The Gospels tell us little about the home of our Lord’s mother. She is thought to have been of Davidic descent and to have been brought up in a devout Jewish family who cherished the hope of Israel for the coming kingdom of God, in remembrance of the promise God made to Abraham.
In the second century, a pious Christian sought to supply a fuller account of Mary’s birth and early life to satisfy the interest and curiosity of believers and bequeathed to the Church a pseudepigraphal book known as the Protoevangelium of James, also known as The Nativity of Mary. The book includes a legendary narrative of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne, built out of the Old Testament narratives of the births of Isaac and of Samuel (whose mother’s name, Hannah, is the original form of Anne), and from traditions of the birth of John the Baptist. In this narrative, Joachim and Anne – a faithful but childless elderly couple who grieved that they would have no posterity – were rewarded with the birth of a girl whom they dedicated in infancy to the service of God under the tutelage of the Temple priests.
In 550 the emperor Justinian the First erected in Constantinople the first church dedicated to Saint Anne. The increasing veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the West led to new interest in her parents, such that Anne’s feast was kept at Canterbury from around the beginning of the twelfth century and spread to Worcester soon afterwards. Churches in the Rhineland (at Duren), Apt-en-Provence, Canterbury, Reading, and Durham claimed her relics. In the East, she is commemorated on July 25. In the West, in 1378 Pope Urban the Sixth fixed Anne’s feast on July 26, to follow the feast of Saint James. Joachim’s commemoration in the West was comparatively late, there being no official veneration until the fifteenth century. In the East the feast of Joachim and Anne together has been on September 9 for many centuries. In the Roman Martyrology, Joachim was commemorated on March 20. The later date of his commemoration was August 16, but the new Roman Calendar of 1969 joined his feast day to that of Saint Anne on July 26.
In art Anne is often represented teaching Mary to read, a depiction that may be English in origin, as there are thirteenth century examples in manuscripts at the Bodleian Library and in murals in Northhampshire. She and Joachim are also often depicted at their betrothal or marriage.
prepared from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980) and
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
Almighty God, heavenly Father, we remember in thanksgiving this day the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and we pray that we all may be made one in the heavenly family of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The image above is from Giotto di Bondone’s Meeting at the Golden Gate, 1266.