What little we know about Saint Anne comes from the apocryphal Gospel of James (ca. 145 AD), also known as the Protoevangelium of James [PJ]. According to tradition, Anne (Hannah in Hebrew) was born in Bethlehem and married Joachim of Nazareth, both descendants of King David. Joachim is described as “a rich and devout man," who regularly gave to the poor and "made a double offering to the temple" in expiation for his sins (PJ 1:1). Because Anne was barren, the temple priest rejected Joachim's sacrifice, as childlessness was interpreted as a sign of divine displeasure. There was no greater misfortune for a Jewish person than to be childless. Had not God promised to His people, through Abraham, "descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore" (Gen. 22:17)? Joachim consequently "went into the desert to fast and pray" for forty days and forty nights (PJ 1:4). But Anne remembered the faith of her ancestors, and with renewed courage prayed: "God of my fathers, bless me: Hear my prayer, as You blessed the womb of Sarah, and gave her a son Isaac!" (PJ 2:4). Her prayer was heard: "Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to her and said: 'Anne, Anne, the Lord has heard your prayer: You shall conceive and bear, and your offspring shall be spoken of in all the world' " (PJ 4:1). In an outpouring of faith, she who was to be Mary's mother immediately consecrated her future offspring. An angel appeared also to Joachim, saying: "Joachim, Joachim, God has heard your prayer. Go on your way, for your wife will conceive" (PJ 4:2). And Joachim offered a thanksgiving sacrifice of ten she-lambs without spot or blemish for the Lord God, twelve tender calves for the priests and elders, and a hundred goats for all the people. He then returned to Jerusalem and embraced Anne at the city gate (PJ 4:3-4).
Anne, blessed above all others, we, too, bring our reverence, for you have given birth to the girl from whom He will come Who is the basis of all our hope. Blessed, indeed, above all others, and blessed in your offspring! The tongues of all believers sing the praises of your child. Every voice is raised in joy at her birth. How worthy Anne is of praise, most worthy, for she received the message of God’s goodness, and brought forth such fruit that from it would come our Lord, Jesus. — St John of Damascus (8th cent.)