an assignment at Seton School in Manassas this week, I
noticed a large statue nestled in a corner at the front of
the school's newly constructed chapel. I was surprised to
find out that the statue was of St. Anne, Our Lady and the
baby Jesus, specially designed for Seton's new chapel. In 30
years as a practicing Catholic, I had never seen an image of
St. Anne with the child Jesus, let alone three generations of
the Holy Family.
I've since learned that there is
a famous painting of the trio by Leonardo da Vinci on display
at the Louvre Museum in Paris, but the concept still
feels like something of a rarity in religious art. After
doing a little reading, I think I know why.
Catholics know nothing for sure about the life of St. Anne or
her husband, St. Joachim. The gospels never mention the
maternal grandparents of Jesus. The only source of possible
information is from an apocryphal work written around 150 AD,
credibility of that source is dubious. Even in that
legend, there is no mention of them beyond Mary's early
childhood, much less any role they may have played in Jesus'
life. We don't even know for sure if Mary's parents were
really named Anne and Joachim.
Regardless, Catholics have a long history of honoring St.
Anne. As Catholic
Online puts it: "For those who wonder what we can learn
from people we know nothing about and how we can honor them,
we must focus on why they are honored by the church. Whatever
their names or the facts of their lives, the truth is that it
was the parents of Mary who nurtured Mary, taught her,
brought her up to be a worthy Mother of God. It was their
teaching that led her to respond to God's request with faith
It was their faith that laid the foundation of
courage and strength that allowed her to stand by the cross
as her son was crucified and still believe."
Did St. Anne ever meet her grandson? We don't know. But it's
an aspect of Jesus' life that's interesting to think and
wonder about. The statue at Seton School hints at something
larger, too: a kind of seamless unity between the young and
old, forged by love and service to God. Isn't that something
of a rarity in today's "throwaway culture"? Sometimes, it's
too easy to forget what the elderly can teach us.
In the absence of solid facts, artistic creativity can still
give us a lot to think about. St. Anne, pray for us.