The Roman Catholic love and respect for the Virgin Mary divides it from other sects of Christianity. Mary is not only revered as the Mother of God but also as the Mother of all Humanity, and her image continually watches over every aspect in the daily life of Catholic countries. She is credited with working miracles through pictures, statues, and sacred earthly places. She is the inspiration of much of the world’s greatest music, art, and architectural works. Her spiritual gifts are recognized in the East and both Hindus and Buddhists refer to her as Mother Mary. Muslims revere her as the mother of a great prophet and she is the only woman with her own chapter in the Koran. As a human being Mary is able to relate directly to the major and minor sufferings of mankind. For this reason she is not prayed to as a goddess, but rather, called on by Catholics to aid them in their prayers. It is thought that she shares her constant flow of grace with those who ask, bringing them closer to God. Thomas Merton wrote, “Mary does not rule us from without, but from within. She does not change us by changing the world around us, but she changes the world around us by first changing our own inner lives.”
In chapter 2 of John’s Gospel is the story of the Wedding at Cana: On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galiliee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.
It was at His mother’s request that Jesus performed His first great miracle. To Him, as a divine spiritual being, running out of wine at a wedding was no great shame. Mary, being human, realized how embarrassing such an event could be for the bride and groom. Because He so respected His mother, Jesus changed the water at the wedding into wine. As a result of this act, His disciples became true believers. The story of the wedding at Cana is frequently cited to illustrate why Catholics have such fervent love for the Virgin Mary. It is also proof of her place in God’s divine plan for mankind. Through her prodding, the first miracle of Christ was performed and because of this first miracle, those who might have doubted Christ’s teachings became believers.
For Catholics, Mary sets an example of a human being who accepts all that God wills without questioning. When Mary was a young girl, the Archangel Gabriel came to her with the announcement, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” Though she was a virgin, she accepted and gave her consent to the Incarnation of Christ. For this reason she is considered one who collaborates with the work of God. Because she is the mother of Christ and He is part of the Holy Trinity, she is given the title Theotokos or “Mother of God.” It is believed that Mary had full knowledge of the terrible fate that awaited her Son on Earth. Yet she also had the faith to withstand His torments because she knew that He would never die. After His Ascension into heaven, she worked with the Apostles, serving as the highest example of an advanced spiritual being who lived by Christ’s teachings while on Earth. Because of this, Catholics
believe that she herself did not die, but was assumed into
heaven. The first sighting of Mary after her Assumption occurred in Puy, France in a.d. 47. She has been appearing to humanity ever since, offering unconditional love, healing, moral support, and in the last two centuries, warnings over the fate of mankind.
On the site of what is now Chartres Cathedral in France, the druids had a shrine devoted to the “Virgin who gives birth” one hundred years before Christ. The coming of Mary was predicted by the prophet Elijah, who led a small community devoted to her on what is now Mount Carmel in Israel eight hundred years before her birth. The oldest proved artistic images of Mary were wall paintings done in the Catacombs of Rome in the late first century. Pagans who were accustomed to worshipping both male and female deities felt comfortable with images of Mary. They related her to the earth and to their own mothers. Statues and paintings of her holding the Christ child illustrated the basic bond between Christ and humanity, and served to bring many into the Christian fold. By the Middle Ages, a time when art, religious worship, and daily life were completely harmonious, the cult of Mary was a mainstay of both the Roman and Orthodox Churches.
The mystical writer and doctor of the Churches, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux insisted in the power of Mary’s grace. He saw her as the messenger of original spiritual values and the ultimate mediator, always pleading the cause of the human race. Catholic art, which is believed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, abounded with images of her, and the world’s greatest cathedrals were erected in her honor. When the founders of the Reformation sought to stem the tide of Papal excess by bringing Christian worship back to its biblical roots, Mary’s role in Christian worship was reassessed. Since there are few mentions of Mary in the Bible, reverence for her as a heavenly mediator was looked upon as superstition. She was considered to be a holy woman, long dead and buried. Visual art was considered a distraction to spiritual worship and images of Mary were considered idolatrous; many of the great Marian shrines of Germany and England were summarily destroyed. Because of this, the Virgin Mary became an important symbol of the Counter-Reformation. To Catholics, her denigration by the newly formed Protestant sects was equal to the denigration of her Son. The belief in her place as the most exalted human was expounded with a new force. Religious orders such as the Jesuits and the Carmelites spread devotions centered around the gifts of the rosary to Saint Dominic and the scapular to Saint Simon Stock. The baroque art movement was embraced in Catholic countries as a fervid symbol of their belief in art as a religiousexperience and as a direct reaction against the perceived dourness of Protestant churches. As visual representations of the Virgin Mary became more dramatic, so did stories of her rescuing or advising humanity. Most of these tales center on Mary acting through statues, paintings, or dreams.
