I Saw Three Ships (2)

I Saw Tree Ships, my December painting of the month, attracted a discussion with my friend, Ted Carroll. The question was whether the “Three Ships” were those that legend has it brought Jesus to Glastonbury, across the Somerset Levels.

Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury Abbey

Well…there’s a challenge. The problem is discerning legend and truth and what is the evidence. There is little doubt that Glastonbury is a special place and like religious centres such as Bath and St Albans there have been temples here for many centuries. And as with other religious centres the links with trade routes and the east go into history as well. Consider the Persian influence in the art of the Lindisfarne Gospels.

William Blake, Joseph of Arimathea and the Rocks of Albion, 1810, etching, British Museum.
William Blake, Joseph of Arimathea and the Rocks of Albion, 1810, etching, British Museum.

Who came from Bethlehem to Glastonbury though. I feel there is strong and undisputed evidence for the presence of Joseph of Arimethea visiting England and he is often considered as the founder of the Abbey. But what of Jesus? Well the only evidence seems to focus on legend and the poetry of William Blake.

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon Englands mountains green:

And was the holy Lamb of God,

On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

For my own perspective these immortal words say more about Blake’s England aspiring to be the centre of the civilised and spiritual world rather than evidencing Jesus’s trip to Glastonbury as a tin trader. But hey… still a good story. I feel a need to revert to the Magi and the symbolism of the camels as ships of the desert.

Joseph and the boy Jesus sail up the Brue River to Glastonbury, tapestry, Pilton Parish Church.
Joseph and the boy Jesus sail up the Brue River to Glastonbury, tapestry, Pilton Parish Church.

Wherever the truth lies the carol still celebrates the joy and rejoicing associated with Christmas Day.

Lydia Breed, I Saw Three Ships, 1967, woodcut, 20cm x 44cm. (Digital image, Boston Public Library)
Lydia Breed, I Saw Three Ships, 1967, woodcut, 20cm x 44cm. (Digital image, Boston Public Library)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. tedca says:

    Yes, a great story – and very believable when sitting on Glastonbury Tor at sunset, with a glass of cider ! Like the extra pictures…

    Like

    1. Thanks Ted for your comment. Next time I go to Glastonbury I will do more research, especially on the legend of Jesus turning water into cider. Cheers!

      Like

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