Who was St Anne?

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St Anne
Patron Saint of the Parish Church of Haverthwaite

Picture of St Anne's Haverthwaite - St Grandmother of Jesus ChristAnne, was the wife of Joachim and the mother of Mary, with whom we assume she is with in the picture opposite. Being Mary's mother she is the grandmother of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Few people ever think of Christ having a Granny and yet when we look at our families on earth we accept readily that children have grandparents as well as parents!
The picture is an ancient one and by an unknown artist but is widely used in recent Christian texts along with other paintings depicting Anne with Mary and the Christ Child.
To many Christians the fact that Jesus had a mother, albeit by a virgin birth, and a Granny and Granddad makes the whole story more "earthly" and comforting.
Her name means "grace" or "the gracious one" or "the loving one."
Surprisingly, and no one knows why, Anne does not get a mention in the Bible. In fact any early references to Anne are to be found in legendary texts of the early Christian centuries and in these books appear the names of Mary's parents; they are given as Joachim and Anne.
It is said that Anne was "getting on a bit" when she had Mary and that she and her husband Joachim had been trying for many years to have a child. Mary, later to become Christ's mother, was the result of a visit from an Angel, who told Anne and Joachim that they would bear a child, and she subsequently did. It is believed that Anne was chosen because she was a devoutly religious and caring woman as was her husband Joachim.
For many years argument raged in the Church about whether Anne had a virgin birth, but this was eventually dismissed by the church fathers. At this time the use of such legendary sources was rejected by the church fathers consequently, the faithful in Europe had no feast in honour of the grandparents of Jesus. However, in the Middle East, St Anne's veneration can be tracked back to the fourth century.

Eventually, the name of St Anne and her legend were brought back to Europe by Crusaders from the Holy Wars and around this time the famous Dominican Jacobus de Voragine (1298) actually printed the story of St Anne in his "Golden Legend".
This popular veneration soon spread to all parts of Christendom being encouraged by the religious orders of the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites; and perhaps one of the factors contributing to the growth and acceptance of the legend of Anne was that we could all relate to having a family of Grandparents, Parents and Children.
As now, in the middle ages many Saints had feast days and a Feast of Saint Anne was celebrated in southern France as early as the fourteenth century. Soon after the feast day took hold, the Pope Urban VI extended St Anne's feast day to England at the request of King Edward III in 1378. The date chosen for the feast day celebration was 26th July but it wasn't until 1584 that the feast became universal when Pope Gregory XIII prescribed St Anne's Feast Day for the whole Church.

Being the grandmother of Christ and the mother of Mary, Saint Anne soon became popular and was adopted as the patron saint of married women and for childless couples where she was considered to be a "special or holy aid" to obtaining children. No doubt from the legend of her being a more mature mother and that her and Joachim had tried many times over many years to have children.
Over a short period of time, this link to having a child in later life and her patronage associated with fertility soon became extended to other important life giving elements on earth such as the fertility of the soil and not unsurprisingly she also became a patron saint of rain where even to this day in Italy there is a popular saying that "rain is Saint Anne's gift"; similarly in Germany, rain in July was referred to caringly as "Saint Anne's dowry".
Of course not to be outdone, the English began to associate St. Anne with wells, with perhaps one of the most famous being Brighton's St. Anne's well and gardens. As we might expect, a natural progression for the English was to produce a number of wells / springs etc bearing her name. In later years Anne was taken as a patron of Mining another link with the earth, fertility and the provision of life-giving life-preserving crops and materials for warmth, tools and clothing etc.

St Anne as part of the family

photo of St Anne's Parish Church, Haverthwaite - June 07St Anne, became seen as the gentle grandmother of Christ and is considered almost everywhere as one of the great helpers for the various needs of the body and soul.
Since Anne's veneration and growth in popularity numerous churches have been erected to her (our own being one of them) and a large number of them across Europe became famous centres of pilgrimages.
As we have already said, the name Anne means "grace" the gracious one" or "the loving one" and since the eighteenth century Anne became more and more popular as a favourite name for girls.
So much so that at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was the most popular girls' name in central Europe, even surpassing the name of Mary which had long been a favourite.
It is believed that the preference was based on a famous saying of centuries past which said, "All Anne's are beautiful" we are not sure who coined the phrase or when, but of course parents wanted to do anything possible to ensure that this "beauty in looks and nature" applied to their daughters by calling them Anne, by adding Anne as a second name or by integrating Anne with other names.
Clearly today we evidence girls' names that were originally "linked" with Anne and then became merged, some examples of these are (Mary Ann, Marianne, Marian, Ann Marie, Joanne, Elizabeth Ann, and Lillian,).
I still favour the fact that Anne's popularity came about because of her link to the family unit as in times past Grandparents were an important part of the family - a fact which escaped many nuclear families until recently. Whether Anne was her name or not is immaterial, Mary must have had a mother and father and they must as today have played a sizable role in the upbringing of the young Jesus Christ in his formative years and it is this that I and others find so connecting with early Christian families of some 2000 years ago and down the centuries.
The story of Anne brings home to many the importance of the Family Unit no matter what their background may be. And and to think that Christ actually had a Granny and a Granddad just like all the rest of us of us brings home to the believer the message that we are all in his image and he in us.

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