Skip to main content

St. Anne, An Apocryphal Invention

(unpublished article (c) 2011)

Abstract: Patron saint of Brittany, whence the first French colonists hailed, St. Anne’s role as a coastal saint and maritime protectress lead these first settlers to bring her along on their boats across the Atlantic for her divine protection at sea. But, as Roman Catholicism was adopted by native populations in southern Quebec and the Maritimes (which came to be called Acadie or Acadia), the Mi’kmaq and Malecite peoples developed a form of Catholicism which shows a degree of syncretism with their own traditional belief system. St. Anne would subsequently become the patron saint of Quebec, where her most popular shrine is the 17th century Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica, and for the Mi’kmaq people, she is specially venerated because of her role as a respected elder – God’s grandmother. To this day, the Roman Catholic festival of Sainte-Anne is regarded as a national holiday for the Mi’kmaq, where a week-long celebration commonly referred to as St. Anne’s Mission is held on Chapel Island (Nova Scotia) every year where a traditional Pow-wow takes place to commemorate her. This article explores the literary origins of Anne – and to a lesser extent, her husband Joachim – who are not Biblical characters at all, but rather they hail from the Early and Late Antique world of apocryphal literature before much later being rewritten into the mediaeval 13th century popular literary work of the Golden Legend, composed by de Voragine.  


Anne and Joachim, according to Christian tradition, are the usual names given to the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. While most people seemingly interpret these saints to be Biblical characters, in fact they are not, but rather the pair belong wholly to the world of apocryphal literature, in particular first appearing in the Early Antique (EA) Protoevangelium of James and its other inspirations, such as the Late Antique (LA) Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew along with its offshoot the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary (Malone 1995: 20; "Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/St. Anne"). This study will explore and concentrate on the LA narrative of Anne and to a lesser extent that of her husband, Joachim, as innovative apocryphal “success stories.”

     It is through their late hagiographic retellings as found in the late mediaeval bestseller the Golden Legend (Latin, Legenda aurea or Legenda sanctorum), authored by Jacobus de Voragine (circa 1260, Ryan 1993: xiii), that eventually resulted in establishing the apocryphal St. Anne as one of the most popular saints of the Roman Church (Maclean 1994: 50-53). In consequence to this phenomenal popularity, St. Anne also lent herself to be one of the more popular expressions of religious piety as expressed in mediaeval Renaissance art (Earls 1987: 44), motifs which will serve as illustrations in our current exploration of their original inspirational LA apocryphal literary sources. 

     The first mention of Anne and Joachim as being identified as the Virgin Mary’s parents occurs for the first time in the EA Protoevangelium of James (PJ) (an early apocryphal text dated around the middle of the 2nd century, originally entitled “The Nativity of Mary”; Elliott 2009; 48-49; Gambero 1999: 35-36). It is in this text that the pair is essentially described as being an older but not elderly wealthy couple who are afflicted by the problem of sterility, which in turn leads them to supplicate the Lord until one day their prayers are answered when angels announce to them that Anne shall soon conceive a child (Elliott 2009: 57-59; Gambero 1999: 35-36). It is this specific scene, commonly referred to as the Annunciation to Joachim and Anna, that would become a reoccurring apocryphal theme central to the extra-canonical legends surrounding Mary’s birth. This iconographic subject would later inspire many Renaissance artists to incorporate it into their works, one such notable work being this fresco detail by Gaudenzio Ferrari, 1544-45.
Image 1
The Annunciation to Joachim and Anna (1544-45) by Gaudenzio Ferrari (1475-1546).Detached fresco transferred to canvas, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

     Evidently, as the aforementioned original title of the PJ reveals, it is primarily an Infancy Gospel recounting the story of Mary’s birth and early childhood and thus does not concern itself so much with the literary development of her parents hagiographic story (or legend). Yet, it is the PJ that would serve as the inspiration for another text, because the author of this EA text had introduced for the first time to its Christian audience the fictitious names of Mary’s parents, Joachim and Anne (Elliott 2009: 51). The result of this would be a literary offshoot inspired by the innovation featured in EA PJ, for the next work to expand on the hagiography surrounding Anne and Joachim would be the LA apocryphal Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.

St. Anne’s Veneration Takes Shape in LA Apocrypha,
The Transition from PJ to PsMt

Written between 600-625 (Klauck 2003: 78), the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (PsMt) draws primarily on PJ and the Infancy Thomas texts and it seems the main motive behind its composition was to further the veneration of Mary (Elliott 2009: 85). In so doing, of course this implies a need for a literary development surrounding Mary’s parents and her subsequent birth. In looking at the PJ, in it the text centres on Mary and such biographical details as her miraculous birth, her youth and her marriage (Elliott 2009: 51). Essentially, it explores all the details missing from Mary’s early life, instead of exploring later events such as her immaculate conception. This is the reason why the author of the EA PJ introduced for the first time the fictitious names of Mary’s parents into her hagiographic story (Elliott 2009: 51). Drawing from the EA PJ, where the LA PsMt differs is that in addition to recuperating the already introduced names of Mary’s parents, Anne and Joachim, from the earlier text, in addition to this the author of PsMt seemingly attempts to clarify the details leading up to Mary’s birth. Following her prayers to God for a child during her walk in the garden, the angels appear in PJ to inform Anne and her husband Joachim of their forthcoming conception and offspring in what is termed the Annunciation to Joachim and Anna. The PJ text describes the scene as follows:

4. 1. And behold an angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, ‘Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive and bear, and your offspring shall be spoken of in the whole world.’ And Anna said, ‘As the Lord my God lives, if I bear a child, whether male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God, and it shall serve him all the days of its life.’
    2. And behold there came two angels, who said to her, ‘Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks for an angel of the Lord had come down to him and said to him, “Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down from here; behold, your wife Anna shall conceive.” ’                                              
Elliott 2009: 58

      A reading of this PJ annunciation scene reveals to us that the angels do not speak of Mary’s eventual birth in very clear terms, meaning that they refer to a genderless offspring in more neutral terms without informing Anne of the definite birth of a daughter. After the departure of the angels in the PJ, the text goes on to describe an overjoyed Joachim preparing his flocks to go to the temple, where the scene plays out leading up to Anne, unsuspecting, giving birth to a female child, whom they would call Mary. It can clearly be seen in the following development in the PJ text that nor Joachim nor Anne as expecting parents knew of the child’s sex. Continuing where the previous PJ quote left off (at line 4. 2.), here is what ensues:
3. And Joachim went down and called his herdsmen and said, ‘Bring me here ten female lambs without blemish and without spot; they shall be for the Lord my God. And bring me twelve tender calves and they shall be for the priests and council of elders, and a hundred young he-goats for the whole people.’
4. And, behold, Joachim came with his flocks, and Anna stood at the gate and saw Joachim coming and ran immediately and threw her arms around his neck saying, ‘Now I know that the Lord God has greatly blessed me; for behold the widow is no longer a widow, and I, who was childless, shall conceive.’
And Joachim rested the first day in his house.
5. 1. The next day he offered his gifts, saying to himself, ‘If the Lord God is gracious to me the frontlet of the priest will make it clear to me.’
And Joachim offered his gifts and observed the priest’s frontlet when he went up to the altar of the Lord; and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said, ‘Now I know that the Lord God is gracious to me and has forgiven all my sins.’ And he came down from the temple of the Lord justified, and went to his house.
2. And her months were fulfilled; in the ninth [variants: ‘sixth’, ‘seventh’, or ‘eighth’] month Anna gave birth. And she said to the midwife, ‘What have I brought forth? And she said, ‘A female.’ And Anna said, ‘My soul is magnified this day.’ And she lay her down. And when the days were completed, Anna purified herself and gave suck to the child, and called her Mary.
Elliott 2009: 58-59

