We recommend this fresco of Sts. Anna and Joachim by the Italian painter Giotto.
Most of the stories we know about the birth and childhood of Mary come from St. Jerome, who lived about 1600 years ago. These stories, not found in scripture, are those he heard when he was young. Jerome tells this one about Mary’s parents, Anna (or Ann or Anne, a name which means “grace”) and Joachim (which means “established by God”).
Jerome recalls that Anna and Joachim divided everything they owned into three equal parts: one part for the work of the temple, one part for the care of the poor and one part for their own needs. There was not much they wanted for themselves, but they did long for a child.
They went home together and waited for the birth of their promised daughter, Mary.
Once, when Joachim went to place his offering on the temple altar, he was turned away. The priest declared, “A man who cannot father children, who has made no increase among the people of God, cannot stand alongside those who have fathered children.”
Joachim was ashamed. He went out into the fields where no one could see his shame.
Then an angel appeared to him. The angel said, “Do not be ashamed because you and Anna are childless. Was not Sarah the mother of the Hebrew people? And was she not childless for 90 years? Did she not bear Isaac, to whom was promised the blessing of all nations?”
The angel recalled the blessed barren of scripture: the mother of Samson and Hannah, the mother of Samuel. The angel told Joachim, “You and Anna will bear a child, a daughter, and you are to name her Mary. She will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb. She will serve God all her days.”
When Joachim did not return at the appointed hour, Anna went and dressed in her wedding garments and sat down in the garden to mourn. She believed her husband had abandoned his barren wife. Weeping, she watched a mother sparrow feed her young. She longed to be like the sparrow.
An angel appeared to Anna. The angel told her all that had been revealed to Joachim, and more besides. The angel said, “Go to Jerusalem’s Golden gate. You will meet your husband there. He is coming home to you.”
Anna ran from the garden and Joachim ran from the fields. They met at the Golden gate where they rejoiced in the promises of God. They went home together and waited for the birth of their promised daughter, Mary.
(A longer version of this piece appears in The Winter Saints, a book of saint stories for children, written by TCC’s own Melissa Musick.)