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William Blake's preface to Milton, commonly called Jerusalem and set to a famous hymn tune by Hubert Parry, questions whether the child Jesus might have visited England.

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

This apparently refers to an old tradition, not originated by Blake, that Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus to Glastonbury; after the crucifixion, Joseph returned, possibly carrying the Holy Grail.

Whether this actually happened is not my question.

What I would like to know is: what is the origin of the story? According to Wikipedia, Robert de Boron wrote about Joseph and the Grail, but it does not mention if he wrote about an earlier visit by Jesus himself. So how and when did the story get started?

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Not an answer, but possibly related: at the time there was a popular movement called British Israelism which believed that the British Royal Family were descended from King David. –  Wikis Oct 5 '13 at 8:42
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You know, some Japanese claim Jesus visited (and died in) Japan, Pakistanis have a site that Jesus supposedly visited and also died in, and Mormons think that Jesus visited the USA (although that story postdates this claim). I find it interesting how many cultures have a similar story to this one... –  Affable Geek Oct 5 '13 at 15:36
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Good point @AffableGeek, and it's interesting that these are all places quite far from Israel. I don't know of a tradition that Jesus visited Ephesus or Alexandria, say. –  James T Oct 5 '13 at 19:05
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@Wikis, I've only heard of that movement vaguely but it may well be related. I wonder if they had any interest in the Stone of Scone (Jacob's pillow). –  James T Oct 5 '13 at 19:06
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Who was it who described the hymn "Jerusalem" as "a series of questions to which the answer is no"? –  TRiG Jan 25 at 19:40

2 Answers 2

There are a range of interpretations of this poem. Speculation abounds, but one piece that is lacking in some of the discussions I have read is to recall that this is a preface to the poem Milton. Milton was non-sectarian in his theology, but clearly anti-Catholic supporting the Reformation in England. A movement intent on cleansing the hypocrisies in the Roman Church of that time.

As many great poets, Blake sees the past, present and future and envelopes these into one treatise. I believe that he, like Milton, longs for a pure expression of Christianity and posits that that purity will be present in the "New Jerusalem" which will be brought to England through the enterprise of the British people. The first two verses ask questions about whether the Lamb of God did visit England which are clearly intended to be answered negatively. Therefore if it is true, the Lamb of God did not visit England, then it is for us to bring the New Jerusalem to England through our own work.

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The short answer is William Blake. It is all in the reading of the poem and understanding Blake. He wished that instead of Israel, Jesus was born in England. Why were the Jews the chosen people and not the English? Because of the 'dark satanic mills'. Jesus will not come to England unless the social injustices are removed. After Blake a supposed legend about Jesus visiting England started. There is no earlier legend.

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There is an earlier legend as James T has alluded to. It's also on the Glastonbury Abbey website –  Andrew Leach Oct 6 '13 at 17:53
    
I read about this legend in one of the conspiracy type 'Christian' books and thought it complete fiction. Never realized there actually might be a local legend. –  gideon marx Oct 6 '13 at 19:15
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Whether or not it is true that Blake invented the story, you still need to provide evidence! –  James T Oct 7 '13 at 15:45
    
The book mentioned in was the Armageddon Conspiracy book. Strange book and difficult read with all the side story catch up. But entertaining all the same. –  Barrett Nov 11 '13 at 5:03

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