     This is quite a long literary development that appears in the PJ text as it relates to these details surrounding the birth of Mary. In contrast, in the LA PsMt which draws on the former text insofar as names and facts are concerned, despite these borrowings to rewrite the scene leading up to Mary’s birth, it does not seemingly find it necessary to include all of the literary development found in PJ. Whereas the PJ narrative offers us a more usual birthing story complete with Anne, the expecting mother at the end of her pregnancy term with a midwife at her side (or near it anyway, all depending on the variant number of months given as the final one in the variants of PJ, as noted above in Elliott 2009: 58-59). Moreover, there is the small literary detail which the author has included in the text, the fact that after the newborn child has been delivered into the arms of the midwife, the new mother, Anne, not knowing the sex of her newborn then asks her midwife for the gender of the child. Afterwards, the PJ text even adds more details in regards to Anne, that she purified herself and breastfed her newborn baby girl. These are rich details that are to be found in the PJ text in contract to the LA PsMt which is inspired from it. If anything, it appears the author of PsMt purposefully edited these all too human mundane details out of his retelling of the birth of Mary. Essentially, it can be said that as compared to the PJ’s rich account of Mary’s birth, the PsMt text is quite succinct.

     The PsMt is more precise on certain details though, for when the angels appear they announce not a genderless child to come, but rather instead they clearly promise Anne that she will bear a daughter. But, there are no mundane details of childbirth in the PsMt. In it, there is no mention of a midwife nor any other direct reference to labouring per se, for in the text it is as though Mary’s birth is simply foretold and then she is born, without any subsequent literary development in between to separate conception and birth. The author even neglects to make any reference to the duration of Anne’s pregnancy term. Here is the shorter abridged version of the annunciation and Mary’s birth scene as the PsMt relates it:
2. …[Anna] sees a sparrow’s nest, and laments her childlessness, and vows if she has a child to dedicate it in the temple. An angel comes and promises her a daughter. In fear and sorrow she throws herself on her bed for a whole day and night. She reproaches her maid (not named) for not coming to her. The maid answers her sharply and she weeps yet more.
3. A youth—an angel—comes to Joachim in the wilderness and promises him a daughter and predicts her glory. Joachim makes an offering: is urged by his servants to return. The angel comes again in a vision. They set off and journey thirty days.
     The angel comes to Anna and bids her meet Joachim at the Golden Gate of the Temple, which she does.
4. Mary is born. At three years old she is taken to the temple and walks up fifteen steps.

Elliott 2009: 88
     In this revised version of the story, as recounted above, the author of PsMt has seemingly left out all of the embellishments found in the original inspiration for the story, being the PJ text. As Klauck (2003: 78-79) comments in his comparison between these two texts, “The ambiguities concerning Mary’s conception are eliminated in PsMt, where an angel explicitly tells Joachim that his wife has ‘conceived a daughter of your seed’ (3:2: ex semine tuo concepisse filiam).” Indeed, the fact that the child to come is referred to by the angels as being a female child does definitely add to the divine intention surrounding Mary’s conception and birth. Similarly, the lack of a description of the birthing scene also adds to the importance this divine intervention occupies in the human creative process as it applies to Mary’s arrival in this world. 

     Besides these changes in the story as it was adapted in PsMt, one central element that was retained from PJ was that the angels each told Joachim and Anne independently that they were both to meet at the Golden Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem. Simply to illustrate the influence this apocryphal detail would have later in mediaeval Europe, it is quite specifically this meeting between Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate of the Temple that would become an important theme in religious art, such as this interpretation by Benozzo Gozzoli (see Image 2 below). Furthermore, this hagiographic apocryphal account surrounding the annunciation to Joachim and Anne would enjoy immense popularity through its incorporation in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend (ca. 1260, Ryan 1993: xiii). Although non-canonical, this apocryphal story was not rejected by the mediaeval Church and in fact it was a custom to read it to the faithful on the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin, and in France especially in the churches of Normandy (Mâle 2000: 140).
Image 2

The Meeting at the Golden Gate (1491) by Benozzo Gozzoli.Transferred fresco painting, Biblioteca Comunale, Castelfiorentino.

     The popularity this particular apocryphal theme of the Annunciation or meeting at the Golden Gate came to enjoy in France is clearly reflected in 13th century France’s religious art. As art historian Mâle (2000: 140) points out, the story of Joachim and Anna was carved in full on the capitals of the west porch at Chartres, and later even carved in the north porch as well. The art historian also notes that the legend is also represented in Notre-Dame de Paris, on the lower lintel of the Portail Sainte-Anne, where Mâle (2000) writes, the illustrated scene “[…] continued round the arches to the right showing Joachim among the shepherds and the meeting at the Golden Gate” (Mâle 2000: 140). The story is also represented in a window in the chapel of the Virgin at Le Mans (Mâle 2000: 140). Thus, this religious art of mediaeval 13th century France does clearly attest to the literary success of these earlier apocryphal legends. 
Further LA Apocryphal Literary Developments Stemming from PsMt
Yet, the legend of St. Anne and to a lesser extent St. Joachim was not born directly out of this literary transition from PJ to PsMt which brought it into the LA period. Rather, once again the legend was retold many more times before it would finally make its way into de Voragine’s hagiographic collection of 13th century mediaeval France. For example, another version of the story surrounding Mary’s birth in the apocryphal texts can be found as the Marian sections of PsMt were detached, probably in the 9th century (Klauck 2003: 80) to form a new work referred to as the Book (or the gospel) of the nativity of Mary (Latin, Libellus de nativitate Sanctae Mariae).(Nota: In my treatment of the NtM, I will be using the translation appearing in Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-87.

     In this last apocryphal text, the Nativity of Mary (NtM), the author expands in great detail the literary development surrounding Mary’s birth. In the annunciation scene to her parents, there is not a shred of doubt that appears in the narrative in regards to Mary’s holy future awaiting her. In contrast to the PJ, the original EA literary source for the Marian birthing story narrative, in it the angels had announced to Anne and Joachim the arrival of a child without any gender, and the author had given us a birthing scene with midwife and all the usual details. Then, as it passed into PsMt, the annunciation was recast as announcing the arrival of a female child and the author had removed all the mundane embellishments from the birthing scene as it was adapted from PJ into a more subdued reading. Finally, detached from the PsMt, now as the Marian sections become a text on its own merit in the NtM, it is here that the story becomes fully developed into its own right and sounds quite biblical in its rendition. In NtM, not only is the birth of the child of Joachim and Anne announced to the parents as being a female child, but furthermore in this text the author goes on in great detail to even inform of her name, that this female child will quite specifically be called Mary. After the angel informs Anne of her name, he even goes on to mention that this female child Mary shall be filled with the Holy Spirit whilst in the womb and goes on to give the expecting mother such biographical details as Mary’s eventual virgin birth of Jesus, whom is described in NtM as being the Saviour of nations (the Messiah). Evidently, this particular foretelling of Mary’s birth in NtM leaves no doubt as to the divine intention implicated in it, and even makes sure to implicitly mention that her divine birth from a barren Anne foreshadows in many ways the virgin birth she herself will experience one day.