The cult of Mary has remained strong in the Mediterranean and in Latin America. These are places where women traditionally hold the family together. Popular depictions of Mary vary from country to country and she seems to adapt the persona of the culture in which she appears. Italy and Latin America welcome the sweeter, long suffering, human, and maternal Mary. In France the Virgin Mary takes on a more ethereal and graceful persona. Spain, Portugal, and eastern Europe all have apparitions made by Mary that are more stern and serious.
It is said that the modern age of Mary was ushered in with the visits paid to Saint Catherine Laboure in 1831. Since then, the Blessed Mother has been seen steadily by seers in almost every country in the world. In this book we relate some of the Marian apparitions that are sanctioned by the Catholic Church; there are thousands more that are well known but unofficial. When Mary visits, she appears in the race of and speaking the language of the person who sees her. She can be sweet and kind or angry and insistent. The visionaries who see her enjoy no great material reward. They are often
people who have little religious belief. They are usually mocked and harassed by their own community. Many have died young, not having been spared by the parameters of the lives they were born into. Some are honored in their lifetime, some choose to retire from the world, others continue on with their lives, never again experiencing any supernatural or spiritual events. The messages they relay from Mary for the human race are all basically the same, “Do whatever He tells you.”
Hail Mary Full of Grace! the Lord is with you; Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Feast Day: July 26
Patron of: Canada, Brittany, Broommakers, Cabinetmakers, Childless people, Grandparents, Miners, Lacemakers, Pregnancy, Housewives, Seafarers, Rain
Invoked for: protection in pregnancy and childbirth, help in rasing children, for a good death, finding a husband, protection in thunder storms, protection in sea storms
Symbols: Book, throne, golden gate
As the mother of the Virgin Mary, Saint Anne is frequently depicted with her husband Joachim who shares her feast day. While his cult was stronger in earlier times, hers quickly spread from the Eastern to Western churches, making her more universally popular. The story of Saint Anne and her family was first told in the second century as part of The Protevangelium of James, a gospel written about the early life of Jesus Christ. Widely read by early Christians, it was never accepted as part of the New Testament canon. According to that text, Anne and Joachim had a childless marriage for almost 20 years. When Joachim was presenting his offering for the dedication of a new temple, he was shunned by the priest, who declared his childlessness was a curse from God. In humiliation, he left his community to live in the wilderness for forty days of prayer. When his wife heard what had happened, she begged the Lord to be allowed to conceive and promised to dedicate any child she might have to the service of the Lord. An angel appeared to Joachim where he was staying and said, “Delayed conceptions and infertile childbearing are all the more wonderful! Your wife will bear you a daughter and you will call her Mary. As you have vowed, she will be consecrated to the Lord at infancy and filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb.” He was told to go back to the city and meet his wife at the golden gate of Jerusalem. Saint Anne, distraught because she did not know where her husband was, was visited by the same angel who told her that she would meet her husband at the gate as a sign that her prayers were answered. They were overjoyed to see each other. Mary was conceived and at the age of three her parents honored their pledge to dedicate her to God. Anne and Joachim took the one thing that meant the most to them, their only child to the temple to be raised in religious service. According to an early account of her life, when Joachim died, Anne married his brother Cleophas with whom she had another daughter named Mary. When he died, she married for a third time and had a third daughter named Mary. The first Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ, the second Mary gave birth to James the Lesser, Joseph the Just, Simon and Jude. The third gave birth to James the Greater and John the Evangelist. Being the grandmother of Christ and many of his apostles, made Saint Anne a crucial branch on the family tree of Jesus Christ. For this reason she is often depicted as the largest figure seated on a throne holding a miniature Mary who holds an even smaller young Jesus.
