Celebrating Ss. Anne and Joachim

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In the Roman Catholic Church, July 26 commemorates the feast of Saints Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin Mary and the grandparents of Christ Jesus.

Ss. Anne and Joachim

Despite the critical role Ss. Anne and Joachim played in the history of salvation, the holy couple today is too often forgotten.

The first Church documents – as well as the inspiration that the great artists of the Renaissance drew from these archives – confirm the principal role of the holy couple in the history of salvation and reveal the relevance of their lives in relation to the our.

The New Testament provides no specific information about the pair, but James’s Protoevangelium, known to be in circulation soon after c. AD 150, gives a detailed picture of their life.

James reports that the devout couple had been married for a long time but suffered greatly from their inability to conceive a child – no small detail for any faithful couple or for devotees in pre-Christian history awaiting the birth of the Messiah.

James wrote that Joachim was “extremely distressed”, lamenting, “I alone did not sow seed in Israel”.

You will conceive and you will give birth; and your seed will be talked about all over the world.

James described his fasting and praying for a child: “[Joachim] retired to the desert, pitched his tent there, and fasted 40 days and 40 nights, saying to himself, “I will not come down to eat or drink until the Lord my God looks upon me, and prayer shall be my food. and drink.'”

According to James, Anne’s suffering was so intense that she “lamented two laments”, weeping: “I will mourn my widowhood; I will mourn my childlessness.”

In the midst of Anne’s deepest grief, an angel appeared to her, comforting her with good news: “[T]The Lord has heard your prayer, and you will conceive and give birth; and your seed will be talked about all over the world.”

Saint of the day: Ss. Joachim and Anne

James also records that the angel told Anne that her husband had also been told by another angel that God had heard her prayers.

In a tale hard to imagine except as spiritual grand opera, James then describes how the angels guided the ecstatic couple – Anne from home and Joachim from the desert – to meet at the city gate.

According to James, “Anne stood by the door and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and clung to his neck, saying, ‘Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me exceedingly; for . .. I, childless, will conceive.’ “

The Gospel of James has inspired some of the greatest art in the world.

The couple subsequently conceived a child — the Virgin Mary, as we know — and James discreetly refers to Joachim as “the rest[ing] the first day in his house” after their public embrace.

The kiss inspiring art

The embrace of Sts. Anne and Joachim at the Gate of Jerusalem detailed in the Gospel of James inspired some of the world’s greatest art.


“The Meeting at the Golden Gate”

Italian artist Giotto di Bondone

The great Italian artist Giotto di Bondone (c. 1267-1337), who is said to have set European painting in motion, paid homage to the holy couple in a painting titled “The Meeting at the Golden Door”.

Giotto rendered the story of James in a surviving fresco in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy.

In the painting, the old couple kiss – in public and, as in the Gospel of James, outside the city gate and among passers-by.

With affection so poignant it could bring viewers to their knees, Joachim wraps his arm around Anne. And Anne passes a hand around her husband’s neck while the other touches his face.

Golden halos circle their heads like Sts. The faces of Anne and Joachim merge in a tender kiss which the faithful know is destined for eternity.

The breathtaking effect of Giotto’s work is faith-inducing, just as the Franciscans who oversaw the work intended.

Marriage and the family are internally ordered to fulfillment in Christ.

So taken by the painting, a lay art critic called Giotto’s interpretation “the most powerful kiss in art”.

Italian artist Gaudenzio Ferrari (1475-1546) reiterated Giotto’s masterpiece and painted “The Annunciation to Joachim and Anna”.


“The Annunciation to Joachim and Anna”

Italian artist Gaudenzio Ferrari

In Ferrari’s painting, Anne and Joachim are again depicted by the city gate, embracing in what can be considered Act I of Salvation History’s quintessential intergenerational drama.

But in this version, the angels James referred to are depicted permeating the earth’s atmosphere, heralding the good news. Spectators seem to recognize them in whispered and intense conversations.

Even before Giotti and Ferrari, Byzantine artists noted the stunning role of the holy couple, again depicting their public embrace. But in these images, the aging couple’s marriage bed is shown behind them, speaking succinctly but clearly of their role in the birth of God-made flesh.

One commentator described such an image as “a beautifully chaste depiction of marital love and union” and “an icon of marital love”.

The devotion of the Eastern Church to Saint Anne goes back even further than the story of James. In c. AD 550, Justinian built a church in his honor.

God’s plan with marriage

Many saints have written about the critical role of holy human marriage in God’s larger plan of salvation. Saint Pope John Paul II in 1981 urged in Familiaris Consortium:

Willed by God in the very act of creation, marriage and the family are interiorly ordered to their fulfillment in Christ and need his graces to be healed from the wounds of sin and brought back to their “origin”, it is i.e. understanding and full realization of God’s plan.

Contemporary depictions of Anne and Joachim also show the couple’s human affection imbued with their supernatural mission. Often their daughter, the Virgin Mary, is with them. The atmosphere is always sacred – hushed and holy – as if incense permeates the room.


Ss. Joachim and Anne

Byzantine artist

Protecting the sanctity of life is becoming increasingly difficult with the imposition of a new world order on daily life. The dispensability of the elderly as well as millions of unborn children; the demolition of sacred spaces; and even attempts to eradicate the idea of ​​the sacred itself make us spiritually more vulnerable.

But more than ever, reflecting on the lives of Srs. Anne and Joachim can restore our faith in our sacred destiny. Perhaps reflecting on their holy union can help open our eyes and ears to the reality of the angels around us, announcing the good news.

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