     Furthermore, the author of the NtM text has also completely removed any reference to a birthing scene. In following the literary progression as it passed from the EA PJ into first LA PsMt and then detached into NtM; firstly, PJ spoke of a birthing scene of child gender unknown complete with midwife, breastfeeding and need for purification, then adapted into PsMt these all too human mundane details were edited out of the story. In PsMt, the text simply states that after the annunciation where “3. …The angel comes to Anna and bids her meet Joachim at the Golden Gate of the Temple, which she does. 4 Mary is born. At three years old she is taken to the temple and walks up fifteen steps.” (PsMt.3-4; Elliott 2009: 88) Therefore, PsMt has edited out the birthing seen altogether in its minimalist approach. This is where it can be seen that the author of NtM has taken the basic literary skeleton left over from the editorial changes in PsMt, and has seemingly added a veneer to it writing in a language deemed more religious and sounds in fact quite biblical in contrast to the earlier original sources (PJ and PsMt) for the birthing story. 
     Below is reproduced the section pertaining to this great literary development by the author of NtM.  
Chap. 3. ― Now, when he had been there for some time, on a certain day when he was alone, an angel of the Lord stood by him in a great light. And when he was disturbed at his appearance, the angel who had appeared to him restrained his fear, saying: Fear not, Joachim, nor be disturbed by my appearance; for I am the angel of the Lord, sent by Him to thee to tell thee that thy prayers have been heard, and that thy charitable deeds have gone up into His presence. For He hath seen thy shame, and hath heard the reproach of unfruitfulness which has been unjustly brought against thee. For God is the avenger of sin, not of nature: and, therefore, when He shuts up the womb of any one, He does so that He may miraculously open it again; so that that which is born may be acknowledged to be not of lust, but of the gift of God. For was it not the case that the first mother of your nation—Sarah—was barren up to her eightieth year? And, nevertheless, in extreme old age she brought forth Isaac, to whom the promise was renewed of the blessing of all nations. Rachel also, so favoured of the Lord, and so beloved by holy Jacob, was long barren; and yet she brought forth Joseph, who was not only the lord of Egypt, but the deliverer of many nations who were ready to perish of hunger. Who among the judges was either stronger than Samson, or more holy than Samuel? And yet the mothers of both were barren. If, therefore, the reasonableness of my words does not persuade thee, believe in fact that conceptions very late in life, and births in the case of women that have been barren, are usually attended with something wonderful. Accordingly thy wife Anna will bring forth a daughter to thee, and thou shalt call her name Mary: she shall be, as you have vowed, consecrated to the Lord from her infancy, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother’s womb. She shall neither eat not drink any unclean thing, nor shall she spend her life among the crowds of people without, but in the temple of the Lord, that it may not be possible either to say, or so much as to suspect, any evil concerning her. Therefore, when she has grown up, just as she herself shall be miraculously born of a barren woman, so in an incomparable manner she, a virgin, shall bring forth the Son of the Most High, who shall be called Jesus, and who, according to the etymology of His name, shall be the Saviour of all nations. And this shall be the sign to thee of those things which I announce: When thou shalt come to the Golden gate in Jerusallem, thou shalt there meet Anna thy wife, who, lately anxious from the delay of thy return, will then rejoice at the sight of thee. Having thus spoken, the angel departed from him.
Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-5

     Following the angel’s annunciation to Joachim, he then goes on to find Anne and announces all these same details as mentioned above concerning the divine birth and future of their daughter Mary. There is no need to repeat the similar speech the angel makes in his annunciation to Anne, but it will suffice to mention that this literary development leads us right into the next scene which is the meeting of Joachim and Anne at the Golden gate of the temple in Jerusalem in fulfilment of the angel’s command. When the pair meet there, the author of NtM writes,
Chap.5. ― … Then, rejoicing at seeing each other, and secure in the certainty of the promised offspring, they gave the thanks due to the Lord, who exalteth the humble. And so, having worshipped the Lord, they returned home, and awaited in certainty and in gladness the divine promise. Anna therefore conceived, and brought forth a daughter; and according to the command of the angel, her parents called her name Mary.

Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 385
     In short, there is no birthing scene in this retelling of Mary’s birth, she is simply just conceived by her mother Anne and brought forth. Similarly, to the PsMt, which is the inspirational text being rewritten here in NtM, the birth of Mary is described in holy divine language as a miracle of God. The author of NtM even goes one step further than the PsMt text, because here in an attempt to further divinize the details surrounding the annunciation of Mary’s birth, biblical characters from the Hebrew Bible are alluded to. The author of NtM has in this sense further innovated upon his adaptation of the Marian portions taken from PsMt, because now the angel announces to Joachim that this state of unfruitfulness he and his wife Anne find themselves in are indeed not unlike Abraham and Sarah’s situation before having conceived Isaac in old age, and then Rachel and Jacob and their son Joseph are alluded to, just as Samson and Samuel are also mentioned (see previous quote; NtM.Chap.3; Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-5).

     Undoubtedly, there is clearly a divinizing influence of not only Mary in the NtM but also of Joachim and Anne, since they are compared by—not simply anyone—but by an angel of God, whom refers to the soon-to-be parents as being similar in many ways to biblical figures which are the precursors to this “new testament” to come that will renew their link with God through the promise of a new offspring. If anything, in its innovation upon the stripped PsMt text, itself an edited version of PJ’s initial legend; as an end result, the NtM author retells the story of Mary’s birth in a religious language that makes it sound like it was directly taken from out of the pages of the canonical Bible scriptures, although it is not in the least. Further, in the annunciation scene as it is written in NtM, the Marian cult is evidently expressed in the grandiose annunciation of her birth to her parents. In consequence to this, seemingly Mary’s parents—especially Anne, her mother—appear as divine characters in this holy plot and seem to be undergoing the process of literary apocryphal canonization under our very eyes in this text. And, of course, the NtM text attests to the importance and emergence of the debate surrounding Mary’s “immaculate conception,” since the text makes Mary’s birth a highly divinized affair which lacks any real mundane detail in relation to a normal human birth, again this is in contrast to the birthing scene described in the EA PJ, ultimately the original apocryphal source text for the LA NtM. 

     To contextualize this preoccupation of Mary’s “immaculate conception” as present in the NtM, an intertextual analysis confirms that at the epoch its composition, probably in the 9th century (Klauck 2003: 80), the Roman Church was indeed greatly concerned with this particular dogma. The author of NtM seemingly deemed important in his composition of the text that there was not to be any “original sin” that would arise out of Mary’s birth. In reading one of the first lines of the previously quoted text of NtM, the author explains the reason behind Anne’s barrenness as being one with a divine purpose underlying it. The angel announces to Joachim: “For God is the avenger of sin, not of nature: and, therefore, when He shuts up the womb of any one, He does so that He may miraculously open it again; so that that which is born may be acknowledged to be not of lust, but of the gift of God.” (Ntm.Chap.3; Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-85) The words not of lust, but of the gift of God reveal to us that the details behind Anne’s womb bearing Mary as a child transcends the regular order of human biology. As a gift of God, Anne’s daughter Mary is announced by the angel as untainted by that usual sin that accompanies conception, instead of arising out of lust, as the author of NtM puts it. 

     Along these same lines, the NtM seems to want to further clarify and make clear beyond any doubt to the reader that the child Mary was filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother’s womb as opposed to any time later either during or after childbirth. The angel in NtM makes this explicit in explaining these crucial details surrounding untainted qualities (the “immaculate conception”) of Mary to Joachim, saying to him: “Accordingly thy wife Anna will bring forth a daughter to thee, and thou shalt call her name Mary: she shall be, as you have vowed, consecrated to the Lord from her infancy, and shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother’s womb. She shall neither eat not drink any unclean thing, nor shall she spend her life among the crowds of people without, but in the temple of the Lord, that it may not be possible either to say, or so much as to suspect, any evil concerning her.” (Ntm.Chap.3; Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-85). Undoubtedly, the NtM serves to illustrate that the doctrine of original sin does not pertain to Mary’s birth, and that miraculously Anne’s womb has somehow been spared the usual biological “stain” of impurity; essentially, the womb has been sanctified by God. This helps in understanding how Mary’s mother, Anne—and her sacred womb—became somewhat of an extension of the Marian immaculata. Further, this greatly helps in understanding why the veneration of Anne was and is still far more popular than that of the father Joachim, he who is not a “natural” extension of Mary’s immaculate birth but he is rather instead a detached figure or a spectator to this holy conception.

