Mandeville, LA – Today marks the annual Catholic observation of St. Ann, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s mother. The story of her relics (incorrupt body) take us from Jerusalem to Italy then France and involves the greatest of all the French monarchs, Charlemagne. St Ann’s crypt and her relics can still be viewed today if you can find your way to Apt France. The prayer to St. Ann is a brief but sweet one.
“Good Saint Anne,
you were especially favoured by God
to be the mother of the most holy Virgin Mary,
and thus grandmother of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
By your intimacy with your most pure daughter and her divine Son,
kindly obtain for us the graces that we seek.
Secure for us the strength to perform faithfully our daily duties
and the help we need to persevere in the love of Jesus and Mary.
A brief history of St Ann’s relics.
St Ann and St Joachim are the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is not known precisely when St Ann died but we do know that the Apostles were keenly aware that the Jews and pagans would seek her out the body of the grandmother of Christ to desecrate it.
After the Ascension, prophets began predicting the sacking of Jerusalem and feared for Our Saint’s relics. Tradition says that St Ann’s body was thus removed across the sea to Gaul and then to Marseilles, a seaport in early France. We cannot know for certain who transported it there but tradition again says that St Martha and St. Lazarus moved to Marseilles at the same time. Indeed, St Lazarus is said to have become the first bishop of Marseiiles. As early as 118 A.D. there are records in the nearby Church of Apta Julia that catalogue the relics of our BVM’s mother,
“The first bishop of Apta (also known as Apt) Julia, St. Auspicius, who died before 118, took further precautions to guard this holy treasure from desecration and had the body buried still deeper in the subterranean chapel. All carefully concealed till invasions should have ceased.”
From there we have the moving acount of how the great Charlemagne discovered St Ann’s body while serving Holy Mass in the tiny mountain town of Apt in the diocese of Avignon. From an 1876 Pastoral Letter of the Most Reverend Dubreil, Archbishop of Avignon, the following account is told.
“Present at the mass was a 14 year old boy, blind, deaf and dumb from birth, the son of the Baron Caseneuve de Simiane, the host of Charlemagne. All at once as if inspired, the boy moved toward the steps of the high altar. He seemed to listen to a voice from on high and made signs that a flagstone of the floor should be lifted. Charlemagne gave orders that he should be obeyed. The stone was lifted and as they dug down they came upon the crypt of the relics. Instantaneously the boy was cured of his infirmities and he cried aloud: “It is She! It is She! They broke into the masonry and there they found the sacred relics, in a small casket of cypress wood. In this they found the sacred relics wrapped in a precious veil on which was written: “Here rests the body of the Mother of the Virgin Mary…”
Until the 20th century there was still a yearly pilgrimage to Apt and the Church where St Ann’s relics rest. As a testament to this Saints power and great sanctity, the Vatican records indicate at least two Popes and the Queen of France, named for Our Saint, made this pilgrimage.
“On the 16th of March, 1660, Queen Ann of Austria went personally in pilgrimage to Apt to give thanks to the Great Saint. As a votive offering she built the “Chapelle Royale” where to this day the holy relics are preserved. Even before that Popes and kings had come as pilgrims to offer their homage to the grandmother of the Savior. Among them were Popes Urban II in 1095 and Urban V in 1365.”
St. James also gives us a very detailed account of the birth of Our Lady to the “widow” (meaning barren) “Hannah” and her husband “Joachim” in his Protoevangelium.
“And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, 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. And Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life….And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? And she said: A girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.”
– Compiled by Mike Church for the New Orleans Mysterium Fideii’s Salesian Society
4. Under Her Starry Mantle, the Life of St Ann