St. Joachim: The Iconography
MARCH 20

The canonical scriptures say nothing of the birth or parentage of Mary, but countless art works through the ages have taken their cue from legendary material.

From at least the 2nd century, this material proposes that Mary's parents were named Joachim and Anna. They had been childless for 20 years when an angel appeared to them separately and told them to meet in Jerusalem at the Golden Gate, for they were going to have a child "who will be spoken of in all the world." When the child was born they named her Mary.1

Giotto's Arena Chapel frescoes follow the story in detail. Elsewhere, when only one episode is pictured, it is most likely to be either Mary's birth (see the page for Mary's Birth and Early Life) or the meeting at the Golden Gate (see the gallery below).

In these images Joachim is usually represented as a man in later middle age, with a gray or mostly-gray beard that reaches to about the breastbone.

THE MEETING AT THE GOLDEN GATE
(Thumbnails click for full image and description)

Giotto, 1305-6


Bartolomeo Vivarini, 1474


Nicolas Dipre, 16th century


Benedikt Dreyer, 1515-20

Prepared in 2014  at Georgia Regents University by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English

HOME PAGE

Statues in the Franciscan Monastery, Zadar, Croatia (See description page)

NAMES

  • The Roman Martyrology for March 20 lists St. Joachim as "Father of the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, Confessor." According to the Catholic Encyclopedia (s.v. "Confessor"), confessors are "those men [sic] who have distinguished themselves by heroic virtue which God has approved by miracles."

HAGIOGRAPHY

  • See note 1 below
NOTES

1 The story is recounted in the 2nd-century Protevangelium of James (1-5), in the third- or fourth-century Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew (1-4), and in the Golden Legend ("The Nativity of Our Blessed Lady," html or pdf).