     The apocryphal NtM text therefore reveals itself to be of tantamount importance in understanding the emergence of the Marian cult. Even the religious dogma of “original sin” which the author makes sure the main protagonist of this early part of the text—the enwombed child Mary—is to desperately circumvent, is a referential point that can be dated to a specific time in the Church’s early founding doctrines. Since this doctrine of “original sin” underlies the Church dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary, let it be noted that it shall be explored in more great depth in the scope of this study not because it pertains to Mary but rather instead because it also pertains by association to the main subject of this study which is Anne, her mother. However, a better understanding is needed of what is meant by “original sin” before moving on to a more profound exploration of the dogma of the “immaculate conception,” the latter religious notion having derived from the former. Firstly, the doctrine of “original sin” became prominent in the Western church’s discourse because of the influence of Augustinian thought during the years 354-430 (Coyle 1996: 36). In consequence, Augustine’s understanding of “original sin” has greatly influenced the Western church’s understanding and the emergence of the dogma of Mary’s “immaculate conception” (Coyle 1996: 36). 

     In her chronological development of the Marian immaculata phenomenon as it relates to early Church history, Kathleen Coyle writes: 
In the West [meaning, in the Western church tradition], Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (d. 202), the first of the great theologians of Christendom, did not consider Mary free from all human fault. Tertullian attributed less influence to Mary than did Irenaeus, and was ready to ascribe faults, if not sins, to her. The image of the perfect, immaculate virgin had not yet emerged in the minds of the fourth-century fathers. Such doubts continued until the fifth century when the official proclamation of her divine motherhood at the Council of Ephesus in 431 accented her holiness.
Coyle 1996: 36
The reason the history of Mary’s holiness becomes important to us is, as previously mentioned, because of the fact that the veneration of St. Anne as an eventual apocryphal “success story” (as I like to call it) that takes off in the mediaeval period wholly depends on her daughter’s immaculate state. Hence, in retracing above the early Church perception, at least from the 2nd to the 5th centuries (see above quote) during these times Mary was not perceived by all to be without faults, if not sins (as Coyle makes mention; 1996: 36). Moreover, in relating these all too human faulty—if not purely biological—qualities to Mary and by extension her mother Anne as they are treated in the previously explored apocryphal literature; in short, it can be seen that in the PJ, which was probably written around the middle of the 2nd century (Gambero 1999: 35-6), the fact that there is a birthing scene is in line with the fact that Mary (and by extension her mother Anne, her name first appearing in PJ) were not yet perceived or seen in Christian eyes as being wholly without fault. In relation to Anne, this means that she is aptly described as an everyday mother in a typical birthing scene. In contrast to this, in the second apocryphal text where Anne appears, the previously explored PsMt, written between 600-625 (Klauck 2003: 78); it is in this particular text that the author has edited out the birthing scene altogether. Historically, this makes perfect sense, since at this point in time, not too long before PsMt’s composition, the Council of Ephesus in 431 had officially proclaimed Mary’s divine motherhood (Theotokos, the Godbearer) which consequently had accented her holiness (Coyle 1996: 36, 49-50). 

     In this respect, the birthing scene having been removed altogether in the PsMt adaptation of the original source text PJ makes perfect ecclesiastic sense, since the author was seemingly removing Mary, along with her mother’s womb – and thereby her mother herself – were all being removed by a degree of separation from the tainted act of birthing which is usually reserved to the realm of biological functions deriving from the Christian perception of “original sin.” In relation to the NtM, dated to the 9th century (Klauck 2003: 80), at this point in time when its author was taking out the Marian portions from PsMt to adapt them in making a new text, historically this places us at a period in time long before the writings of the Irish Franciscan, Duns Scotus (1264-1308; Coyle 1996: 38). It is Scotus whom Coyle (1996: 38) credits in having finally solved (ca. 1300) the dilemma of Mary’s “immaculate conception” posing a threat to Christ’s “unique and saving redemption” (to use Coyle’s words), since he had developed “[…] the idea of preservative redemption as being a more perfect one: to have been preserved free from original sin was a greater grace than to be set free from sin” (Coyle 1996: 38). Most interestingly, this threat posed by Mary’s exalted state of “immaculate conception” in the womb of her mother Anne threatened and greatly undermined the very purpose of the coming of Christ. According to such a Christological argument, as Coyle writes, following this peculiar string of logic results in the following attestation:
To say that Mary had never been captured, that is, that she had never been identified with the structures of injustice and sin, seemed to mean that she did not need redemption, that she did not need Christ. If Mary at her conception was free from original sin, then Christ’s unique and saving redemption would thereby be rendered superfluous.
Coyle 1996: 38
     In respect to this perceived threat posed by Mary’s “immaculate conception,” it is exactly this highly divinized hagiographic story of origin that appears in the third apocryphal text studied herein, the 9th century NtM (Klauck 2003: 80). In this text, as previously discussed, Anne is likened to other Hebrew Bible characters and specifically is put in line along other barren matriarchal figures blessed by God, such as represent Sarah and Rachel (Ntm.Chap.3; Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-5). Moreover, the fact that Mary is announced by the angels to Joachim as a child that “[…] shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from her mother’s womb” (Ntm.Chap.3; Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-85) makes the NtM text one that clearly attests to the popular devotion attributed to Mary and to a lesser extend by association of her “divine womb” filled with the Holy Spirit; Anne is then also (by association to Mary) further hallowed in the eyes of late antique Christians.

Popular Devotion in the Marian Cult:
An “Immaculate” Empowerment that Extends Through the Divinized Matriarchal Womb to Anne, Symbol of Holiness and Virtue  
The 9th century NtM (Klauck 2003: 80) world from whence this apocryphal text appears to have been composed is largely a Christian one, albeit it is nevertheless still one that belongs strictly to the realm of popular devotion surrounding the Marian cult. Specifically in relation to the NtM text and its usage as far as it pertained to the cult of Mary celebrations, it could plausibly be seen or interpreted to have been used as a liturgical text used primarily during the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

     Originating from the Eastern Christian Church, this feast was seen as a celebration of the doctrine that Mary had indeed been conceived without sin and that this consequently marked the point of the beginning of the flesh’s union with the Word of God (Hastings 2000: 415). The 9th century (Klauck 2003: 80) composition of the apocryphal NtM coincides roughly with that same period in time whence the feast of the Immaculate Conception, observed in the East by the 8th century, had made its first Western appearance in the British Isles by the 11th century at the latest, from whence it had spread to mainland Europe  (Hastings 2000: 415; Clayton 1990: 50-51). Actually, Clayton (1990: 51) writes of the many Marian feasts that most were being celebrated in England from as early on as during the course of the 7th and 8th centuries, which is perfectly in line with the NtM’s proposed 9th century composition (Klauck 2003: 80). In her concluding remarks, concerning the celebration of the Marian feasts in England, Clayton writes:
By the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, then, the feasts of the Purification, Annunciation, Assumption, Nativity of Mary, Presentation in the Temple and Conception were being celebrated in England―the first four throughout the country, the Presentation and Conception in a few centres. The feasts of the Purification, Annunciation, Assumption and Nativity of Mary were introduced gradually in England in the course of the seventh century and the eighth, with some initial confusion, most which can be traced back to an ancestor of Martyrologium Hieronymianum Epternacense. The feasts of the Presentation and Conception were first introduced c. 1030 in Winchester and spread from there to Canterbury and Exeter. These two feasts were not celebrated anywhere else in Western Europe at this date and their adoption must be the result of Eastern influence on Anglo-Saxon devotion. That Winchester monks were willing to adopt the two new feasts is an important manifestation of their developed interest in the Virgin in the late Anglo-Saxon period is particular.
Clayton 1990: 50-51

     The connection between the Eastern origin of the Marian feasts established to have appeared in England at this particular period, in the course of the 7th and 8th centuries in England is quite important, because it greatly helps in understanding and situating the NtM text since it has been proposed by religious historians to have been composed around this very same time. For instance, scholars such as Klauck (2003: 80) propose a 9th century composition of the NtM.

