The evangelists Matthew and Luke provide genealogical histories tracing Jesus’s paternal ancestry, but we are given nothing on the Lord’s mother’s family. Though the New Testament gives us little hint of the lives of Saints Ann and Joachim, it isn’t far-fetched to surmise that they proved exemplary parents, nurturing Mary to become the Mother of God. It was their faith, heroism, and holiness, no doubt, that led the Virgin to utter in compliance with God’s request: “Here I am… let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).
Mary’s parents, both of the tribe of Judah of the royal house of David, have been publicly honored by the Church in the East since at least the 6th century. Historical records indicate that churches were dedicated in their honor even earlier: St. Helena, for example, built a church in their name on the reputed site of Joachim and Ann’s house in Jerusalem.
What we do know of sainted couple’s lives comes to us from two ancient apocryphal sources: the 2nd-century Protevangelium of James (“First Gospel of James”) and the 3rd-century Evangelium de nativitate Mariae (“Gospel of the Nativity of Mary”). According to these sources, “Hannah” (meaning “the gracious one”) was a native of Bethlehem, as was Jesus, while Joachim hailed from Nazareth. The couple lived a devout and prosperous life in Nazareth before they eventually moved to Jerusalem, where Joachim owned a large heard of sheep. After twenty years of marriage the couple lamented that they were still childless.
According to tradition, the couple entered the Temple year after year, pleading with God to give them a child. One year while there on the Feast of the Dedication, Joachim was mocked for his sterility. Humiliated, he retreated into the hill country overlooking the city to pray. After several days alone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joachim and said, “Do not be afraid. I have come to tell you that God has heard your prayers. He knows how good you are, and he knows your many years of sorrow for having no child. God will give your wife a child just as did Sarah, the wife of Abraham, and Anna, the mother of Samuel. Your wife will bear you a daughter. You shall call her Mary and dedicate her to God…. Go back to Jerusalem. You will meet your wife at the Golden Gate, and your sorrow will be turned to joy.”
During Joachim’s time of retreat, Ann was unaware of her husband’s whereabouts. She had long prayed to God for a child and even promised to dedicate her child to the Lord should she be granted the blessing, much the way Samuel was dedicated by his mother Hannah (same as Ann). In Joachim’s absence, an angel of the Lord appeared to Ann as she was praying beneath a laurel tree, to say, “the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child whom the whole world will praise. Go to the Golden Gate in Jerusalem and meet your husband there.” Anne replied with her promise: “As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring the child as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life.”
Ann and Joachim were reunited shortly thereafter at the Golden Gate and exchanged the news that the angel had given them. According to tradition, Mary was born nine months later, and Ann’s life as a holy matron began. Though we don’t know exactly how old Ann was when she became a mother, artists have typically depicted her as a middle-aged woman with the child Mary.
The early family life of Mary is given some description in the apocryphal Gospels, and tradition holds that Mary was dedicated to the Lord’s service at the Temple on her third birthday. Thereafter the future Mother of God spent her time, claiming she wanted to stay close to the Lord. Her parents made sure that she was never far from the Temple and remained in constant communion with God.
The feast day and Saints Joachim and Ann is July 26th.
Prayer to “Good St. Ann”
O glorious St. Ann, you are filled with compassion for those who invoke you and with love for those who suffer! Heavily burdened with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at your feet and humbly beg of you to take the present intention which I recommend to you in your special care.
Please recommend it to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and place it before the throne of Jesus, so that He may bring it to a happy issue. Continue to intercede for me until my request is granted. But, above all, obtain for me the grace one day to see my God face to face, and with you and Mary and all the saints to praise and bless Him for all eternity. Amen.