From the very first centuries AD, tradition has it that the parents of the Virgin Mary were named Joachim (“raised by Yahweh”) and Anne (“full of Grace”).
Their story is told in James’ apocryphal gospel.
Anne and Joachim were heartbroken because after 20 years of marriage they had no children and they were getting on in years.
Anne was an Israelite, from the tribe of Judas, and was the daughter of Mathan, a priest of Bethlehem, a descendent of the family of David.
Joachim was from Galilee. He was a very rich sheep herder and, during the ceremonies at the Temple, he would always give a part of his riches to the people and another he would offer as a sacrifice to the Lord.
The day of the Lord came, when the children of Israel would bear their gifts. The Head priest stood up in front of Joachim and said: «You have no right to offer your gifts, as you did not give Israel any descendants ». In fact, infertility was considered a curse by the Law.
Joachim was very perplexed and so ashamed about this decision that he did not even dare return home. He took shelter in the desert with his shepherds. For forty days and forty nights he begged God for his help. He prayed, cried and fasted.
One day, as he was working in the fields, an angel appeared to him and said that a sterile womb would miraculously be withchild. It would bear the sweetest and most holy of all beings ever.
Anne, who had had the same vision of becoming a mother, awaited Joachim on the doorstep. When he returned home they embraced tightly and kissed.
In time, their house door became known as the Golden Gate of Gerusalem. It became the symbol of “ianua coeli”, that is the gate to Heaven. This door would be reopened to mankind thanks to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It is often used in iconography to represent the grandparents of Jesus.
Anne and Joachim called their daughter Myriam, which means “loved by God “. Mary was later brought to the temple to be educated according to the Law of Moses.
The cult of the holy parents of Mary was late in starting up in the Western world. It began only around the year 900-1000 AD, while in the Eastern Christian world, there were already liturgical festivities associated with Mary as early as the 6th century. The Nativity or the Immaculate Conception were occasions on which to venerate the parents of the Virgin Mary with prayers, hymns and sermons.
Around the 15th century, the devotion to Saint Anne, and, even though less, also to Saint Joachim, spread in all of Europe, especially in Italy and France.
Anne and Joachim, are the grandparents of the Messiah. They are the symbol of ancient humanity, a humanity which knew how to open up to the fertility of grace. They are the symbol of an old tree trunk into which God planted the seeds of faith and Christian sainthood.
Paradoxically, there are no traces of these two very important figures in the canonical Gospels (in neither Mathew’s nor Luke’s, Mark’s nor John’s). Their presence, which is so important for man’s salvation, can only be found in the apocryphal Gospel of Saint James, dating from the 2nd century. Subsequently, in the later translations of this document, details were added that derived from the devotion to these figures.
Saint John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople, strongly contributed to spreading the devotion to Saint Anne in the Orient through his writings. In painting as well, there are a series of masterpieces showing different scenes from the life of these two Saints. In addition to their meeting on the doorstep of their house, there are paintings depicting the angel’s announcement, Saint Anne gently stroking Mary as a little girl, the two parents schooling their daughter, the presentation of Mary in the Temple and many others.
In the paintings Saint Joachim is always portrayed with a green cloak. Green is the colour of spring buds because it is he who indeed made the buds of hope blossom for the world.
Saint Anne’s protection is sought by women with child. They turn to her to ask God for three great blessings: to give birth without difficulties, to bear a healthy baby and to have sufficient milk to breastfeed it.
Saint Anne is also the patron saint of different female trades such as laundresses and embroiderers.
it is the oldest to be opened in the walls of the old city of Gerusalem. It is also called “The Gate of Mercy ” or “The Gate of Eternal Life”. Around 1303-1305 Giotto painted the meeting of Joachim and Anne at the Golden Gate (Scrovegni Chapel, Padu)
Joachim and Anne, blessed are you as a couple! All of creation is thankful to you because, through you, the Creator was given the gifts of all gifts: a Holy mother, the only one worthy of He who created her. Blessed are you Joachim, as you generated the immaculate seed, and blessed are you Anne, as your womb welcomed Mary and gave birth to her as a Holy person, as a virgin in spirit, soul and body!