Being raised in Quebec, I knew early on who St. Joachim and St. Anne were. My grandfather was born in a town called St. Joachim in the Eastern Townships and my grandmother was born a bit further east in a village named St. Anne de la Rochelle. They were married for well over fifty years and often made reference to these two saints who must have brought them together. Every year, on July 26, my family would pack a picnic lunch and head off to the town of St. Anne’s to celebrate the feast day of this well-known Canadian patron. In the 1969 revision of the General Roman Calendar, St. Joachim’s feast day was joined to that of St. Anne, making it even more special.
There is not much information about these two saints who played such an important role in salvation history. They are recognized as the parents of Mary, the Mother of God. They are not mentioned in the New Testament and any information about them is derived from apocryphal writings. Anne was not celebrated by the Latin Church initially; however, my research led me to the discussion of the “Golden Legend” (National Catholic Register: “What Was ‘The Golden Legend’ and Why is it Relevant Today? Kevin Di Camallo, July 12, 2017). During the 13th century many saints were recognized with more prominence. It appears that Anne was venerated and her importance soon became accepted throughout the west with her canonization in 1584. In Canada, for over 350 years, people have gathered to recognize St. Anne’s role in our faith by visiting the beautiful basilica of St. Anne de Beaupré, 35 km northeast of Quebec City. It is estimated that a million visitors per year come to acclaim Anne as the grandmother of Jesus.
We are told that St. Joachim was a man of means, selfless, faithful to God and a loving husband. As often found in many scripture stories, they were an elderly couple who had not been blessed with children. Joachim prayerfully offered sacrifices on a feast day, as was custom in the temple. He was once spurned and rejected due to the common Jewish thinking that being childless meant that a couple had fallen out of favour with God. Devastated, he retreated to the hills to make a plea to God for a child. He received a visit from an angel who told him that he and Anne would have a baby and that this child would be of special importance to God. At the same time Anne, too, received a promise though a divine visitation. She was told the Lord had looked upon her prayers and that she would conceive, give birth and that the fruit of her womb would be hallowed by all the world. When Joachim and Anne reunited, they rejoiced in their blessing.
It is strange to think of Jesus as having grandparents as we don’t talk much about his extended family, but, indeed they were. As new grandparents, my wife and I know how much involvement there is with a grandchild and it only makes sense that Joachim and Anne were very much present to Mary, Joseph and Jesus. There is a beautiful artistic rendition of Mary attending to an injury that Jesus has suffered with Anne looking on as a concerned grandmother (circa 1850, Sir John Everett Millais, “Christ in the House of His Parents,” The Carpenter’s Shop). There were some at the time who did not appreciate the painting as they felt it made the Holy Family appear too ordinary. I think that it beautifully captures the concept of family, working hard every day, supporting one another. Another favourite of mine was done in 1820 by a Belgian artist named Joseph Paelinck called “Holy Family with Grandparents Joachim and Anne.” This one is distinctive in that it features not only Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, but also Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne. It even captures Joseph motioning to the grandparents to lower their voices so as not to disturb Jesus. Again, very common and real to us all.
Pope Francis asks us to pray for our grandparents. He says that we usually think of young people as the future but a society that has forgotten its grandparents has no future. He recommends that a spiritual way to remember the significance of our own grandparents is to acknowledge the role that Joachim and Anne played in Jesus’ human family.
These two saints are patrons of many things, but the one that I can identify with now in my life is the title of patron saints of grandparents. I embrace their significance and recognize the special place they held within the Holy Family and can in our own.
St. Joachim and St. Anne, pray for us!
–Jim Dunn, Novalis author