The Sicilian Grandmother

In Sicily, a grandmother traveled to Palermo to the Chiesa de Gesu to petition St. Anne, the grandmother of Jesus, the mother of the Holy Virgin, for a husband. In St. Anne's Chapel, she knelt and began fingering her prayer beads. Thinking she was alone, she sang this charm:
Oh, holy and blessed St. Anne,
Help my granddaughter get a man;
You know him very well,
In Palermu does he dwell;
If your blessings help me,
I will brew you a cup of tea.
Unbeknown to the grandmother, one of the young monks was cleaning the floor out of her sight. Angry at her superstition and impiety of petitioning St. Anne with a charm, he decided to use a trick to disuade this woman from such superstitious behavior.

The monk called out in a falsetto voice, "She shall not have him. Foolish woman, pray instead for the reparation of your sins."

"Santa Maria!" she exclaimed, startled. Though the voice surprised her, this grandmother quickly surmised that this was not St. Anne, who had never spoken so. Therefore, this was the voice of some mortal prankster neaby.

She pretended to address the image of the Madonna saying: "Shut-a your mouth, I’m a-talking to your Mamma!"

copyright 2009 Myth Woodling

Myth's Notes

I am sorry to report this is not a genuine Italian legend, though perhaps it should be. Serious students of folklore will recognize it as a retelling of one of the lesser known Grimm tales, #139 The Maid of Brakel (Dat Mäken von Brakel). I did change the charm to reflect a Sicilian custom of giving St. Anne a cup of camomille tea when petitioning her aid. I've spun my own version to illuminate difference in attitudes between popular devotion among the people and the attudes in the orthodox practice of the clergy. Besides I like the idea of one grandmother petioning another on behalf of an unmarried granddaughter. It fits with the Sicilian/Italian concept of famiglia.

I confess I borrowed the wording of the punchline from a genuine American-Italian joke, which involved someone teasing a woman who was praying to the Madonna. In the joke, this prankster was pretending to be the voice of Jesus.

Interstingly, there is a tradition of St. Anne as a match-making saint in the USA in New Orleans, Louisiana. The combination of French-speaking Catholics and African culture in New Orleans is well known to many. However, there are also numerous and subtle influences from immigrations by Sicilians, Germans, Irish, Italians, Czechs, Hungarians, Croatians, Filipinos, Latins (Mexican, Cuban, Guatemalan), etc. which effect New Orleans' culture and religious practice.

In this culturally diverse city, the "Orginal National Shrine of St. Ann," is located at 2125 Ursuline Ave., New Orleans, LA. Dedicated in 1935, the shrine serves for as a site of popular devotion. Among many other things, it contains a replica of the grotto at Lourdes with a statue of the Madonna in her incaration as the Immaculate Conception.

According to David C. Estes article, The Saint Ann Shrine in New Orleans: Popular Catholicism in Local, National, & International Contexts, "Matrimony is among reasons for visiting the shrine, as suggested by this petition known to many Catholic women in New Orleans: 'Saint Ann, Saint Ann, give me a man.' " "Louisiana's Living Traditions,", accessed on 9/17/09. Inside the grotto of "Orginal National Shrine of St. Ann," there is an altar upon which devotees may light votive candles in front of a statue of St. Anne with the Virgin Mary, standing to her left. Several prie-dieux directly in front of this altar are available for prayer.

Several feet in front of the grotto, the grounds contain several other religious statues. There is, for example, a small image of St. Joseph, which people place keys next to as thanksgiving for assistance in finding housing. There is also a small image of St. Anne, the mother of the Madonna, grandmother of Jesus, and New Orlean's patroness of women searching for a husband, which likewise recieves devotions.

I suppose it is not impossible that there is a New Orleans variant of "The Maid of Brakel" attached to the "Orginal National Shrine of St. Ann."

Praying to Saints and Folk Magic: Sant' Anna

Useful Prayers: Daily Prayer to St. Anne
Useful Prayers: Prayer to St. Anne to Obtain Some Special Favor
Useful Prayers: Prayer to Sant' Anna
Useful Prayers: Novena to St. Anne

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