     Undoubtedly, the main reason for Anne and Joachim’s importance in the apocryphal literature are ultimately intertwined with the emergence of the doctrine of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (along with other Mariological doctrines) that would come to form the basis of the cult of Mary. Yet, even if Anne’s devotional cult was first born by association to that of her daughter’s own divine status, despite this hagiographic genealogy born of the apocryphal tradition, popular devotion to Anne seems to take on a life of its own within the Mariological scheme. 

     In terms of understanding the original development of the cult surrounding Anne, there is indeed proof attesting to the Marian feasts being celebrated in England from as early on as during the course of the 7th and 8th centuries (Clayton 1990: 51). Evidently, this is in line with Klauck’s (2003: 80) proposed 9th century composition of the NtM. But, besides this budding Mariology coming into continental Europe from the British Isles borrowed in turn from Eastern influences, aside from this Anglo-Saxon influence on the Western Church there appears to be yet another cultural stream in relation to Anne’s worship coming into the West. This other influence currently being alluded to also comes from the East, but this time brought into Western Europe by the Crusaders (Shoonbeeg 1988: 195). Concerning this possible devotional import brought back from Jerusalem by the Crusaders, Shoonbeeg (1988: 195) writes:
The cult of St. Anne, which had been slowly but steadily developing ever since the Crusaders brought it back from the East, began to spread more rapidly as a consequence of the rise of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The holiness of St. Anne, if not exactly a prerequisite, is at least a fortunate accessory to this doctrine. 

     What this signifies is that if indeed there was an Eastern influence coming into mainland Europe by way of the British Isles as previously explored (Clayton 1990: 51) there was in addition to this another Eastern influence which directly relates to Anne’s devotional cult which the Crusaders brought back with them from the Hold Land (Shoonbeeg 1988: 195; Nixon 2004: 13). Therefore, this means to say that even if Anne’s cultic popularity in the Western Church is attributable to the various Mariological doctrines in development at this time, Anne’s cult may nevertheless have been imported from the East independently of this debate. If indeed the Crusaders would later bring back with them devotional practices in relation to Anne they had adopted from the Eastern Church in Jerusalem in the course of the 12th and 13th centuries (Nixon 2004: 13), then this means Anne’s cult was not originally a Western innovation in response to the ongoing polemics surrounding Mary. Rather, instead it would seem that popular devotion to Anne could consequently be seen as a separate Eastern devotional element (in addition to the British Isles’ earlier 7th and 8th centuries Eastern influence; 7th and 8th centuries; Clayton 1990: 51) that also made its way into the Western Church and grafted itself upon the pre-existing whole complex Mariological devotional apparatus. 

     In retracing the tradition of devotion to Anne in the East where her worship originates, the earliest cultic attention she receives appears to be in 6th century Jerusalem and Constantinople (Nixon 2004: 12). Since the cult of Saint Anne seems to have been established in Northern Europe only by the 12th century (Nixon 2004: 13), evidently this adds much credence to the Crusaders’ Eastern influence. Therefore, if we look at the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades and the existing “pilgrim trade,” there are multiple historical records that can be found to support Jerusalem’s role in the dissemination of the devotion to Anne in the Western Church. In support of this cultural import brought into Europe by the Crusaders, Nixon (2004: 13) writes:
The numerous references to relics brought back by twelfth- and thirteenth-century crusaders and pilgrims tell us that Anne’s cult was being successfully promoted in the Holy Land among visiting European Christians. Some of the relics those visitors brought back were later to form the nucleus of cult centers in the developing pilgrimage networks in western Europe. 
   Yet, undoubtedly these holy relics being imported from the Holy Land by European Christians were perhaps relating directly to devotional practices belonging to Anne, but nevertheless the popularity of Anne in Europe was directly related to the questions of Mary’s conception and birth that were preoccupying theologians of the Central and High Middle Ages (Nixon 2004: 13). Anne by association to her daughter’s conception was being employed to answer to the question if Mary had indeed been tainted or stained by the original sin. As Nixon puts it, all “These questions about Mary inevitably directed attention Anne” (ibid. 13).

     Therefore, it can be stated that despite all of the different streams of religious influences converging from the East into the West, even if they did bring into the Western Church diverse cultic elements into popular devotional practice, all of these differences seem to meet in the discourse as it pertained to Mary’s state of immaculata. Whether devotional practices in relation to Anne would come by way of the Crusaders into Europe from the Eastern presence in Jerusalem or by way of apocryphal influence developed in response to the earlier British Isles’ influence on the mainland; regardless of these disparate influences, Anne appears at the height of her worship as a sort of linchpin at the crux of her daughter’s state of im/purity. Thus, the cultic popularity enjoyed by Anne links her directly to the celebration of her daughter’s conception, a feast dedicated to Mary’s coming into existence. 

     In attempting to understand the threat this feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception posed to theologians, Nixon (2004) underlines some of the more obvious questions that beg to be asked in relation to such a devotional practice. She writes:
At the feast of Mary’s conception began to extend out from the English and northern French centers, concerns continued to be raised over its theological implications. It seemed not unreasonable to conclude that Mary’s great holiness and purity necessitated a special kind of conception for her. But what precisely was being honored when people celebrated that conception? The question of what composed Mary’s incomparable purity had not greatly concerned Byzantine theologians, but Western European theologians wanted definitions. Some thinkers, probably first from England, proposed that Mary had been immaculately conceived in the womb of Anne, that is, conceived without the transmission of original sin. This idea was opposed by most of the eminent theologians of the day, among them Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter Lombard, Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas, who argued instead that Mary had been freed from original sin after her conception but before her birth—a doctrine referred to as the maculate conception. Aquinas expressed a fundamental objection when he asked how Mary’s freedom from original sin could be reconciled with the fact that all human beings stood in need of redemption: “It is simply not fitting, he said, “that Christ should not be savior of the whole human race. Hence it follows that the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin was after her animation.”  
Ibid. 14

