The Church of Saint Anne
Explore the Church of Saint Anne
Location – The Muslim Quarter, Old City of Jerusalem
Map Coordinates - 31.781304, 35.236199
We always let our Octagon Tour members sing in this church, and the sounds are epic!
This 900-year-old church exists because of an ancient book called The Protoevangelium of James, written in around 150 AD, where we are first introduced to Mary’s parents.
This is a French Catholic Church, and it is one of the largest crusader structures in the Holy Land. The priests that oversee everything that happens here are called the White Fathers, because of the white robes that they always wear.
To tell the story of Jesus, you have to begin with a series of events that occurred 17 years before He was born. There are several ancient books that describe Jesus’ birth and childhood, and these books claim to provide supplemental information about Mary and Joseph, and the early life of Jesus. These books are commonly called “Infancy Gospels”. Almost all of them were discarded by the early Christians immediately after they were written… and for good reason. Most of them are total fiction.
But there is one historic book outside of our four canonized Gospels that provides what appears to be credible history about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, and even the birth of Mary, and that is The Protoevangelium of James, also called the First Gospel of James.
Anne and Joachim.
This ancient book, written perhaps 100 years after Jesus ascended into heaven, gives us our first look at the parents of Jesus’ mother. According to the author, Jesus’ grandparents were named Anne and Joachim, a wealthy couple who lived in Jerusalem during the birth of their first child - a young girl named Mary.
According to the Protoevangelium of James, Anne and Joachim lived very close to this spot. For many years they had prayed for a child, but they were now both very old, and had given up hope that they would ever have children.
Anne, Joachim and their child, Mary.
Inside this church, on the left side, is a statue of Saint Anne, and the child Mary.
When both Anne and Joachim were children themselves, this land was ruled by the Jews, under the Hasmonean Dynasty. In a few short years, the Romans took control of Palestine, and they attempted to convert Jerusalem into a pagan city. One of the things that the Romans did is they erected a shrine dedicated to the Roman healing God, Asclepius. That shrine became a cultic healing center for the residents of Jerusalem, and it was built within a few feet from where Anne and Joachim lived.
The conversion of the first Christian emperor, Constantine I, brought about the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, which legalized Christianity. In 380 AD The Edict of Thessalonica declared that Christianity was the only official religion of the Roman Empire. This means that for about three hundred years all of this was a Christian nation. In this particular location, the pagan shrine of Asclepius that was built just outside the home of Mary’s birth was removed, and two Orthodox churches were built here – one commemorating the birth of Mary, and one celebrating the healing of the paralytic at the nearby pool of Bethesda.
In 614 AD a pagan army from Persia marched on Jerusalem, and they destroyed both of these churches.
Shortly after the city was overrun by these Persians, there were three separate Muslim Caliphates, one after the other - all of them occupying Jerusalem, and most of them were generally lenient toward Christians who wished to continue their religious traditions. But some were not. One of the most defining moments in Church history occurred in 1009 AD, when a particular Egyptian Caliph, named Al-Hakim, who was unsympathetic to the Christians living in Jerusalem, came in and destroyed many of the Christian buildings, including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Catholics in Europe had an answer for this aggression, by mounting an army of their own. Their retaliation against the new Muslim overlords of the Holy Land was called the Crusades. The Crusades started in 1096 AD, and they lasted for almost 200 years. It was the Crusaders who built the Church of Saint Anne.
This plaque on the outside of the church door indicates that the church was once used as a Muslim school after the Crusades.
The Church of Saint Anne was designed for Gregorian chants to be sung inside of it. The echo inside this church lingers for about five seconds. From this we confirmed that the entire Church of Saint Ann is actually a musical instrument in itself, designed to be played by the human voice.
Underneath this church there is a crypt. A crypt is an underground room or a vault beneath a church that is used as a chapel or burial place. The crypt is always the holiest part of any church, and, as a rule, ancient crypts were never built under existing churches. Rather, just the opposite - churches were always built on top of existing crypts. One of the ways that you know that an ancient site is authentic is because you have to go downstairs to enter it. This is because modern Jerusalem is approximately 15 to 20 feet higher than it was in the first century.
Inside this cave, there is a modern icon with a scene of Anne and Joachim and their newborn child, Mary. On the very top left you see some Greek letters. The first two letters are an abbreviation for the Virgin Mary. The last two letters are an abbreviation for the Greek word Theotokos, which means “God-bearer”.
The Protoevangelium of James claims that Mary was 16 years old when Jesus was born. This is the earliest historical record of how old Mary was during the Nativity of Christ.
Did Jesus have living grandparents?
The answer is probably no. To begin, there is no mention of them in Scripture, either in Nazareth, or in Jerusalem. The Orthodox Church teaches that Anne and Joachim were both deceased by the time Mary was eleven years old. Remember they were already well into their senior years when Mary was born, so they weren’t going to live much longer. Finally, this elderly couple totally disappears from the pages of the Protoevangelium of James when Mary was three years old, where she is left to be raised on the Temple Mount in a girl’s boarding school. Even in the 6th-century historic book called The Pseudo Gospel of Matthew, Anne and Joachim are completely gone from the historical record before Mary was emancipated from the Temple at the age of 12. Judging by their absence, there is probably no reason to believe that Jesus’ grandparents were alive when Mary left the Temple, and went to live in Nazareth.