St. Joachim and St. Anne

The feast of St. Joachim and St. Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary, is celebrated every year by the Roman Catholic Church on 26th July. Since St. Joachim and St. Anne are the patron Saints of grandparents, this day is also celebrated as Grandparent’s Day.

There is very little information available to us about St. Joachim and St. Anne. They are not mentioned in Holy Scripture. However, their names are mentioned in the 2nd century Protevangelium of James, the principal source of the Golden Legend’s account of Mary’s nativity.

As the story goes in the Golden Legend, St. Joachim and St. Anne had been childless for 20 years. Consequently St. Joachim was refused entrance to the Temple when he brought his offering on the Feast of Dedication. With a heavy heart, he went with his sheep to the mountains. A few months later an angel announced to the two that their prayers for a child were answered and they should meet at the Golden Gate of the Temple. When the child was born they named her Mary.

In Goa, in the village of Talaulim, the 26th of July is celebrated as the Feast of St. Anne. The Feast is also known as Touxeanchem Fest (Cucumber Feast). People from different walks of life and communities attend this festival with the belief that prayers made through the intercession of St. Anne are always answered.

Specific offerings are made to the Saint by the faithful inorder that their prayers may be answered. Newlyweds and childless couples offer a cucumber saying, ‘Senhora, tomai pepino dai me menino’. The bachelors offer a wooden spoon while saying, ‘Senhora, Tomai Colher, dai me mulher’. Similarly, the spinsters say, ‘Senhora, tomai urido, dai me marido’, while offering urad dal. Couples who desire a girl child because there are only boys in the family offer a small bangle while saying, ‘Toma manilha, dá cá filha’.

Initially, St. Anne was mostly seen in narrative images of the story from the Golden Legend. However, in the Middle Ages, due to the rise in popular devotion to St. Anne many new sculptural depictions of St. Anne could be seen. One such depiction is called the Anna Selbdritt where St. Anne is shown as a mature adult with the Christ Child and Mary who is quite young. The subject of St. Anne’s teaching Mary to read also developed in the Middle Ages.

This 18th-19th century polychrome and gilt wood image of St. Anne and the Virgin is from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa. The lighter shade of the Virgin’s clothing and the way her hair is arranged tell us that this image does not date from the 18th century, as the chair might lead us to suppose, but from the 19th century. This depiction of the Virgin Mary’s education is the most widespread and led to the book becoming one of the more common emblems associated with the Mother of Our Lady, used even when this specific scene is not portrayed.