     In what is evidently an over-simplification of this whole subject of Mary’s state of conception, it could plainly be said that if indeed she was immaculate in her conception in her mother’s womb, then ergo this greatly undermines Jesus’ authority. Then, by extension, this is when and where Mary’s parents play a central role in the ensuing arguments, because the apocryphal figures of Anne and Joachim are invoked in the polemical debate surrounding their daughter. They play a central role in the question of a possible stain of original sin having been transmitted to their daughter Mary. More specifically, it is Anne’s womb which clearly occupies a place of importance in the discussions and differing points-of-view on the matter. For instance, Bernard of Clairvaux’s theological stance in relation to what exact point in time Mary was “cleansed” from original sin is helpful in shedding some light on the importance Anne—or at least her womb—occupied in the many logical conclusions used to make any sense of the problem being posed. Nixon (2004) writes of many prominent theologians’ objections, such as those entertained by Bernard de Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas, in opposing the adoption of the feast of the conception:
According to medieval theology, even legitimate marital sexual intercourse carried with it some degree, however small, of sinfulness. Bernard [de Clairvaux] made this point succinctly in a letter criticizing the canons of Lyons for their unseemly haste in adopting the new feast: “If therefore it was quite impossible for her [=Mary] to have been sanctified before her conception, because she did not then exist; or in the act of her conception, because of the presence of sin; it remains that she was sanctified after her conception, when she was already in the womb, and that this sanctification excluded sin and rendered her birth, but not her conception, holy. Aquinas invoked Augustine on the same point: “Even if the parents of the blessed Virgin were cleansed from original sin, the blessed Virgin contracted it since she was conceived in sexual desire and the joining of husband and wife. Augustine says, all flesh born of intercourse is of sin.”   
Ibid. 14

     In these objections surrounding Mary’s conception, Anne’s womb takes centre stage and occupied a privileged place in the course of the theological discussions, as does the act itself which is referred to above as “the joining of husband and wife.” It is as this specific period in time, during the course of the 12th century, that Saint Anne cult would become firmly established in Northern Europe (Nixon 2004: 13). Therefore, taking into account the prominent position of Anne and her holy womb in the Mariological debate, combined with the fact that this coincided with contemporary Crusading “pilgrims” coming back from the Holy Land with relics that could be directly linked to the Eastern devotional practices to Anne and would also serve to form new cult centres for her worship on European soil (Shoonbeeg 1988: 195; Nixon 2004: 13). Essentially, all these individual components appear to have contributed in each their own manner to help establish Anne as an important cultic figure in the West.  

St. Anne, from an Apocryphal Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Local Shrine Saint and Maritime Patroness:
Making the Jump from the LA into the Mediaeval Period

Since this essay is primarily an exploration of apocrypha in relation to Anne, consequently it is important to return at this point to that last LA text dedicated to recounting Mary’s birth. It has already been explored herein how the Marian sections of PsMt were detached, probably in the 9th century (Klauck 2003: 80) to form a new work referred to as NtM (the Book or the gospel of the nativity of Mary). Further, the use of the NtM has been explored as having been especially used to illustrate that the doctrine of original sin does not pertain to Mary’s birth, and that miraculously Anne’s womb has somehow been spared the usual biological “stain” of impurity; essentially, the womb has been sanctified by God (Ntm.Chap.3; Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-85). As it pertained quite specifically to the Marian celebrations, the NtM has been interpreted to have been used as a liturgical text in use primarily during the feast of the Immaculate Conception (Klauck 2003: 80). But, suddenly with the profusion of cultic centres dedicated to Anne in 12th century Europe (Nixon 2004: 13), there are other texts that appear at this time although they are not considered apocryphal. Nonetheless, these texts are also literary creations that are directly inspired by their apocryphal predecessors.

     One such text assembles many of these hagiographic accounts originating from apocryphal tradition, the late mediaeval bestseller the Golden Legend (Latin, Legenda aurea or Legenda sanctorum) authored by Jacobus de Voragine (circa 1260; Ryan 1993: xiii). It is quite specifically this book that would eventually result in establishing the apocryphal St. Anne as one of the most popular saints of the Roman Church (Maclean 1994: 50-53). 

     The jump from the 9th century historical context in which the Late Antique NtM was written into the mediaeval 13th century whence de Voragine’s Golden Legend is composed—is indeed a significant leap in time. If indeed the NtM can be seen as having been primarily a liturgical text used mainly during the feast of the Immaculate Conception, on the contrary de Voragine’s more popular work drawing from apocrypha appears to have been composed during an era when there was a real need for a sort of textual renewal of the apocryphal material. The usual discourse used to explain the tantamount success and popularity of the Golden Legend material is that it was mainly due to the fact that the collection of apocryphal stories were presented as―to use Maddocks’ (1991) terms—as a “[…] simple repository of colourful, naïve tales written for an equally naïve lay audience” (Maddocks 1991: 1). Maddocks also gives as example the words of such influential commentators as Émile Mâle, as she puts it, he who “[…] successfully promoted the notion that the uncomplicated narrative structures of the saints’ lives [as recounted in de Voragine’s Golden Legend] struck a chord with the simple man and “offered a model after which to fashion his life” (Maddocks 1991: 1).

     This assumption that the Golden Legend’s appeal lay in its simplicity and appeal to the common layperson remained unquestioned until Sherry Reames put forth a new suggestion. In relating this newfound perspective in explaining the immense popularity enjoyed by de Voragine’s 13th century hagiographic apocryphal retelling, Maddocks (1991) explains Reames’ innovative approach:
Until [Sherry] Reames, this assumption [briefly described above] remained unquestioned, despite the obvious barrier the Latin language presented to the thirteenth century layperson. She has shown that the Legenda, like other thirteenth century collections of abbreviated saints’ lives arranged according to the order of the Liturgical Year, was written with a clerical audience in mind, and was used as a source book for sermons and readings on important feast days. However, unlike these other compendia, the Legenda aurea was used by educated Dominican churchmen as a weapon against heretical and lay challenges to the authority of the thirteenth century Church. Reames supports this assertion with a close study of the text, which reveals emphases on complex, theologically controversial issues and concise accounts of God’s harsh retribution. A great many Latin manuscripts of the Legenda aurea are extant today―over 1000 compared to around 20 each of its closest rivals―a discrepancy which Reames attributes to deliberate promotion on the part of the Church in the thirteenth century. [   ] The physical appearance of the manuscripts of the Legenda aurea and their patterns of early provenance are consistent with Reames’ findings. The great majority were owned by clerics and monastic institutions. As a source book for sermons they were essentially utilitarian, and few contain any decoration or illustration.
Maddocks 1991: 1-2
     The view espoused by Reames is that the Legenda was both primarily a mediaeval clerical source book for liturgical readings in relation to the order of the Liturgical Year and that it would have been read on important feast days is quite comparable to the ecclesiastic use of apocrypha in earlier times. For instance, in her book which explores Marian feast celebrations at the end of Anglo-Saxon England, Mary Clayton (1990) makes comment of the fact that the Old English PsMt text “[…] is supplied with a homiletic introduction to make it suitable reading for the feast of the nativity of Mary on 8 September” (Clayton 1990: 196). If indeed the Legenda’s enormous popularity can be seen to have come out of an initial impetus by the 13th century Church, as Reames would have it, to be used “[…] by educated Dominican churchmen as a weapon against heretical and lay challenges to [its] authority” (Maddocks 1991: 1-2) then these stories do definitely share a similar function as their apocryphal inspirations. 

     There is evidently a symbiotic relationship that exists between the apocrypha and canonical writings. Yet, all the more so, there also appears to be an ever-changing or evolving symbiosis that can be seen in relating the apocryphal (or non-apocryphal and non-canonical in the case of the Legenda) literature to the more official ecclesiastic theology. For instance, just as the author of LA PsMt deemed it fit to remove the birthing scene as the text was adapted from the EA PJ, editing out these all too human  mundane details out of this new retelling of the birth of Mary, similarly this new version of the story reflected the Late Antique period in which the Western Church was mostly preoccupied with the polemical issues surrounding the taint of original sin being passed onto Mary from her mother.

