Sts. Anne & Joachim: What Do We Know About the Grandparents of Jesus?
Not much is known about the grandparents of Jesus. St. Joseph’s family has two genealogies listed in the Gospel of St. Matthew and in the Gospel of St. Luke. But little is definitively known about the parents or ancestors of the virgin girl of Nazareth who conceives Christ of the Holy Spirit. Joseph is the appointed foster father of Jesus, but what about the family from whom he physically descends? The relatives whom we know he has from his mother’s side are not her own parents, but Elizabeth her cousin (or some other kind of female relation) and a sister who is present with her at the Crucifixion.
Tradition and apocryphal (non-canonical writings written in the style of scripture) tell us that the names of Mary’s parents were Anne (or Anna) and Joachim. Interestingly enough, the name Anna (or Hannah in the Hebrew) means “full of grace” – and indeed the mother of Mary was at one time full with the one who is called “full of grace”! Joachim is a variant form of the Hebrew name Jehoiachin and can mean “God will establish” or “The Lord exalts” or “God has granted a son.” Fitting names for the ones who would bear and raise the child Mary who would become the Mother of God!
What we might know about their lives largely comes from a text written in the mid-second century called the Protoevangelium of James. We do not have all the facts about this text, but it is not unreasonable to think it could contain some truth that had been passed down through an oral tradition among the early disciples. That being said, its words should wisely be taken with a grain of salt since it is not a part of the canon of the Scriptures. Another potential source of information are the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. Bl. Anne was a mystic in late 1700s to early 1880s in Germany who is purported to receive many biblical visions and visions of the saints, hell, purgatory, and heaven. In the Catholic tradition, any private revelations that are not explicitly discredited by the Church are acceptable to ponder and believe, but are the faithful are not required to believe them. Bl. Anne received some visions of the life of Mary, some of which included the life of her parents before her conception and birth.
The basic details describe Anna and Joachim as a relatively wealthy couple who lived simply and who were extremely generous. Bl. Anne said they “lived very frugally but gave to all who asked.” Also according to Bl. Anne, the family of Mary was in long expectation of a “child of promise.” The family of Mary was devotedly pious, “When the family were together I generally saw them lying on the ground in a circle, speaking of God in eager expectation.” It was truly a family affair to discuss the wonders and marvels of God, and his fulfillment of his promises.
Anne and Joachim had a daughter also named Mary who was not the child of promise, but after her birth they remained barren for a long time. In an effort to please God so that he might grant their request for more children, they lived a penitential life of prayer. Their came a breaking point in their barrenness when after much prayer, fasting, and preparation Joachim set off to offer a sacrifice in the Temple that was categorically refused and he left Jerusalem after having been publicly humiliated by a priest for his family’s infertility. After this, Joachim did not return to his home and wife but fled into the wilderness to fast and pray and cry aloud to God.
Anna, distraught, wept before the Lord and begs for him to fulfill their prayers. One day, an angel appeared to both husband and wife, assuring them that God heard their prayers and wants them to offer another sacrifice in the Temple. Bl. Anne records that Anna and Joachim met at the Golden Gate in Jerusalem by angelic appointment and returned to their home rejoicing. She goes on to say, “I saw how full he and Anna were of joy and fervor and gratitude to God when they thought of His compassion towards them; I often saw them praying together with tears.”
Delighting in her anticipation of the child of the promise Bl. Anne tenderly describes St. Anna as, “the cradle of all mankind’s salvation, and at the same time as a sacred altar-vessel, opened, yet hidden behind a curtain.”
We cannot definitively conclude much about the parents of Mary and the grandparents of Jesus. What I think is safe to assume is that Anna and Joachim were people of great faith, who had shown their daughter how to love and serve the Lord. Mary’s response to Gabriel reveals a young woman who speaks with the knowledge of her ancestors – who walks in complete and total trust in the Lord and his providence. Most images or statues of St. Anna depict a tender mother with a little girl upon her lap and the Scriptures in hand. This is likely not only a pious thought, but the reality of two Jewish women from the first century. It is also pretty safe to assume that whoever conceived the one who would conceive God made man would also need to be holy and righteous. Mary is the Immaculata – the Immaculate Conception. St. Anna may not be immaculate herself, but she bore the Immaculate One within her womb. That is pretty extraordinary.
Though we will probably not know with any certainty the details of the life of Saints Anna and Joachim this side of heaven, we can still look to them as models of loving and faithful parents. We still can (and should!) ask their intercession. The two of them together are the patron saints of grandparents, married couples, and those struggling with infertility. St. Anna is a patron saint of women in labor. May we look to them as great and loving intercessors before the throne of their most marvelous grandson, Jesus.
Sts. Anna and Joachim, pray for us!
All quotes from Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich have been taken from the Templegate 1954 publication of The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by Anne Catherine Emmerich.