The tiny town of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is nestled along the banks of the St. Lawrence River, just 35 kilometers northeast of Québec City (in eastern Canada). Although the town is home to only 2,800 people, the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré is a major Catholic shrine. Dedicated to St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, it is a place of pilgrimage and healing.
The Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré
The original chapel was built in 1658 to house a miraculous statue of St. Anne. Ever since that time, the shrine has been a place of many miracles. For example, one of the original builders, Louis Guimont, suffered from severe scoliosis and could only walk with the aid of a crutch. But once the church was completed, he was miraculously healed. Today, more than one million people visit the shrine each year. The wall of the main entrance is filled with the crutches and canes of those who entered the church’s doors in need of healing – and have left miraculously cured. Who is this saint? And why is she such a powerful intercessor?
Just like us, Jesus was born and grew up in a family. St. Anne and St. Joachim were His grandparents – the parents of His mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Despite the important role they must have played in Jesus’ life, Scripture does not give us any details about them. What we do know comes from other ancient sources: the Protoevangelium of James (written c. 150 A.D.), the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.1
According to these sources, Saint Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born in Bethlehem. She was married to Joachim of Nazareth who, like her, was a descendant of David. They did not have any children, and this caused them great sorrow. The Jewish community regarded infertility as a punishment from God, and as a result, Joachim’s sacrifice was refused at the temple. Remembering how Abraham had been granted a son late in life, Joachim resolved to go into the desert where he fasted for forty days. Anne remained at home, fervently praying for the gift of a child who she promised to dedicate to the service of God. An angel appeared to Anne and Joachim separately, assuring them that God had heard their prayers. The angel told them that Anne would conceive and give birth to a child who would be a blessing to the whole world. Anne met Joachim at the Golden Gate in Jerusalem on his return, and together they rejoiced in God’s promise. Anne later gave birth to Mary – the mother of Jesus – who was miraculously preserved from the stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception within St. Anne’s womb.
The Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem – the traditional site of the home of St. Joachim and St. Anne and the birthplace of Mary. It stands next to the excavation site of the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed a sick man. (John 5:2-9)
St. Anne and St. Joachim remind us how precious children are – that they are one of God’s greatest gifts. They are also a beautiful model of Christian marriage and powerful intercessors for married couples and expectant mothers. Their steadfast faith through their own struggles with infertility explains why those who are having difficulty conceiving often invoke them in prayer.
Their example also reminds us of the importance of families. In God’s plan, the family is “the cradle of life and love.”2 Parents are the first educators of their children, and it is within the Christian family that the seeds of faith are first planted and nurtured. It was at St. Anne’s knees that Mary first learned of God’s love for her. It was there that the seeds of love and faith were first instilled within her heart and that she learned to place her trust in Him. Because of the example of St. Anne and St. Joachim, Mary had the strength to say “yes” when God invited her to become the mother of Jesus, our Saviour and Redeemer.
Many different people and places claim St. Anne and St. Joachim as their patrons, but we honour them in a particular way as the patron saints of grandparents. Grandparents have a very important role to play in the lives of their grandchildren. My mother-in-law, for example, has 43 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren (with more on the way!). Her love for each child is so great and so unconditional that each one is convinced that they are grandma’s favourite! It’s not just the buns she bakes, her warm hugs, or the interest that she takes in each of their lives. When they are preparing for exams or bump up against life’s challenges, they breathe easier knowing that Grandma is praying for them. Convinced of her love for them and of her unshakeable faith in God, they trustingly place all their needs in her hands and ask her to pray for them. They are confident that she has God’s ear! We, too, can ask St. Anne and St. Joachim to pray for us – that we may be images of the love and faithfulness of God – not only to our children, but to our grandchildren as well.
– Sharon van der Sloot
Prayers to St. Anne and St. Joachim
Saints Anne and Joachim, we bless you for your great faith and love as parents. Your respect and reverence for the sacredness of human life made you the parents of Mary, Mother of the Lord. Through your intercession, we ask God to grant young people today that same reverence for the gift of new life. May they accept, cherish, and nourish life from the very moment of conception.
Grant to us as a nation a renewed reverence for every human life. As Mary cherished her Child from the womb even to the tomb, so may we see in every person the very image of God.
Great Saints Anne and Joachim, we ask this grace in the name of Mary’s Son, Jesus the Lord. Amen.3
Good Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, parents of Mary and grandparents to Jesus, be with me and all grandparents that we may be wise and loving, may share our time and stories and sense of humour, and may enjoy and not spoil too much the grandchildren who are close to our hearts, for they are the sign of God’s life to us.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, be with our grandchildren and all other grandchildren that they may love and respect their grandparents and all older people, may remember to call, visit, or write, and grow in wisdom, age, and grace before God. Amen.4
1 These sources are called ‘apocryphal’ writings because the Church did not accept them into the canon of the Bible. In his article, “St. Joachim,” Charles Souvay notes that these writings contain some unwarranted and legendary facts, but they need not be completely rejected as they also contain historical data borrowed from reliable traditions and documents. See Charles Souvay, “St. Joachim,” The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 8 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910). Available from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08406b.htm; Internet; accessed 20 July 2013.
2 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 209. Available from http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html – Importance of the family for the person; Internet; accessed 22 July 2013.
3 Website of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). Available from http://www.olomc-ottawa.com/Anne&Joachim.html; Internet; accessed 22 July 2013.