     This symbiotic relationship between official dogma that is reflected at the time of composition of the apocryphal text is much the same interrelationship at play in de Voragine’s  Legenda. To keep with the same example, as the Marian portions of PsMt were detached to form the basis of NtM, this last author had gone even one step further than the PsMt in his attemps to further divinize the details surrounding the annunciation of Mary’s birth. Characters from the Hebrew Bible were brought into the NtM text to elevate Joachim and Anna to Biblical proportions not unlike Abraham and Sarah’s situation before having conceived Isaac in old age, etc. (NtM.Chap.3; Cushing Richardson & Pick 1886: 384-85). These literary elements of NtM have been previously explored in more depth earlier in this essay, but they are reintroduced here merely to serve as an example in relating apocryphal content to the Legenda. For in de Voragine’s work appears not simply a retelling of the same story that is to be found in the apocryphal tale preceding it, being the aforementioned NtM, probably composed in the 9th century (Klauck 2003: 80). On the contrary, exactly as its apocryphal inspirations innovated in symbiosis with ecclesiastic theology, de Voragine’s also innovates to reflect the Church’s preoccupations during the time of its composition. 

     The major innovation in 13th century Legenda as it relates to the cult of Anne is that suddenly she is cast not only as the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but also her story recounts her having been married on three separate occasions, thus producing a “[…] holy dynasty of daughters and grandsons” as Niebrzydowski (2006: 24) puts it. Often referred to as the Trinubium, Anne’s three marriages recast her not simply in the role of Mary’s mother as well as the maternal grandmother to Jesus, but also it made her into a holy matriarch of a vast extended family in which many Biblical figures were interrelated in this grand genealogy termed the Holy Kinship (Niebrzydowski 2006: 24-25). Although, the Trinubium was popularized by de Voragine, according to scholar Virginia Nixon (2004) the first mention of these other marriages of Anne appear is in an earlier 9th century text written by Haimo of Auxerre (Nixon 2004: 16).

     The tradition of Anne’s Trinubium was one that was disseminated through the vernacular translations of the Legenda Aurea. Before going on to explore what this seemingly strange modification in Anne’s biographical account might signify, first let us take a closer look at this specific portion of de Voragine’s text which Niebrzydowski (2006) summarizes below:
In his entry for the Nativity of Mary (8 September) Voragine tells how Anne was married three times; first to Ioachim from which marriage Mary was born, next to Joseph’s brother, Cleophas with whom she produced Mary Cleophas and finally to Salomas by whom she bore Mary Salomas. Each Mary produced significant figures in God’s salvific schema; the Virgin Mary bore Christ, Mary Cleophas James the Less, Simon, Joseph (or Barnabas) and Jude, Mary Salome James the Greater and John the Evangelist. 
Niebrzydowski 2006: 24

     Therefore, the Legenda text does more than recycle the ever-changing apocryphal tale, since the changes are not only superficial but this time they represent major innovations to Anne’s apocryphal biography. Yet, why does de Voragine rewrite Anne’s biography as having been married not only once but three times? Why the three Marys, and the score of children of which many would somehow play an important part in Jesus’ life? The answer is not so obvious if one is not too familiar with 13th century theologians’ preoccupations. Since indeed the Legenda’s entry in the hagiographic collection relating Anne’s Trinubium (as quoted above) appears in de Voragine’s entry for the Nativity of Mary (8 September), which means that Sherry Reams’ supposition does hold true in the sense that when read as a liturgical text on the feast day it would serve as a guide to shed light on some complex or controversial theological issues of the day (Maddocks 1991: 1-2). Moreover, Niebrzydowski’s (2006) interpretation of the meaning of Anne’s Trinubium would quite agree with Reams’ (Maddocks 1991: 1-2) approach since she analyses the underlying reason of de Voragine’s texts as follows:
The purpose of the genealogical detail of Anne’s three marriages was to safeguard the perpetual virginity of Mary from the troublesome existence of Jesus’ brothers and sisters mentioned in Matthew 12. 46, Mark 3. 31 and Luke 19. 21. These children are explained away as the offspring of Anne’s daughters from her second and third marriages and are thus Jesus’ cousins. [  ] Although arousing controversy in the twelfth century primarily because it was considered a challenge to the growing belief in Anne’s immaculate conception of Mary, by the later Middle Ages Anne’s multiple marriages and the wide kinship group that they produced was celebrated in written word and plastic arts.
Niebrzydowski’s 2006: 24-25

     In essence, the main reason for de Voragine spinning such fanciful tales of Anne’s life is that there was in the medieval author’s day a real theological need to clarify the fact that Jesus had other siblings. The confusion that Anne marries three times in the Legenda and then nonsensically has a daughter with each man named Mary―three Marys in all―certainly does help muddy the waters in relation to Jesus’ genealogy. Or, more so important, as Reams’ (Maddocks 1991: 1-2) approach vis-à-vis the Legenda would have it, all this genealogical confusion willingly inserted by de Voragine in his text would evidently greatly assist in the clergyman’s explanations of such Biblical discrepancies as Jesus having brothers and sisters. With this new tale in the Legenda, these problematic siblings could simply be attributed to have been one of the other Marys’ offspring. There is also the fact that de Voragine’s elaboration of this somewhat complicated Holy Kinship was “[…] considered a challenge to the growing belief in Anne’s immaculate conception of Mary” as Niebrzydowski (2006: 24-25) describes it above. Given the fact that the 13th century represents the pinnacle of the Marian cult, possibly the challenge the Legenda text represented vis-à-vis Mary’s immaculate conception was perhaps  deliberately inserted by de Voragine into his text with ecclesiastic complicity in order to counter the growing devotion to the Marian cult.

     Nonetheless, the Holy Kinship notion would eventually be absorbed in popular piety and even became a widespread theme in the arts such as in this painting by Geertgen tot Sint Jans.

Image 3
Holy Kinship (c. 1490) by Geertgen tot Sint Jans. Oil on wood. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

     Even if Anne had first entered the Christian world through subsequent apocryphal literary developments in response to clarifications sought in light of her daughter Mary’s conception and birth. In spite of the fact that in the first apocryphal texts (the already explored PJ, PsMt & NtM) in which Anne comes to light, the authors were mainly preoccupied with her daughter’s state more than anything else; regardless of these humble origins, the mediaeval period sees her come into an important cultic figure in her own right. 

     Besides the apocryphal and non-canonical forces that helped shaped Anne into a burgeoning holy matriarch, by the High Middle Ages (c. 1000-1200) Anne’s cult was shaped by other forces in Northern Europe. As Nixon (2004: 17) writes, it is during this time that her immense popularity sees her in many rights become the centre of her own cult. In regards to these North European religious practices in relation to the worship of Anne, the author writes:
Thus, though Anne had entered the Christian pantheon through her physical relationship with Mary, and though in theological and devotional texts and in images, the story of her life remained joined to that of her daughter, devotion to Anne now became in many instances a separate cult. She was increasingly singled out and honored in her own right. The primary cult role that emerges from the sources of the High Middle Ages is that of local shrine saint, the saint whose relics, located and promoted in a particular shrine, are sought out by pilgrims seeking miracles of healing, rescue, victory, and the like. This is the dominant paradigm of saint worship in the Central and High Middle Ages […].
Nixon 2004: 17

     The predominance of Anne as a shrine saint is specifically North European as is another aspect of her worship that her cult takes on in coastal areas, specifically in those on or near the North Sea coast (Nixon 2004: 18). It is in these ports that worship to Anne, given the fact she is often prayed to before voyages or during storms, paints her as a saint with a particular role, and it is because of this that she becomes better known in these communities in her role as maritime protectress or patroness (Nixon 2004: 18).
Concluding Remarks: St. Anne Crosses the Atlantic, her Transformation into “Sacred Elder”
Besides her popularity on Europe’s North Sea coast, to a lesser extent, later Anne’s cult would also appear with some of these same attributes similarly in France where the most exponential growth of devotion to her occurs in the course of the 17th century (Nixon 2004: 18). It is hence from these coastal regions of France that Anne’s cult was imported into North America during this time by French settlers and missionaries. She is the patron saint of Brittany, the region in France from where many of the first French colonists  originally hailed, and in consequence to these coastal origins she has also subsequently become in a similar fashion the patron saint of Quebec, where her most popular shrine is the 17th century Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré basilica (Bramadat & Seljak 2008).

