The story bears a superficial similarity to that of the birth of Samuel, whose mother Hannah had also been childless. Although Anne's cult receives little attention in the Western church prior to the late 12th century, dedications to Anne in the Eastern church occur as early as the 6th century. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Anne is ascribed the title Forbear of God, and both the Birth of Mary and the Dedication of Mary to the Temple are celebrated as two of the Twelve Great Feasts.
In Western iconography, Anne may be recognised by her depiction in red robe and green mantle, often holding a book. Images may also be found depicting Anne holding a small Mary who in turn holds an infant Christ (see gallery). Such trinitarian representations mirror similar depictions of the Trinity, and were sometimes produced as pairs.
Varying theologians have believed either that Joachim was Anne's only husband, or that she was married thrice. Ancient belief, attested to by a sermon of St John Damascene, was that Anne married once. In late medieval times, legend held that Anne was married three times, first to Joachim, then to Clopas, and finally to a man named Solomas, and that each marriage produced one daughter: Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary of Clopas, and Mary Salomae, respectively.
Similarly, in the 4th century, and then much later in the 15th century, a belief arose that Mary was born of Anne by virgin birth. Those believers included the 16th century mystic Valentine Weigel who claimed Anne conceived Mary by the power of the Holy spirit. This belief was also condemned as an error by the Catholic Church in 1677. Instead, the Church teaches that Mary was conceived in the normal fashion, but that she was miraculously preserved from original sin in order to make her fit to bear Christ. The conception of Mary free from original sin is termed the Immaculate Conception -- which is frequently confused with the Virgin Birth or Incarnation of Christ.
The iconographic subject of Joachim and Anne The Meeting at the Golden Gate fitted both views, and was a regular component of artistic cycles of the "Life of the Virgin". The couple meet at the "Golden Gate" of Jerusalem and embrace. They are aware of Anne's pregnancy, of which they have been separately informed by an archangel. For those believing in the virgin birth of Mary, this moment stood for her conception, and the feast was celebrated on the same day as the Immaculate Conception. The Birth of Mary, the Presentation of Mary and the Marriage of the Virgin were usual components of cycles of the Life of the Virgin in which Anne is normally shown.
Anne is never shown as present at the Nativity of Christ, but is frequently shown with the infant Christ in various subjects. She is normally shown as present at the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and the Circumcision of Christ. There was a tradition that she went (separately) to Egypt and rejoined the Holy Family after their Flight to Egypt. Anne is not seen with the adult Christ, so was regarded as having died during the youth of Jesus. Anne is also shown as the matriarch of the Holy Kinship, the extended family of Jesus, a popular subject in late medieval Germany. In modern devotions, Anne and her husband are used as protection for the unborn.
The feast day of Anne is 26 July (Western calendar) and 25 July (Eastern calendar).
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