St. Joseph of Arimathea, Patron Saint of Undertakers

A brief profile of St. Joseph of Arimathea

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Saint Joseph of Arimathea, patron saint of undertakers (kneeling, lower right). Detail from a painting by Pietro Perugino, 1495, titled "Lamentation Over the Dead Christ.".

The Catholic Church venerates more than 10,000 men and women as saints so, not surprisingly, many unexpected objects, activities and even geographic areas, among numerous other things, are associated with specific patron saints. For example, St. Drogo is the patron saint of gallstones, St. Columbanus of motorcyclists, and St. Anselm of Lucca is the patron of Mantua, Italy (but not nearby Verona, apparently).

This article offers a brief profile of another Catholic saint, St. Joseph of Arimathea, the patron saint of undertakers, morticians and funeral directors.

The Life of St. Joseph of Arimathea
Almost nothing is known about the origin and life of Joseph other than a few brief references in the Bible. All four Gospels mention Joseph and, from them, we learn that he was from Arimathaea/Arimathea, a "city of the Jews" (Luke 23:51), was a disciple or follower of Jesus (John 19:38), was an honorable man (Mark 15:43), and that Joseph was wealthy (Matthew 27:57).

Despite the mystery surrounding his past, Joseph of Arimathea accomplished one deed that secured his mention in all four Gospels and, later, proved worthy of his veneration as a saint of the Catholic Church: he obtained the body of Jesus after his crucifixion and laid him in a tomb. According to Matthew (27:58), Joseph "begged the body of Jesus" from Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judaea who presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his crucifixion.

Pilate commanded delivery of the body of Jesus to Joseph, who then -- either by himself or with the help of Nicodemus (the latter according to John 19:39) -- anointed the body with "a mixture of myrrh and aloes" before wrapping it in clean linen cloth. Next, according to Matthew 27:60, Joseph laid the body "in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed."

Interestingly, the actions of Joseph of Arimathea are often viewed as the fulfillment of a possible prophecy about the death of the promised messiah contained in the Old Testament book of Isaiah, 53:9: "And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth."

Moreover, hundreds of years after his death, Joseph of Arimathea also became a significant figure in the legend of the Holy Grail and Britain's King Arthur. According to one version of the many legends, Joseph was charged with keeping the sacred cup or chalice used at the Last Supper, or used to collect the blood of Jesus during his crucifixion. Another legend places Joseph and his nephew, Jesus (!), in England while the latter was still a youth.

Regardless, the actions of Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, make it easy to understand why he is now considered the patron saint of undertakers, morticians and funeral directors.

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St. Anthony, Patron Saint of Gravediggers

Sources:

"St. Drogo." Catholic Online. Retrieved November 22, 2014. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=2989

"St. Columbanus." Catholic Online. Retrieved November 22, 2014. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=883

"St. Anselm of Lucca." Catholic Online. Retrieved November 22, 2014. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1427

"St. Joseph of Arimathea." Catholic Online. Retrieved December 10, 2014. http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=4081

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