long before the judgment day in Josaphat, these things will be open and manifested to living people.”  

This then is the legend of Jesus' visit, but it is told alongside another legend about the setting up of the first Christian church by Joseph of Arimathea and other disciples here in the South - West following the crucifixion.
Next Joseph of Arimathea

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George Pritchard is the author of original work on this site.  I give permission to copy and use this information on the following conditions.
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Revised: September 07, 2006 .