Saint Anne did not live to see the torment and execution of Christ. Because she was spared this sorrow she is invoked for an easy death. Sometime after the resurrection of Christ, Mary Magdalene, her brother Lazarus and other apostles were driven from Jerusalem because of their faith. They set out in a boat carrying the remains of Saint Anne, landing in Marseille, France. The remains of Saint Anne were taken further inland from the coast to what is now Apt, France where they were concealed in a crypt. These events were transcribed in the Martyrology of Apt, dating from the Second Century. This Martyrology was consulted in vain by Charlemagne nearly 700 years later in an attempt to locate the remains of Saint Anne. With the emperor in attendance, a ceremony was held to reconsecrate the Cathedral of Apt, a 14 year old deaf mute began to strike at the main altar with his staff, greatly disturbing the ceremony. The boys persistence so impressed Charlemagne, that he ordered that the stairs of main altar be opened up after the mass. An underground door sealed with stones was uncovered. When these were removed an ancient catacomb was revealed. The boy led the group through the underground church and began to strike at a wall. When the wall was broken down a crypt was found with a casket of cypress wood. Inscribed on it were the words “Here lies the body of Blessed Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary.” Charlemagne had the recollection of these events written up, notarized and sent to the pope in Rome. The original papers of this correspondence are still in existence today.
The Cathedral of Apt became an important pilgrimage site. The cult of Saint Anne spread throughout France becoming particularly strong in Brittany. There are many Breton legends claiming Saint Anne as a Breton queen who had to escape a brutal husband. Angels led her to a ship which landed in Jerusalem where she gave birth to the Virgin Mary. In the East, her feast was celebrated from the beginning of Christianity. As celebration of the Feast of Saint Anne spread through Western Europe, her patronage of fertility was extended to the farm lands. In Italy people referred to rain as “Saint Anne’s gift” and in Germany rain was referred to as “Saint Anne’s dowery”. Martin Luther wrote that he became a monk because of a promise he made to Saint Anne while he was caught in a terrifying thunder storm. In the new world, Canada is still known as the “Land of Saint Anne”. In 1650 a group of sailors were caught in a storm on the Saint Lawrence river. As they were about to perish they invoked Saint Anne for help, promising to build a shrine to her wherever they first landed. They washed ashore on the north bank of the river at Beaupre. Today, the Cathedral of Saint Anne de Beaupre, now standing on that site attracts millions of pilgrims from around the world. The chapel is filled with ex-votos donated to the church from people who have received miraculous healings.
Though not a biblical figure, Saint Anne was considered second only to Saint Joseph in importance by the early Eastern Church. Her role as a powerful matriach and grandmother to Jesus Christ served as a strong example in Western Europe where many communities depended on the wisdom and advice of the aged. To many, she is an accessible representative of a state of life and she is invoked for a variety of favors. Because of her three marriages, young women ask her aid in finding a husband with the prayer, “Saint Anne, find me a man.” Her patronage of the sea and storms stems from the voyage her remains made with Lazarus and Mary Magdalene. She is frequently depicted with an open book, instructing her daughter Mary. Because her womb held Mary she is the patron of miners who dig up secret treasures. Since tabernacles were once made only of wood, and her womb was considered a human tabernacle, she is also the patron of carpenters and cabinet makers.
The Hebrew name for Anne is Hannah, which means “grace”. A common saying is, “All Anne’s are beautiful” and because of this the name “Anne” became the most popular girl’s name in Central Europe during the 19th Century. Adding “Anne” after a girl’s name is still common practice, particularly the combination of Mary Anne. Canada and Brittany hold major celebrations in Saint Anne’s honor on her feast day.
Prayer to Saint 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 (state intention).
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 one-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.
O Jesus, Holy Mary, Saint Anne, help me now and at the hour
of my death.
Good Saint Anne, intercede for me.