God was there and she wished to be near him. And that is what her parents, Ann and Joachim wished that their daughter be near her God. The early story says that Mary spent most of her childhood in that holy place.
When Mary was 14, the age Jewish girls married at that time, she wondered what her future would be. Her parents knew their child had a special place in God’s plan, but what it was they did not know. They began to arrange for her marriage, as customary in those days, and sought advice from the Jewish high priest himself. After praying for guidance, the high priest called every unmarried man from the tribe of David to come to the temple with a branch from the fields and lay it on the altar. The one, whose branch flowered, he decided, would marry Mary.
Joseph was among those who came at the high priest’s call, but he brought no branch with him. Yet God pointed him out as the one who should be Mary’s husband. When Joseph finally placed a branch on the altar, it immediately flowered. The two were betrothed in marriage and Mary returned to her parent’s home at Nazareth to wait some months and to prepare for the wedding. While she was there, the angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she was to be the mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child. After Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where they would live and bring up their young son. Ann and Joachim visited them there and helped to care for the child. They told Jesus many stories about Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, Moses and the Ten Commandments. They watched Jesus play and walk; they fed him his favorite meals, bathed him, and gently rocked him to sleep. When Ann and Joachim died, or where, we do not know, none of the ancient stories tell us. But a later tradition says, and we can believe that it is true, that Jesus was with Ann and Joachim when they passed away.
The story of Jesus’ mother and grandmother as written in the Gospel of James was very popular among early Christians. It had a great influence on Christian worship, art and devotion. Around the year 550 a church in honor of Saint Ann was built in Jerusalem near the temple area on the site where Ann, Joachim and their daughter Mary were believed to have lived. In the 6th century the churches in the East celebrated two Feasts honoring Mary based on the story: Mary’s birth and her presentation in the Temple. Since the 7th century the Greek and Russian Churches have celebrated feasts in honor of Saint Joachim and Ann, the conception of Saint Ann, and the feast of Saint Ann. The western churches have celebrated the feast of Saint Ann since the 16th century.
Devotion to Saint Ann grew in Europe through a popular French tradition. The French believed that Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, Martha, and other friends of Jesus crossed the Mediterranean Sea and landed at the southern French city of Marseilles where they spread the news about Jesus’ death and resurrection. According to this tradition Mary Magdalene’s group brought with them the remains of Saint Ann.
According to the legend, the bishop, St Auspice, buried the body of St Ann in a cave under the church of St Mary in Apt. When barbarians invaded that area, the cave was filled with debris, almost to be forgotten until it was dug out by miners 600 years later during the reign of Charlemagne. The Sailors and miners of the region around Marseilles were very devoted to Saint Ann and their devotion spread to other parts of Europe and eventually to the New World. The ancient shrines of St. Ann in Jerusalem and in Apt, France still exist. Saint Ann is the patroness of Brittany in France, a land of sailors.
The great shrine of Sainte Anne d’Auray, founded in the 17th century, is one of the largest pilgrimage centers in Europe and is especially popular with the Bretons of France. Settlers from that region brought their devotion to Canada where they established the shrine of Sainte Anne de Beaupre near Quebec in 1658. In 1905 American Passionist Priests and Brothers built a monastery in the mining center of Scranton, Pennsylvania and dedicated their foundation to Saint Ann. The monastery was built over a coal mine.
On August 15, 1911 the monastery shook, cracked and split due to a severe mine subsidence. The community of priests moved out. But they had complete confidence that they would be able to come back again. In their words, “Saint Ann will take care of her own”. In a short time, with repairs, all was safe and the Passionists returned.
Again on July 28, 1913, an even more menacing disturbance took place. A gigantic “squeeze” threatened to slide the whole monastery and church down the hill. Immediately the Passionists and the neighbors prayed for help through the intercession of Saint Ann. The next morning, on an inspection of the mines that run under the monastery, it was found that the slide had suddenly stopped, turned back and settled solidly under the monastery.
So started the history of devotion to Saint Ann at Saint Ann’s Shrine in Scranton. The magnificent structure which is now Saint Ann’s Monastery Church was dedicated on April 2nd, 1929. Here, the weekly Saint Ann’s Novena has continued every Monday throughout the years. More than 10,000 people per day attend the annual ten day Saint Ann’s Solemn Novena which begins July 17th and ends on July 26th, the feast of Saint Ann.