A legend holds that Jesus visited several places in what are now Cornwall and Somerset in England. What is the origin of this legend?
There are a range of sources suggesting Jesus came to England as a young man with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy merchant and tin trader. Cornwall, at the time was prominent in the tin mining trade, and routes were well known and common between the Mediterranean and Britain. The oral tradition in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Ireland dates from early history there, but is first written about in the Life of St Dunstan, at the end of the 10th century.
His visit was popularised in a poem by William Blake in the early 19th century, that was made into the hymn, Jerusalem, in the 20th century. Glastonbury has the myth of the very first church built above ground in the world, verified by a bishop in the 6th century as being built not by man but by holy hands. Also in Glastonbury is the Glastonbury Thorn Tree, which legend says was Jesus' staff that flowered once planted.
A bit more detail from Sacred Connections
Walter de M. Seaman writes: “There are those among the older folk of the district of St. Just-in- Roseland, near Place Manor, who used to repeat the age-old belief ‘Christ came in a ship and anchored in St. Just Creek,’ and across the waters of the Fal at Falmouth, this odd little story was brought to light: Joseph of Arimathea and the young lad Jesus from Nazareth, landed at the Strand (now the town quay), crossed the stream and went up Smithick Hill…. In the far West of Cornwall, there are or were two rich lodes (or veins) of tin. One was named Corpus Christi (the body of Christ) and the other Wheal Jesus. Wheal is the old Cornish word for mine…. It is interesting in this connection to discover that East Looe has as its coat of arms a ship bringing (so it is thought) Joseph and the young Jesus to Cornwall. This is portrayed on the front of the old Guildhall. A mile off Looe is St. George’s Island. Some of the older folk of the district were heard to say that when they were children, they’d been told by their parents and grandparents that Joseph and the young Jesus had landed on this island.” (The Dawn of Christianity in the West, 1993)
I grew up in Glastonbury and have been brought up with the large number of legends surrounding the town.
There are several specific legends regarding the life of Jesus in Glastonbury between the ages of 12 and 30. He was said to have been brought there for his own safety by his uncle Joseph of Arimathea. While in the town he learnt carpentry, the countryside around Glastonbury having long been a centre of willow growing.
Some also say that he worked with the trees known as Gog and Magog which are two ancient oaks that survive today near the village of Wick, just outside Glastonbury and are said to be in excess of 2000 years old.
After the crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea returned with the Holy Grail to Glastonbury. This gives us the legend that he rested upon Wearyall Hill before entering the town. At this time he stuck his staff into the ground and, miraculously, by morning it had sprouted. The Holy Thorn still blossoms at Christmas every year and blossoms from it are taken to the Queen on Christmas day to decorate her table at Christmas Dinner.
The Holy Grail brought by Joseph of Arimathea was lost for many centuries. But a fragment of an olive wood cup was found in the Chalice Well at the foot of the Tor. Some say that this is the Grail. Local legend has it that this cup is now kept in private hands and that can be viewed by those who are worthy. Although local legend does not agree on exactly where it can be found.
In June each year, there are pilgrimages to the town of Glastonbury by both the Roman Catholic and Church of England. These pilgrimages commemorate the legend.
There are of course many legends regarding King Arthur in Glastonbury. One of which is that he chose the Isle of Avalon (the land around Glastonbury Tor) for the location of Camelot due to its association with Jesus.
I could go on. For example Mary Caine's books about the Glastonbury Zodiac "as above, so below". A geomantic theory stating that the ground itself reflects the stars above in the hills, rivers and ancient trackways around the town.
I make no claim that any of these legends have any basis in fact - after all, remember that the monks of Glastonbury Abbey were masters at making money and some mediaeval marketing. As likely as not, there lies the origin. I have just always found it fascinating that so many exist about the one place.
There are any number of books and websites that will give you more information regarding these legends, including their own histories and supposed derivations. Searching them out is a fascinating pastime.