A church on the island of Anglesey in north Wales has been put forward as the possible last resting place of the Virgin Mary, in the face of local and academic scepticism.
The historian Graham Phillips believes, after years of investigation, that Mary's burial site is the church of St Mary the Virgin in Llanerchymedd, and not Ephesus in Turkey or Jehosophar in Jerusalem as had previously been thought.
Mr Phillips believes Mary was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, and notSt John the Evangelist who, according to tradition, was asked by Jesus as he was dying on the cross to look after her.
Mr Phillips argues in his new book, The Marian Conspiracy, that according to Jewish tradition, Mary would have been cared for by her son. However, following the death of Jesus, she was cared for by Joseph and accompanied him to Glastonbury, Somerset, with the Holy Grail. "The Bible does not name John as the disciple who cared for Mary," Mr Phillips said yesterday. "All four gospels say that the only people present when Jesus died were Mary, Mary Magdalene and Joseph of Arimathea."
Mr Phillips also draws on St Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, to assist his case, quoting his letter to Pope Gregory the Great in AD597 which claimed a church containing Mary's tomb had been found in a church off the west coat of Britain. Llanerchymedd fits the bill, Mr Phillips says, though his reasoning at this point is more complex.
St Mary's only dates to medieval times but as churches tend to be built on existing church sites it could date back to the time of Jesus, he said.
Mr Phillips also believes Mary's bones were removed from the church and buried beside a holy well nearby when the island was sacked by the Vikings in the 10th century. The former vicar of St Mary the Virgin, the Rev Daniel Prys, agreed that according to Arthurian legend Joseph of Arimathea visited Glastonbury butsaid there was "no mention of him going anywhere else". He also said St Mary's was not the oldest church on Anglesey and the island had no churches dating to the time of Jesus.
Dr Trystan Hughes, of the University of Wales, Bangor, anexpert on Roman Catholicism, also doubted Mr Phillips' use of Arthurian legend. "It sounds very tenuous because Arthurian legend may not be anything more than myth," he said.
Mr Phillips, the author of King Arthur: the True Story and Act of God, can at least point to a certain unreliability in traditional biblical premises, including the theory that John did not write the Gospel of St John. "Some scholars have already cast doubt on that," he said. "That means only Joseph could have buried Mary."