Saint Joachim and Saint Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Scripture tells us absolutely nothing about Mary’s family.  All that we have is really legend. It comes mainly from a second century writing called the Proto-Gospel (Protevangelium) of James.  We need to realize that in the early Church it took some time before the books, which now form part of our New Testament, were finally chosen.  There were many other ‘pseudo-gospels’, which in the end, were not accepted as genuine.  One of the more respected of these was the Proto-Gospel of James.  It is possible that it does contain some genuine traditions about Mary, although this would be difficult to prove.`

Out of devotion to Mary, some people were saying that she had been conceived by divine intervention like Jesus.  But by asserting that she had two human parents, whom we know as Joachim and Anne, it is asserted that she was born in the normal way, like every other human person. They are both regarded as the parents of Mary and true grandparents of Jesus.

According to the legend, their names were Joachim and Anne. It is said they were rich and pious people of Nazareth. Like a number of the characters in the Old Testament, and Elizabeth in the New Testament, they were said to be childless in a society where this was considered a social stigma.  So Joachim withdrew to the desert to pray while Anne remained in the home, praying for a child whom she would devote to the service of God. Their prayer was heard, Joachim returned to his wife and they conceived a girl whom they named Mary.

It was natural in the Church for devotion to be directed to the parents of such a special daughter.  And because, unlike the situation of Mary and Joseph, they had produced a child in the perfectly normal way, they were more easily identified by other parents. Devotion to St Anne in the Eastern church dates from at least the 4th century. In the West, there was devotion to her as early as the 8th century, but she was honoured by a feast day, July 26, only after the 13th century. Devotion to St Joachim did not really develop until the 15th century. He was only assigned a feast day, 16 September, in 1913. Following the Second Vatican Council, their feasts were combined and are now celebrated together.

At Auray in Brittany, France, there was a very popular shrine to St Anne in the early middle ages. In North America, there is a popular shrine to St Anne in Beaupre, about 30 km from the city of Quebec. It was on 13 March, 1658 that French immigrants erected the first chapel there in her honour.  Among the Catholics of India, too, there is great devotion to St Anne. Although devotion to Joachim is not as popular, devotion to both of them is seen as showing respect for the family.

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