Le Sanctuaire de Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, Québec.
Image Source:

     In this new cultural and geographical context of North America, as Roman Catholicism was adopted by native populations in southern Quebec and the Maritimes, the Mi’kmaq and Malecite peoples developed a form of Catholicism which shows a degree of syncretism with their own traditional belief system (Magocsi 1999: 26). Interestingly, it is perhaps firstly because of Anne’s role as a coastal saint and maritime protectress that has lead the French settlers to be devoted to her and bring Anne along on their boats across the Atlantic for her divine protection at sea. But, for the Mi’kmaq people, once Anne arrived in America it is specially because of her role as a respected elder―God’s grandmother―that she is being venerated. To this day, the Roman Catholic festival of Sainte-Anne is regarded as a national holiday for the Mi’kmaq, a week-long celebration which is commonly referred to simply as St. Anne’s Mission. Annually, the Mission is held on Chapel Island (Nova Scotia) where the annual Pow-wow is also celebrated along with other festivities that include not only spiritual-based activities such as communal prayers, but additionally it is also an ideal context for socializing, sharing of foods and revisiting one’s old friends and family (Hornborg 2008; Robinson et al. 2004; Magocsi 1999: 26). Perhaps the cultural scene and social setting in which St. Anne currently finds herself in on the Canadian East Coast is quite distant from the antique apocryphal texts from which she was first born, yet it is seemingly but one more link in a series of chains that ties her to so many peoples, times and places where she has been worshipped.

Mi'kmaq Grand Chief Ben Sylliboy welcomes Cardinal Marc Ouellet to the St. Anne mission held on Chapel Island (Nova Scotia). Image Source: Brian Lazzuri photos, posted August 3, 2010 in

Image Credits

Image 1: The Annunciation to Joachim and Anna (1544-45) by Gaudenzio Ferrari (1475-1546). Detached fresco transferred to canvas, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Image 2: The Meeting at the Golden Gate (1491) by Benozzo Gozzoli. Transferred fresco painting, Biblioteca Comunale, Castelfiorentino.

Image 3: Holy Kinship (c. 1490) by Geertgen tot Sint Jans. Oil on wood. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.


Bird, Michael S. (ed) (1995) Art and interreligious dialogue: six perspectives. University Press of America, Lanham (Maryland) & London (England).

Bramadat, Paul & Seljak, David (2008) Christianity and ethnicity in Canada. University of Toronto Press.

"Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/St. Anne," Wikisource, The Free Library, Available at:

Clayton, Mary (1990) The cult of the Virgin Mary in Anglo-Saxon England. Cambridge University Press.

Coyle, Kathleen (1996) Mary in the Christian tradition, from a contemporary perspective. [Originally published by Claretian Publications, Quezon City, Philippines, © 1993] Twenty-Third Publications, Mystic (CT).

Cushing Richardson, Ernest & Pick, Bernhard (1886) The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The twelve patriarchs, excerpts and epistles, the Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac documents, remains of the first ages, Volume 8 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers: Translations of the writings of the fathers down to A.D. 325. C. Scribner’s Sons, New York.

Earls, Irene (1987) Renaissance art: a topical dictionary. Greenwood Press, Inc., Westport, Connecticut, US.

Elliott, J.K. (1999) The Apocryphal New Testament, a collection of Apocryphal Christian literature in an English translation based on M.R. James. [1st ed. 1993] Oxford University Press.

Gambero, Luigi (1999) Mary and the fathers of the church: the Blessed Virgin Mary in patristic thought. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, [trans. from the Italian original: Maria nel pensiero dei padri della Chiesa, © 1991 Edizione Paoline, S.R.L. Milan].

Hastings, Adrian; Mason, Alistair & Pyper, Hugh S. (2000) The Oxford companion to Christian thought. Oxford Companions Series, Oxford University Press, 2000.
Hornborg, Anne-Christine (2008) Mi’kmaq landscapes: From animism to sacred ecology. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Klauck, Hans-Josef (2003) Apocryphal gospels: an introduction. T&T Clark, London/New York [trans. from the German original by Brian McNeil: Apokryphe Evangelien: Eine Einführung, Verlag Katholisches Bibelwerk, Stuttgart, 2002].

Maclean, Marie (1994) The name of the mother, writing illegitimacy. Routledge, USA & Canada.  

Maddocks, Hilary (1991) “Pictures for Aristocrats: The Manuscripts of the Légende dorée” (pp. 1-24) in Manion, Margaret M. & Muir, Bernard James (Eds) Medieval texts and images: Studies of manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Harwood Academic Publishers (Switzerland) in conjunction with Craftsman House (Australia).  

Magocsi, Paul R. (Ed.) (1999) Encyclopedia of Canada’s peoples. University of Toronto Press.

Mâle, Émile (2000) Religious Art in France of the thirteenth century. Courier Dover Publications.

Malone, Mary (1995) “Response to Ilse Friesen,” in Michael S. Bird (ed.), Art and interreligious dialogue: six perspectives. University Press of America, Lanham (Maryland) & London (England), pp. 19-24.

Niebrzydowski, Sue (2006) Bonoure and buxum: A study of wives in late medieval English literature. Peter Lang AG, International Academic Publishers, Bern, Switzerland.

Nixon, Virginia (2004) Mary’s mother: Saint Anne in late medieval Europe. The Pennsylvania State University.

Robinson, Angela; Cummins, Bryan D. & Steckley, John L. (2004) Ta’n Teliktlamsitasit (Ways of believing): Mi’kmaw religion in Eskasoni, Nova Scotia. Pearson Education Canada.

Ryan, William Granger (trans.) (1993) The Golden Legend: readings on the saints/ Jacobus de Voragine. Princeton University Press, USA & UK.

Shoonbeeg, P. (1988) Agricola alter Maro,” in F. Akkerman and A.J. Vanderjagt (Eds.), Rodolphus Agricola Phrisius, 1444-1485: Proceedings of the International Conference at the University of Groningen 28-30 October 1985. E.J. Brill, Leiden, The Netherlands.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Acadian Prehistory: From Medieval Religion, the Angevin Empire... and leaving Poitou behind

William S. Burroughs and Cut-Up Writing

I think William S. Burroughs was on to something. Aside from Jack Kerouac, Burroughs was another one of the influential authors of the Beat Generation that in the 1950s and 60s found popularity - if not notoriety in Burroughs' case - in his experimental writing styles. Burroughs was introduced to the cut-up technique of writing, which basically means he would quite literally "cut-up" a strand of linear text into segmented pieces with one or a couple of words a piece, and then simply reorder them in whatever fashion he saw fit.

Burroughs experimented with the cut-up technique at great length and it suited him fine, for he found that by doing so he could somehow alter reality - or even foretell future events. The Nova Trilogy, published in the early 1960s were a series of three experimental novels published by Burroughs in which he made use of the cut-up. The Soft Machine was the first book in the trilogy - published two years after his groundbreaking Naked Lunch- , and it…

The Divine Serpentine: A Cross-Cultural Survey of the Hindu Nāga Worship & the Judaeo-Christian Interpretation of Moses’ “Copper Snake”, the Nehushtan