Joseph was a merchant, the younger brother of Our Lady's father, Saint Joachim. He was a great seafarer and was often away from Judea, sometimes for months on end, voyaging up and down the Middle Sea to the Pillars of Hercules and beyond, now and again as far North as the mist-shrouded island of Britain.
Because it was so distant, Joseph wasn't able to visit Britain as often as he would have liked. Without knowing why, he felt a warmth and affinity for the place - for the wildness of her rocky shores, the greenness of her hills, the depths of her forests, the songs and incantations of her people, and the constant interplay of wind, sunshine, rain and mist, chasing each other this way and that across the mottled sky.
The Britons were good hosts. They knew how to entertain visitors and make them feel special. So when Joseph the carpenter - the father of Joseph's great-nephew, the boy Jesus, Mary's son - spoke to him one day about taking the lad on a trip, Joseph immediately thought of Britain. It would be good for Jesus, he thought, to experience a really long voyage, and good for him too to explore a country with a climate and landscape so different from his own.
Joseph had always enjoyed Jesus's company. He liked him so much that he wanted their times together to go on forever. He wasn't quite sure why he was so drawn to him. Jesus was nine years old now, and though he played happily with the other boys and was a good and dutiful son, there was clearly something different about him, something hard to pin down - a stillness, a waiting, a sense of space and peace. Just being close to Jesus - not necessarily speaking to him - had a good effect on Joseph, refreshing his mind and making his body feel lighter and younger. So he was delighted that Jesus's parents had entrusted him with his care for the three month round trip.
On arrival, thirty days later, at the South West tip of the island, Joseph and his party were joyously received by Conor, King of Dumnovia, who had come to know Joseph well over the years. There was a fine night of feasting and storytelling in the Royal Pallisade and the next morning it struck Joseph that Jesus might benefit from a day alone with nature, far from the hubbub of the market place. So he left him on Looe Island, under the watchful gaze of Conor's men, while he went into town to sell his linens and spices. And when he returned towards sunset, he saw a sight that imprinted itself on his mind and stayed with him for the rest of his life. For there was Jesus sitting on the sand, with the sea and the sun at his back, and all around him - sitting, standing, lying down - was a circle of fishermen, the lame and the crippled, the old, and tiny little children. Jesus was talking animatedly and gesturing with his hands. All eyes were fixed on him. Conor's soldiers stood by on the rocks, leaning on their spears, but they were watching him too. So were the seagulls that circled the sky. Joseph saw Jesus pick up a pebble. It was small, about the size of the tin cup his mother had given him for the voyage. He took it with both hands and lifted it high above his head. And the rays of the setting sun caught the pebble and it shone forth with a mingled light of flame-flecked red and gold. Everyone gazed at it. Then Jesus saw Joseph coming and let the pebble fall. He waved happily to his uncle, like any nine year old boy, and the moment was gone.
Joseph never forgot it though, until the moment came again twenty-four years later on the night Jesus blessed and shared the bread and wine. Joseph was there, as always, watching, wondering, and waiting. For twenty years there had been nothing. Then, out of nowhere, so much so quickly - miracles, crowds, disciples, disdain, acclaim. And now this supper in Simon the Leper's upstairs room.
A fire crackled on the hearth. Jesus's Apostles sat around him at the table. Some looked perplexed. Joseph noted Peter's furrowed brow. Judas, for some reason, was no longer there. But John, sitting to Jesus's right, seemed as calm and serene as ever. Joseph was waiting at the table, along with Mary Magdalene, her sister, Martha, and her brother, Lazarus. He saw a winespill on the floor and went to get a cloth. And when he came back, there it was again - the moment at Looe Island. 'Take this,' said Jesus as he lifted the golden chalice (which Joseph had bought at Capernaum Market), 'and drink from it. This is the Chalice of my blood, the blood of the New Covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many.' He paused, then raised it above his head. 'Do this in memory of me.'
Joseph dropped the cloth. Past met present in the person of his mesmeric, unpredictable great-nephew, and the scales fell from his eyes. Yet just one day later Jesus was dead, and his followers (save John, Jesus's mother, and Mary Magdalene) scattered like chaff. Joseph himself had stayed the course. It was the least he could do, he told himself, to make up for the years he had spent hiding his discipleship for fear of the Chief Priests. Joseph cared nothing for them now, but when the Temple Guards seized Jesus in the garden he had fled with the rest, running back across the lawn to Simon's house. When he got upstairs, he saw the fire burning low and the Chalice still there on the table, blazing fiercely with an intense, red-tinged glow of its own. Just standing there watching it shine somehow warmed Joseph's heart and helped restore his spirits. So he picked up the chalice and took it with him into the night.
