The partially preserved portrait of St Anne is one of the masterpieces of early Christian painting in Nubia. It presents a young woman with a calm and pensive expression who places a finger against her mouth. The inclined position of her head could indicate that the saint may have held her daughter Mary, in her arms or on her lap. According to the apocrypha, Anne and her husband Joachim were long childless. Once, when the woman prayed and lamented over her infertility, an angel emerged in front of her, announcing that God accepted her prayers. Soon Anne conceived and gave birth to a daughter, Mary, the future Mother of Christ.
On the painting the saint touches her lips with her finger. This gesture, suggesting silence, appears rather rarely in Christian art. It may be however related with the custom of Egyptian Christians who performed this gesture during silent prayer, as a symbolic defense against evil forces trying to conquer the heart of the person at prayer. Anne may be depicted during silent prayer when she thanked God for the desired daughter.
The veneration of the saint started to develop in the fifth century AD when Mary was officially given the name of the Mother of God. Anne, who in spite of her elderly age was miraculously granted the blessing of motherhood, became a patronness of marriage and women, especially childless women and women in delivery. Christian women turned to Anne praying for children, health and the life of their children and their own, and founded churches and chapels named after her. It is not a coincidence that the portrait of St Anne was discovered in the northern aisle of the cathedral functioning as a separate part for women.