Ann, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and her husband Joachim both came from Galilee. Tradition states that Joachim belonged to the house of David and the tribe of Judah, and the couple resided in Nazareth. Ann's name derives from the Hebrew word for “grace.” Her family most likely called her Hannah.
Ann and Joachim were ashamed of their inability to conceive a child despite fervent prayers to the Lord for his help. Tradition states that Ann was twenty when she married Joachim, who by then was forty-nine. According to some sources, they had the means to live comfortably in Nazareth.
The Couple Prays for a Child
Ann became pregnant with Mary, their only child, when she was forty and Joachim was sixty-nine. By then, they had been married for twenty years. The ancient Hebrew culture considered barrenness a punishment by God, for only the power of the Lord could open or close a woman's womb. But through prayer, tradition says, the couple was finally blessed with the child they so fervently desired.
Ann is the patron saint of infertility and family crisis. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of Ann and Joachim on July 26. Ann's cult started in the early church, but became popular in the thirteenth century. One of her early shrines was built in Douai, France. Other notable shrines are St. Anne-de-Beaupre in Quebec and St. Anne d'Auray in Brittany.
An Angel of the Lord Appears to Ann
Since Ann isn't mentioned in the New Testament, most of the information that is available about her comes from apocryphal sources, including the Protoevangelium of James. That text reveals that Ann's prayers for a child went unanswered for years, until the day she prayed beneath a laurel tree and an angel appeared and told her that the Lord had heard her prayers. Ann would give birth, and people throughout the world would speak of the one she would bear. After hearing the angel's words, Ann declared that whatever God gave her, whether boy or girl, it would be given to the Lord as a gift to do the Lord's work.
The Protoevangelium of James is a second-century apocryphal gospel.
It was known and used by Origen, an early Christian theologian and writer, and was referred to in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, another Christian Church father and writer, and by Justin, the Christian apologist. These men and Eusebius of Caesarea (a third-century theologian) used that gospel to explain that Joseph was Mary's husband in name only.
Ann Gives Birth to Mary
Ann gave birth to Mary, who became the mother of Jesus. Joachim, Mary's father (about whom little is known), has been called the forbearer of God in his role as the father of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Ann's Placement of Mary
Ann and Joachim must have been jubilant to finally have a child. But in honor of her promise to God, when Mary was three, Ann took the little girl to the Temple of the Lord where she would be consecrated to God. There, Mary would be educated and do the Lord's work. According to the Protevangelium, an angel fed Mary her food, and she was treated like a dove. Ann's placement of her only child in the Temple is similar to the old Testament story of Hannah's placement of Samuel in the Temple to be educated and raised by the priest Eli (Samuel 1:22–23).