Who is St. Anne? Here's what we know about the grandmother of Christ
Mar 1, 2020
Although St. Anne's story isn't recorded in the Bible, oral tradition and extra-biblical writings attest to her great faith
DETROIT — St. Anne is revered as the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary and grandmother of Christ, and was officially recognized in 2011 as patroness of the Archdiocese of Detroit by the Vatican.
She already had long been considered the patron saint of Detroit by many, the city's first parish having been named for her when the city’s founders began building a chapel on her feast day — July 26, 1701 — just two days after their arrival.
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Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac and the 51 others who came with him had come from Quebec, where St. Anne was already was already invoked as patroness. Many of them hailed originally from Normandy or other parts of northern France, where devotion to her was very strong.
France and England were among the first areas of western Europe where devotion to St. Anne began to catch on in the Middle Ages. The feast of St. Anne was observed at Canterbury from about 1100 A.D. and became obligatory throughout England in 1382.
Devotion to her really began to flourish in the late 12th century, as returning crusaders promoted the devotion they had embraced during their time in the Holy Land.
Before that time, devotion to St. Anne (from the Hebrew “Hannah”) was primarily found in the Eastern Church, dating from as early as the fourth century.
Neither she nor her husband, St. Joachim, are named in Scripture. Their names first appear in writing in the Protoevangelium of James, an extra-biblical writing dating to about 145 A.D. that is not accepted as inspired by the Catholic Church, but may still contain glimpses of history.
But that is not to say St. Anne and St. Joachim's names had not been part of an existing oral tradition. “Just because it is uncanonical doesn’t mean everything in it is false,” Msgr. Daniel Trapp, pastor of St. Augustine and St. Monica Parish in Detroit and a faculty member at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, told The Michigan Catholic newspaper in a 2011 article.
If the account in the Protoevangelium of James reflects the authentic tradition, St. Anne and St. Joachim were a pious childless couple, advanced in years, when their prayers were answered by the birth of a daughter, Mary.
As devotion to St. Anne grew in Europe, however, some people began to claim to know even more of her story, and there grew up a spurious tradition that Mary had also, like Jesus, been the result of a virgin birth.
The Church had to intervene to correct this situation, resulting in the dogmatic definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception — that Mary was conceived through normal marital relations, but without sin — in 1854.
Devotion to St. Anne also became strong in Germany, and was the focus of strong opposition by Martin Luther, the leader of the Protestant Reformation.
Pope Gregory XIII extended observance of her feast day to the Universal Church in 1584.
Today, many Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican (or Episcopalian) churches will be found named for her.
This article was written by Robert Delaney for The Michigan Catholic newspaper in July 2011. To receive Detroit Catholic email updates in your inbox daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to our e-newsletter.