Ann and Joachim were the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and they lived in Jerusalem, tradition says, where Joachim, a descendant of David, had a role in the life of the temple. A wealthy man, he provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices.
Tradition says too that the couple had ties to Bethlehem and Nazareth.
They prospered in Jerusalem, but for twenty years one great trial clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after they vowed to dedicate their child to God, no child came.
At a time when children were thought treasures, they were thought poor. As descendants of David, they were blamed for not continuing the line from which the Messiah would come.
Stung by the criticism, Joachim began to retreat to the mountains to brood among the shepherds and the sheep. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too felt the sadness of their childlessness.
God seemed far away.
In the garden one day, Ann noticed some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree and she burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “The birds build nests for their young and I have no child of my own. The creatures of the earth, the fish of the sea are fruitful, but I have nothing. The land produces fruit, but I have no child to hold in my arms.”
At that moment, an angel of the Lord came and said, “”Ann, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child the whole world will praise. Go to the Golden Gate in Jerusalem and meet your husband there.”
In the mountains, an angel in dazzling light also spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid. I have come to tell you the Lord has heard your prayers. God knows your goodness and your sorrow and will give your wife a child as he did Sara, Abraham’s wife, and Anna, the mother of Samuel.
” Ann will bear you a daughter and you’ll call her Mary. Dedicate her to God, for she will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb. I give you a sign: Go back to Jerusalem. You’ll meet your wife at the Golden Gate, where your sorrow will be turned into joy.”
Joachim and Ann met at the Golden Gate to the temple, the place of God’s presence. They embraced as they spoke of the angel’s promise. Returning home, Ann conceived and bore a daughter, and they called her “Mary.”
From the time she was three years old, Ann brought Mary to the temple where she learned to read the scriptures, to pray and to take part in the Jewish feasts as they were celebrated through the year. She watched as her father brought lambs to be offered in sacrifice. She grew in wisdom and grace in the presence of God.
When Mary approached the customary marriage age–15 or so–her parent began to arrange for her marriage according to the custom of the time. They sought advice from the high priest in the temple, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen to be her husband. By then, Ann and Joachim made Nazareth their home.
It was during this time that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up. They raised him in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who certainly cared for the Child.
No one knows just when Ann and Joachim died, – or where. But we must believe Jesus treasured them as they passed on to God.
This retelling of the story of Ann and Joachim is based on the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James–an apostle related to Jesus, incidentally. The illustrations of Giotto are found in the Arena in Florence, Italy. Giotto’s 14th century illustrations helped popularize the story of Ann and Joachim in Italy and Europe.