After posting about the curse on Weston-super-Mare, I’ve received many an interesting email. One, from Vivian Gallaher, caught the eye as it listed a number of other legends involving Weston, some previously heard of, while others not.
Using current circumstances, I took the opportunity to investigate them further, asking locals their knowledge of and take on, to again piece together an overview of each, before looking to see what evidence for or against can be found.
First up: did Jesus Christ visit Weston-super-Mare?
The following myth/legend/historical fact is so widely known, that people even as far away as Bristol are aware of it.
The story goes that while taking the Boy Jesus on pilgrimage to Glastonbury, Joseph of Arimathea—an uncle via the Virgin Mary—decided, given they were in the area anyway, to make a slight detour to take in Uphill and the small islands Flat Holm and Steep Holm.
Screen shot shows the islands indicated by arrows. Flat Holm, furthest north, is considered part of Wales (mainland barely in the shot top left), while Steep Holm, England. Uphill is indicated by the red cross, Glastonbury the blue star and Cheddar the cheese pointer.
The visits to the two small islands went without much of ado, but after landing on Weston beach, Joseph of Arimathea took one look at Uphill and realised the incline far too steep for the donkeys they’d brought with to get around on, especially the Boy Jesus’ little one, and so they left their four legged conveyances on the beach and continued the pilgrimage on foot.
When reaching the top, Joseph of Arimathea, though a little puffed from the walk, placed his hands on his hips and took in the view with a deep satisfied breath, only to see a group on the beach stealing the donkeys.
“By Abraham!” Joseph of Arimathea is said to have exclaimed. “Boy Jesus, quick: a mob maketh good with art asses!”
The two hurried back to the beach with God Speed.
On getting there, however, they found that in fact it was a group of children, who, instead of trying to steal the donkeys, were getting great delight from taking it in turns to have rides on them.
Joseph of Arimathea (image of by William Blake circa 1810) was of a good mind to chastise the children for meddling with the property of others, wanting to go so far as to march them home to have a word with each of their parents; but the Boy Jesus, somewhat knackered from walking all the way up Uphill hill only to come straight back down again, and seeing the joy these simple rides were bringing, said unto Joseph of Arimathea that they do something else:
Something he called ‘Christian’.
The Boy Jesus told Joseph of Arimathea that to do the ‘Christian’ thing they must leave the children touched by their presence.
Despite still having Glastonbury to visit, the Boy Jesus decreed they leave the donkeys behind with the children of Weston-super-Mare, who danced and skipped with joy at hearing such wonderful news.
This moment is claimed as the origin of donkey rides on Weston-super-Mare beach, with some maintaining the donkeys there today are actually direct descendants of the Boy Jesus’ little one.
Against: Joseph of Arimathea (image: a detail from Pietro Perugino’s Lamentation over the Dead Christ 1495) hardly gets a mention in The Holy Bible, and when he does it’s as ‘the secret disciple’ only revealing himself when it came to taking Christ down from the Cross (stable door and horse springs to mind). The Holy Bible contains no mention whatsoever of Jesus having an uncle Joseph of Arimathea or of his taking a trip to Glastonbury via Weston-super-Mare.
For: to be fair, there isn’t much mention of Jesus as a young lad per se, the whole thing being a bit from birth straight to Messiah, a whole chunk missing inbetween as though it was written with cashing in on a prequel in mind.
Against: apart from a couple of shout outs in the Gospels, there is no evidence a place called Arimathea ever existed.
For: it is possible, therefore, that Arimathea was the name of a company, and if that company was a Package Tour Operator, then possible excursions to the likes of Glastonbury (via Weston-super-Mare at a small additional cost) something it offered.
Against: even if Arimathea was a travel company, it would have really been something back then to offer trips in small boats all the way from Jerusalem or thereabouts to the west coast of Britain. In those days even the invading Romans came via the land route of France and anyone who did come that way by boat ‘tended’ to rely on the power of slaves, often doing so to look for more people to have away with for the purpose. No one did the trip just for kicks; and I don’t think anyone is trying to insinuate Christ used a travel company that relied on slaves, for if that were so it would very likely be the last ever heard of him in the current world of cancel-culture.
Against: it’s said that the Boy Jesus visited to learn from the Druids. The Romans led by Julius Caesar attempted an invasion fifty years before the birth of Christ and failed. The Empire didn’t succeed in establishing itself on the island until 43 AD. The Romans reported finding unruly inhabitants and Druids practising human sacrifice. For years historians dismissed this as war propaganda to get more troops, however recent archaeological discoveries have confirmed the Roman accusations, and so the question arises: why would a caring uncle or decent tour operator take the Boy Jesus to meet types such as that?
For: perhaps it’s where he got the inspiration for being Crucified from.
Christ on a beach: how Jesus might’ve looked if taking a stroll along the sand at Weston-super-Mare
For: if Joseph of Arimathea was a caring uncle in a similar way to my late uncle Richard, then a, ‘C’mon, I’ve booked a trip to get some human sacrificing in before you become Messiah and have to start acting Holier than bloody Thou!’ would make perfect sense.
For: in recent years archaeologist Dennis Price and Church of Scotland minister Dr Gordon Strachan (for context he died in 2010 and wasn’t the famous footballer) have both argued the case for Christ being to Glastonbury as evidentially factual (though without providing any evidence).
For: the Wikipedia page for Joseph of Arimathea states his place of death as Glastonbury, so it must be true.
Against: circa 1125 the monks of Glastonbury sort to increase trade in the area—which included sales of the ale they brewed—by fabricating stories about Jesus once visiting. This would’ve been during the Crusades, so no doubt proved very popular with anyone heading off on them, given Glastonbury is conveniently located in the south west of the country. True, it’d hardly be on everyone’s route given many travelled to the Holy Land not by boat from the south west coast, but across mainland Europe via a quick crossing of the Channel from the south east. But, there was a Crusader mentality that said the more Holy Places visited in Pilgrimage along the way, the more blessed and likely to succeed one would be when there.
How Weston-super-Mare and Uphill wound up intertwined with the story remains a mystery, for it seems nowhere else has attempted to jump on the monks’ coattails by claiming the Boy Jesus likewise visited them for their wares while on the way Glastonbury; as example, he surely could’ve worked wonders for any local cheese makers struggling under the success of that made in the nearby Cheddar. Talking of which led to the following discovery:
Legends of Weston:
Coming soon, including:
- Okay, so maybe Jesus didn’t visit the seaside at Weston-super-Mare, but what about any other spiritual leaders?
- Dwight Eisenhower visits Weston Woods to talk with the ghost of Julius Caesar.
- Super shame: how the town disgraced itself by making a young Mille have a Mare at Weston’s Odeon.
Thanks for reading 🙂
N. P. Ryan
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Images: header image; artist’s impression of Jesus added to a photograph by NotFromUtrecht, details and licence information can be found here. Jesus walking on beach; artist’s impression of Jesus added to photograph by ArticCynda, details and licence information can be found here.