Anne and Joachim, Ss.
ANNE AND JOACHIM, SS.
Traditional names of the mother and father of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since Sacred Scripture makes no mention of Mary's parents, one may rightly wonder about the basis for the devotion to St. Anne and St. Joachim. Does this devotion rest merely on a late invention of popular piety? Be that as it may, the Blessed Virgin surely had parents, no matter what their names may have been. The assumption that they were sanctified by God in view of their election by Him to bring the immaculate Mother of God into the world is entirely reasonable; otherwise it would be unreasonable to assume that Mary, Joseph, and John the Baptist had been sanctified in view of their participation in the Redemption.
There is not, however, a total lack of information about the lives of Mary's parents. The apocryphal Gospel known as the Protoevangelium Jacobi, written c. a.d. 170–180, offers some interesting information on this matter. This work, which tells of Mary's infancy, is undoubtedly one of the most famous of the apocryphal writings, not only because of its antiquity and wide diffusion, but also because of the unparalleled influence that it had on devotion to Mary. It would be a sad mistake to class this work with the heretical writings that were circulated in the early Christian centuries, even though everything in it cannot be taken, without further ado, as historical. In any case, the story that it tells of Mary's parents is worth summarizing here.
Joachim and Anne According to the Protoevangelium. It happened one day that Joachim, who was rich and respected in Israel, met with reproaches because of his sterility. Feeling downcast, he left his wife Anne and retired to the desert to pray and fast. Meanwhile Anne, too, now that she was left alone, wept and lamented before the Lord, bewailing her seeming widowhood and actual childlessness, which she regarded as a punishment from God. Finally, the prayers of both spouses were answered. An angel appeared to Anne and announced that she would conceive and bear a child who would become famous throughout the world. Anne thereupon promised to offer to the Lord the fruit of her womb. At the same time Joachim in the desert had a similar vision. Full of joy, he returned home. When his wife was told of his coming by messengers, she went out to meet him at the city gate. At the sight of Joachim, she ran and embraced him. "Now I know," she said, "that the Lord has wondrously heard my prayer. I who was a widow am a widow no longer; I who was once sterile have conceived in my womb."
The account of Mary's birth is then given, followed by the story of how the little girl was later presented to the Lord in the Temple by her parents. In the rest of the account Mary's parents no longer appear.
Diffusion of the Story. The Christians of the early centuries were fascinated by the Protoevangelium. "In the original Greek text, or in the Latin, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Arabic, and Ethiopic translations, or in more or less complete paraphrases in seven different languages, it spread at an early date in every part of Christendom…. It gave rise to a series of liturgical feasts: the feasts of Mary's Conception, her Nativity, and her Presentation in the Temple, as well as the feast of her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne" (De Strycker, v). Numerous Fathers cited or commented on the story told in the Protoevangelium, among them St. Epiphanius, Andrew of Crete, the Patriarch Germanus I of Constantinople, St. John Damascene, Photius and his friend George of Nicomedia, St. Sophronius.
Popular Devotion. Churches in honor of St. Anne began to be erected in the sixth century. According to Procopius, there was a church dedicated to her in Constantinople c. a.d. 550. At about the same time a church in her honor was built in Jerusalem at the traditional site of her birthplace. These two churches were very influential in spreading the cult of Mary's parents, especially that of St. Anne. In the later Middle Ages, after her cult had spread to Europe, there were numerous churches, chapels, and confraternities dedicated to her.
The feast in honor of both St. Anne and St. Joachim on September 9, for which selections or paraphrases of the stories from the Protoevangelium were used as liturgical texts, was introduced first in the East, probably at the church of St. Anne in Constantinople or at her church in Jerusalem toward the end of the sixth century. In the West the cult of St. Anne was introduced at Rome in the eighth century; it was not until the fourteenth century that it became widespread in Europe. In 1584 Gregory XIII extended her feast, celebrated on July 26, to the whole Latin Church. Thereafter St. Anne became extraordinarily popular, especially in France. Her two greatest shrines are still those of Ste. Anne d'Auray in Brittany and Ste. Anne de Beaupré near Quebec in French-speaking Canada. The feast of St. Joachim was not introduced in the West until the fifteenth century. After being suppressed by St. Pius V, it was restored by Paul V (1621) and raised to a higher rank by Leo XIII.
One of the reasons for the popularity of the cult of SS. Joachim and Anne is its close connection with the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the same time, Christian married couples find in the parents of Mary a model of conjugal life such as they do not find in Joseph and Mary, at least on the level of conjugal relations. In this regard it is significant that, until the sixteenth century, the conception of Mary was represented in iconography by showing the meeting of Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem. The embrace (osculum ) of the two spouses suggesting the conception of Mary is the sole example known in iconography. It seemed entirely normal that the faithful should see in this a glorification of Christian marriage.
Another reason for the popularity of their cult is the fact that the family, especially in former days, could not be thought of without the grandparents. If Mary is the mother of Jesus, her parents are His grandparents and belong, in a certain sense, to the "Holy Family." Finally, Joachim and Anne are becoming symbols of the messianic expectations of the Old Testament, while they introduce the New Testament. With Mary, they form the point in history where divinity entered into humanity.
Iconography. Christian iconography abounds in treatments of Mary's parents, especially in the cycles of the infancy of the Virgin. After Jesus and Mary, St. Anne is one of the subjects that appears most frequently in iconography, whether alone or with others in various scenes of her life. Extremely popular in the Middle Ages was the portrayal of Anne with the infant Jesus as well as the Blessed Virgin. She is represented most often as a venerable matron wearing a long robe, with cincture, mantle, and veil. Around a.d. 1500 artists added the headdress that was worn by the ladies of their time. St. Joachim is usually represented together with St. Anne. He is sometimes shown carrying the infant Mary or bringing two turtledoves (cf. Lk 2.24) as the offering for her presentation in the Temple.
Feast: July 26.
Bibliography: É. amann, Le Protévangile de Jacques et ses remainiements latins (Paris 1910). É. de strycker, La Forme la plus ancienne du Protévangile de Jacques (Brussels 1961). b. kleinschmidt, Die Heilige Anna: Ihre Verehrung in Geschichte, Kunst und Volkstum (Düsseldorf 1930). p. c. boeren, La légende de Passecrate et la Sainte Parenté (New York 1976). p. v. char-land, Madame Saincte Anne et son culte au moyen âge, 2 v. (Paris 1911–13); Les Trois légendes de Madame Saincte Anne (Montreal 1898). g. cinque, Le glorie di s. Gioacchino (Naples 1970). a. dÖrfler-dierken, Die Verehrung der heiligen Anna in Spätmittelalter und früher Neuzeit (Göttingen 1992). k. algermissen et al., eds., Lexicon der Marienkunde (Regensburg 1957–) 1:230–257. Interpreting cultural symbols: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Society, ed. k. ashley and p. sheingorn (Athens, Ga. 1990). h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou (Paris 1907–53) 1.2:2162–74. h. schauerte, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 1957–65) 1:570–571. b. kraft, ibid. 5:973. a. amore, ibid. 6:403–404. j. von behr, Die Pisaner Marientafel des Meisters von San Martino und die zyklischen Darstellungen der Annenlegende in Italien von 700 bis 1350 (Frankfurt am Main 1996). e. campagna, "Iconografia dell' Immacolata," Arte Cristiana 15 (1915) 354–368. h. aurenhammer, Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie (Vienna 1959—) 1:139–149. k. kÜnstle, Ikonographie der Christlichen Kunst 1:321–332. l. rÉau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien 2.2:155–161; 3.1:90–96; 3.2:751.
[j. p. asselin]