Hours later, Joseph found himself at the foot of the cross with John and the two Mary's. When, in the midst of driving rain and hail, Jesus bowed his head and died and the Centurion plunged his spear into his side, Joseph leapt forward on an impulse and held up the Chalice, catching the blood and water that poured forth. He ran to the Governor's palace and asked Pilate if he, Joseph, could take Jesus down from the cross and bury him. Pilate, who knew and respected Joseph, said yes. So Joseph wrapped him in his finest linen shroud and buried him in his own tomb and Peter and James rolled a heavy stone across the entrance. But the Chief Priests were furious. 'You'll never trade again,' Jacob the Fox roared.'You were one of his followers. You'll let those Gallileans steal the body so that this liar's boast of rising from the dead will seem true.' And they put an armed guard around the tomb. But Joseph went home and stayed there two days until the Temple Guards kicked down his door and dragged him off to a dank and stinking cell at the bottom of the High Priest's palace. They chained his arms to the wall and left him there in darkness. He knew why too. Mary Magdalene had told him earlier that day. 'Jesus is risen,' she had cried as she danced a jig on his doorstep, her face transfigured with joy. 'It's true, Joseph. I've seen him. I've spoken to him.' And Joseph was sorry now that he hadn't believed her and had put her story down to wish-fulfilment and an over-active imagination.
Then, as he was thinking of Mary, the cell pulsed with light and Jesus himself was there, dressed in white and blue, with red, raw wounds on his insteps and wrists. His left hand held the Chalice, while with his right he touched Joseph's chains and instantly they snapped apart. Joseph stood up. Jesus embraced him. 'Peace be with you,' he said, and Joseph felt a power and richness surging through him and a sense of peace and wholeness that was too deep for words and too much to take in. He fell to the floor and lay there weeping, curled into a ball. Jesus lay beside him and put his arms around him and held him tight.
When Joseph felt ready, they stood up again. 'Soon,' said Jesus, 'my Angel will lead you back to the city. He will tell you what to do and where to go.' Then he handed Joseph the Chalice and taught him how to say the Mass. Joseph knelt down and Jesus placed his hands on his head and made him his first Priest. Then Joseph looked up and Jesus was gone. But so was the darkness. The Chalice shone as it had on the night of Jesus's betrayal. Joseph saw the stone walls of the cell surrounding him. He walked around for a while, then sat back down, watching, waiting and praying.
Joseph was so astounded at everything that was happening that the Angel's words about becoming a king made no sense whatsoever. Then Michael vanished and Joseph was alone. He clasped the Chalice tight and ran to the house of Mary Magdalene.
By twilight next day, Joseph had gathered his company - his wife, Anna, and their twelve year old son, Josephus, along with his brother, Bron, his wife, Enygria, and their baby son, Alain. There was Nasciens too, a prince from the East who had come to Jerusalem on business and had seen Jesus and spoken with him and become his disciple, giving up the throne waiting for him at home. Mary Magdalene was there as well, together with Lazarus and Martha. Mary had told the Apostles Joseph's story, and John the Beloved came to the harbour that evening to give his blessing. Then they set sail. The ship had one sail and it was white, but Mary had spent the afternoon drawing a picture of the Archangel Michael on it, red and gold in colour with a flaming sword in his right hand.
They voyaged West for fourteen days and fourteen nights. Joseph had placed the Chalice in a little chamber below deck and the pilgrims gathered around it as often as they could in silence, prayer and song. They found they needed neither food nor drink. Just being in the presence of the Chalice gave them all the sustenance, both physical and spiritual, that they needed.
They came to the port of Massilia in Southern Gaul, where they stopped to rest awhile. Mary, Martha and Lazarus went into the town to see what was there and when they came back Mary's eyes were ablaze and her face was shining like the sun. 'I must stay,' she told Joseph. 'I am sorry. But I know in my heart and soul that this is my work: to bring the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to the people of this place.'
Jospeh was sad beyond reckoning to lose Mary and her family, but he recognised in her words and demeanour the unmistakable marks of God's calling. So he gave her his blessing and Mary gave him her blessing and Joseph and his family sailed on to the South West tip of the island of Britain.
They were within sight of Dumnovia when Nasciens committed a grievous sin. The Angel had instructed Joseph that only himself and Mary Magdalene were to hold the Chalice, but one day, when no-one else was about, Nasciens felt an overpowering desire to touch it. 'If I can touch the Chalice,' he thought, 'it will be the same as touching Jesus.' But as soon as he did, he fell to the floor and a mighty voice, which Joseph recognised as that of the Angel, boomed around the ship. 'Nasciens,' it said, 'for the great love you feel you will be rewarded, after Joseph is dead, by becoming the second Priest of the Chalice, which shall henceforth be known as the Grail. But the punishment for your presumption today will be to live far beyond the lot of mortal men, until the day the third Grail Priest succeeds you, so that every minute of your life becomes a weariness and only the grace and presence of the Grail will keep you from losing your mind in despair at the endless cycle of birth and death and the loss of so many loved ones gone before you to the Seat of Judgment.'
