Monday, July 25, 2011

Glorious St. Anne – Iconography of St. Anne, Feast Day, July 26 – St. Anne, Patron and Intercessor

Anna Geperts and Her Daughter
from a Prayer Book
Holland or Flanders, ca. 1500
The Hague, Koninlijk Bibliothek,
MS KB135 E 19 fol.1v

Most modern people encounter St. Anne, not through a visual or written source, but through a name – Anne, Ann, Anna, Hannah, Aña, Aine, Anya and countless other variations. Of all the people who bear her name and of the churches, schools and other institutions named after her, she is the Patron Saint.

She is also the Patroness of: grandmothers, women who have trouble conceiving, unmarried women (hence the pseudo-prayer “St. Anne, St. Anne, find me a man”), miners, the French region of Brittany (which takes in the shrine of Ste. Anne d'Auray with its famous “pardon” or pilgrimage in her honor) and the Canadian province of Quebec, with its major shrine at Ste. Anne de Beaupre.

Madonna and Child with St. Anne
from Hours of Pierre de Bosredont
France (Langres), ca. 1465
New York, Morgan Library
MS G.55, fol. 112v

In many works of late medieval art women named Anne requested that their own portraits be added as donor images. In these works they are shown kneeling before her in prayer.

They frequently also requested a closer relationship with St. Anne. In these cases they are shown kneeling in prayer before the the central image of the work of art as St. Anne presents them to that central subject (often a Madonna and Child or scene of the Crucifixion).
Master of the Legend of St. Ursula, Anna Nieuwenhove 
Presented by St. Anne
Flemish, late 15th Century
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lehman Collection

Jean Bourdichon, Anne de Bretagne in Prayer 
Accompanied by Her Patron Saints
from Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne
France (Tours), 1503-1508
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Latin 9474, fol. 3
Here St. Anne appears alongside two royal saints 
as patrons of Anne de Bretagne, Duchess of Brittany
and twice Queen of France (consort to Charles VIII 
and Louis XII.

These images demonstrate St. Anne’s role as intercessor for those who claim her as their Patron or for those who request her prayers.

The Catholic doctrine of intercession is frequently misunderstood by non-Catholics (and some Catholics). It is based on the Christian belief in the Communion of Saints, the union of all the faithful, living and dead, in Christ.
Lucas Cranach the Elder, St. Anne with Donor
German, ca. 1514
Pedralbes, Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

As the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states regarding the Communion of Saints:

 “This expression also refers to the communion between holy persons (sancti); that is, between those who by grace are united to the dead and risen Christ. Some are pilgrims on the earth; others, having passed from this life, are undergoing purification and are helped also by our prayers. Others already enjoy the glory of God and intercede for us. All of these together form in Christ one family, the Church, to the praise and glory of the Trinity.” 1

Since all members of the Communion are alive in Christ, “death no longer has power” (Romans 6:9). So, just as we can request the intercessory prayer of persons still living in this world, we can request the intercessory prayers of those who, having passed from this life, live now in “the glory of God” (see above).

There is no “now” and no “then” in God. In 2011, we can request the intercession of Saint Anne just as readily as our predecessors of 500 years ago, such as does Anna Nieuwenhove in a painting by the Master of the St. Ursula Legend (above) or her contemporary Anne de Valois (also known as Anne de France) in the beautiful Bourbon Altarpiece by the Master of Moulins (identified as Jean Hey) or as readily as we can request the intercessory prayer of our own contemporary friend named Anne. 

Master of Moulins (Jean Hey), Bourbon Altarpiece
French, ca. 1498
Moulins Cathedral

Master of Moulins (Jean Hey). St. Anne with Anne de Valois
Detail of  the Bourbon Altarpiece
French, ca. 1498
Moulins, Cathedral
So, on this feast of Saints Joachim and Anne it is fitting to close with this prayer to St. Anne:

O glorious Saint Anne, you are filled with compassion for those who invoke you, and with love for those who suffer. Heavily burdened with the weight of my troubles, I cast myself at your feet and humbly beg of you to take the present intention, which I recommend to you in your special care.

Please recommend it to your daughter, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and place it before the throne of Jesus, so that He may bring it to a happy issue.

Continue to intercede for me until my request is granted. But, above all, obtain for me the grace on day to see my God face to face, and with you and Mary and all the saints to praise and bless him for all eternity. Amen.

 Saints Anne and Joachim, pray for us.

Anonymous Alabaster Carver, Mary with Saints
Anne and Joachim
English, 15th Century
New  York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Joos van Cleve, Madonna and Child with Saints Joachim 
and Anne
Flemish, 1541
Brussels, Musees Royaux des Beaux-Arts


1. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Vatican, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005, #195

© M. Duffy, 2011

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