Little is known authoritatively about the Virgin Mary’s early childhood and family. However, an ancient text from the year 145, called The Protoevangelium of James, provides a narrative that many saints have turned to when wanting to learn more about the Virgin Mary.
According to the unknown author, a man named Joachim was saddened at not being able to conceive a child with his wife, Anne. It’s recorded, “Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying in himself: I will not go down either for food or for drink until the Lord my God shall look upon me, and prayer shall be my food and drink.”
Similarly, Anne “mourned in two mournings, and lamented in two lamentations, saying: I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness.” Then Anne “saw a laurel, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying: O God of our fathers, bless me and hear my prayer, as You blessed the womb of Sarah, and gave her a son Isaac.”
In the midst of her prayers an angel appeared and said, “the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world.” At the same time an angel appeared to Joachim, saying, “Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down hence; for, behold, your wife Anne shall conceive.”
The two conceived a child shortly thereafter and then according to the story “her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anne brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? And she said: A girl. And said Anne: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anne was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.”
The account echoes many of the stories in the Old Testament, where couples were barren until they cried out to God. Angels are often the bearers of good news to them, proclaiming that they will bear a child. Yet in this case, instead of a boy, the announcement is a girl who “shall be spoken of in all of the world.”
While the story is not known to be a factual account, the Church does refer to the parents of the Virgin Mary as Joachim and Anne.
Whatever happened, it would have been fitting for her birth to be miraculous, as the Church teaches that the Virgin Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin in the womb of her mother. The Solemnity of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is celebrated annually on December 8, nine months before the Feast of the Birth of Mary on September 8.
The forgotten story of Mary’s midwife
A prayer to Sts. Joachim and Anne for your wayward grandchildren