So Nasciens changed his clothes to black and stayed below deck, kneeling before the Grail in silence and penitence for the rest of the voyage.
King Conor was long dead but Joseph and his party were royally welcomed by Caradoc, Conor's son, who was now King. He asked Joseph and his family to live with him and his Queen in the Royal Pallisade, but Joseph looked up at the night sky, saw no sign of the promised star, shook his head sadly and continued on his way.
On the third night, the star appeared before them like a throbbing, radiant ball of red and gold. Their journey was long and hard and they travelled far, high into the mountains of Gwynedd. But everywhere they went, the poor and the lame and the little children came to greet them and receive a blessing. Anna had turned their ship's sail into a flag and she walked at the head of the company each day, through the mountains, hills and valleys, holding Mary's drawing of the Archangel like a banner before her. Behind her, Joseph carried the Grail, veiled now in a cloth of white samite.
At long last the star stopped above their heads in a valley sheltered by four mountains, where a spring of bright, clear water bubbled and flowed. So the company built their church - the Church of the Grail - on that very spot.
They stayed there years and years. In time, the Church became a castle known as Dinas Ffaraon - the Fortress of the High Powers - with the Grail King ruling the surrounding lands. Joseph was the first Grail King, as the Angel had prophecied, and when he died his son Josephus succeeded him as King and Nasciens as Priest. But Josephus was killed in battle shortly afterwards and the Kingship passed to Alain son of Bron. Alain's royal line exists today, though it is hidden now until the coming of the fourth Grail Priest, he who will restore all things for a season before the advent of Antichrist and the second coming of Our Lord.
Alain, while he was King, made contact with Mary Magdalene's community in Gaul and with the Sisters of Saint Brighid in Ireland, those holy women who watch and guard the sacred flame night and day at their monastery in Kildare. For hundreds of years a great round of chant rang out from all three sites, one following on from the other - from dawn till mid-afternoon in Gwynedd, from mid-afternoon till midnight in Gaul, and from midnight till dawn in Kildare. A triangle of numinous force was established - a musical mirror of the Holy Trinity - from Britain to Gaul to Ireland and back to Britain again.
Nasciens had been Grail Priest for over four hundred years when one night Blaise, the Chief Druid and teacher of Merlin, came to Dinas Ffaraon and advised him that because the times had grown so evil it would be prudent to partially remove the castle and neighbouring lands to the Otherworld. Those with a questing, sincere heart might still stumble upon the Grail, but Dinas Ffaraon would no longer be a place to be found on a map and the Grail would therefore lie out of reach of maraudering Irish pirates. And so it fell out and so it remained until the time of Arthur and the coming of the third Grail Priest, Galahad. But by then the spiritual sight of men and women had become so dim and occluded that even if the Grail Castle had still been a physical place in the world they would have been unable to perceive it.
If it was like that then, it is a thousand times worse today. Yet stories are told and rumours abound and whispers run wild that the fourth Grail Priest is among us and is about to show his hand. Some even claim to have seen him - a man I know, for instance - a mountaineer who was out climbing with his nephew one bright March day. He got lost in the foothills trying to get back to his car and stumbled on an old stone church near a spring of bubbling water in a valley ringed by four mountains. It was almost dark and golden lights were shining in the church. There was singing too, some kind of chant in a foreign language. My friend and his nephew crept closer and peered in and saw a company of men and women - a dozen or so - standing in a circle around a candlelit table, and on the table was a golden chalice which seemed to shine and vibrate with a red-tinged glow all of its own. Standing behind the chalice was a man, but neither my friend not the boy could see his face because of the light radiating out from the chalice. But they did see him lift it up above his head. Three times he did it, while bells rang and everyone in the church knelt down and bowed their heads. The mountaineer and his nephew were so moved by what they saw that they knelt down too and bowed their heads and closed their eyes. And when they opened them the mountains and spring were still there but the church had gone and what they saw instead, about two hundred yards off, just discernible in the gloom, was the familiar outline of my friend's Ford Escort, parked beside the same oak tree he had picked as a good parking spot early in the morning.
They drove back to Manchester in silence he said, but it was the happiest, most restful, most inspiring silence he had ever known. 'I had the sense,' he told me, 'that tremendous events, way beyond the scope of our minds to comprehend, are close at hand. A radical reorientation, despite appearances, is on its way. Redemption and renewal are nearer to our world, nearer to our country and nearer to our hearts than we think.'
Nicholas Roerich, Treasure in the Mountain
Nicholas Roerich Museum, New York