Saints Joachim and Anne
The church of St Anne in Jerusalem, dating from before 1140 AD, has been described as ‘the loveliest church in the city’. It marks the traditional site of the home of Jesus’ maternal grandparents, Anne and Joachim, and the birthplace of the Virgin Mary.
Saints Anne and Joachim are not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament. They are named, however, in the early Christian text known as the Protoevangelium of James. According to this apocryphal First Gospel of James, Anne and her husband Joachim were blessed with a daughter, Mary, after years of childlessness. It is said that they dedicated their child to God ‘s service in the Temple at Jerusalem.
Anne and Joachim came to be venerated in the Church as the parents of the woman who gave birth to incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ our Saviour. Saint John Damascene (8th century) lauded Anne and Joachim in a sermon, ‘Joachim and Anne! How blessed a couple! All creation is indebted to you. For at your hands the Creator was offered a gift excelling all other gifts, a chaste mother, who alone was worthy of him’.
Devotion to Anne developed in the Eastern Church as early as the sixth century but only gained importance in the Western Church during the late thirteenth century. Veneration of Joachim developed at a slower pace.
Throughout its history the Carmelite Order has promoted devotion to the blood family of Jesus as a means of drawing closer to him. Carmelites have looked to those saints who were close to Mary for the support and protection they gave to her. As Mary’s Spouse, Joseph is honoured as Principal Protector of the Order, while her parents, Saints Anne and Joachim, are revered as its Secondary Protectors. When the Carmelites came to Europe from the Holy Land, they encouraged devotion to Mary’s parents. We find a feast of St Anne included in the earliest Carmelite Ordinals, and the Order’s General Chapter of 1375 decreed that a daily commemoration of her be made in the Liturgy. It is interesting to note that a feast day for Anne was not included in the general calendar of the Western Church until 1382. In Whitefriar Street Carmelite church, Dublin, a statue depicts Saint Anne teaching Mary to read the Bible, and the inscription on the altar frontal makes the holy mother’s role clear, ‘Saint Anne, care for us too’.
In the wider Church Saints Anne and Joachim are now honoured as patrons of grandparents, and within the Carmelite Family they can remind us to pray for grandparents, not least those grandparents who are Third Order/Lay Carmelites.
O Lord, God of our Fathers,
Who bestowed on Saints Anne and Joachim this grace,
That of them should be born the Mother of your incarnate Son,
Grant, through the prayers of both,
That we may attain the salvation
You have promised to your people.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.