Saint Joan of Arc
Saint Joan of Arc
Feast Day: May 30
Patron of: soldiers and France
Symbol: young woman carrying a sword
Joan of Arc was a brave young woman who became a great saint. She followed God's will despite criticism and persecution.
Joan grew up in Eastern France in the early 1400's. Her father was a farmer, and while the family was not poor, they were not very wealthy either. Joan probably didn't receive very much education, except for learning the Creed, the Our Father and the Hail Mary from her mother. She was a good and obedient daughter, a quiet girl who preferred being alone in the woods to playing with a lot of friends. She attended daily Mass and was always looking for ways to help the poor. She excelled at spinning and weaving. Young Joan, or Jeanne was not unusual or exceptional in any way. Nothing she did or said attracted any notice.
As Joan grew up, she began to hear about and understand what was happening in France. A great war between England and France lasting for nearly one hundred years, had exhausted France and its nobility. The country had no king, and was divided into many factions, all with different ideas of what should be done.
At about this time, Joan began to hear voices. At first, she only heard them a few times a week, while she was in the woods, but soon, she received messages from Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret every day. They told her many things, but most of all they told her that she had been chosen by God for a special mission. That she had only a 'year and a little more' to carry out this mission, but that at the end she would see Charles VII crowned king of France.
For four years, Joan struggled with the idea of obeying the voices. She wanted to serve God, but she also wanted a quiet and normal life. She was a simple girl who knew nothing of politics or military matters - how could she do anything to help France? The voices assured her that this was 'God's work' and that He would guide her.
So, Joan went to the court and offered her services to the dauphin (an heir to the throne) At first, she was ridiculed and rejected, but her persistence and conviction eventually convinced both the king and the army. Under Joan's inexperienced but passionate leadership the French army began winning victories. They drove the English from many areas and towns in France. The soldiers loved her, they followed her banner, which read "Jesus and Mary" anywhere she lead, and seemed unstoppable. Soon, the voice's prophecies came true. She saw King Charles VII wearing the crown of France.
Of course, Joan of Arc made many enemies. The English hated her. Because of all her victories in what seemed to be impossible situations, they believe that she was a witch. Only someone helped by the Devil could act the way she did, they thought. Many people in the French court also hated her. They secretly wanted the English to win the war, and hadn't wanted Charles to become king. Together, they plotted to destroy Joan.
First, Joan was captured and taken prisoner when a nobleman closed the drawbridge to a town too early and stranded Joan and some soldiers outside the town walls. Her captors sold her to the English. Instead of using her to trade with the French army for some of their English friends, they turned her over to an religious court, a court that specialized in trying people for heresy.
Joan was found guilty of heresy. She had worn male clothing, made claims about seeing and hearing angels and voices, and prophesied some events, all sure signs, the court concluded, that she was in league with the Devil. She was threatened with torture and then sentenced to death by burning. Joan was very afraid - and said so - but she remained faithful to what God had asked of her. She refused to change her story and calmly went to her death holding a crucifix.
Several years later, when the war was finally over, and many of the predictions Joan made had come true, Charles VII re-opened her case, held another trial and acquitted Joan of Arc of heresy or any other crime. Her family was honored by being allowed to place the 'Fleur d'Lys' on the family crest.
Joan of Arc, or Jeanne D'Arc, is the French saint and national heroine known as the Maid of Orleans, who changed the course of history in France. Without her, it might not be a unified country today. She was born the daughter of a farmer in Domreemy-la-Pucelle, an ancient village on the Meuse River, in Eastern France on January 6, 1412. Joan's parents were rich as far as wealth of a Domreemy citizen was measured, which is to say that they were comfortable but not wealthy.
At the time of Joan's birth, the Hundred Years War between France and England was in its last quarter. It was a hard time for patriotism in France, the country was tired of war, and many wished only for an end to the fighting at any cost. The battle of Agincourt had lost caused France her chivalry and the battle of Verneuil her spirit. France was in need of a king who would keep the country together. But who would be king?
Joan, by all accounts, was a quiet, obedient, well behaved pious young girl, who was skilled in spinning and weaving. The only thing that distinguished her from the other young girls in her village was her well-kept secret - Joan heard voices, and saw visions of Saint Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine. At first, she only received messages from her 'angels' a few times a week, but as she grew, the messages grew more frequent and insistent. She had been chosen by God for a special mission.
The dauphin, Charles the VII, had been kept from assuming the throne by the movement of the war. He was a young man too, unwilling to assume the weight and responsibility of the throne. Many in his court encouraged him in this avoidance of his duty. Joan, therefore, was to go and convince the dauphin to take the crown, re-unite the country and lead France out of the war.
After some hesitation, and a false start when she was sent home to her father, she was able to meet with the dauphin and convince him of her message, and her commitment to her task. Some accounts say that she convinced him with a piece of information , given to her by her angels, that answered a question that Charles had been mulling over for some time. Overcoming opposition from both churchmen and courtiers, the still seventeen year old girl was given a small army with which she raised the siege of Orleans on May 8, 1429. Despite her inexperience, she then enjoyed a series of spectacular military successes, during which the King was able to enter Rheims and be crowned with her at his side. The army loved her and believed in her, though the church and court continued to plot against her.
In May 1430, as she was attempting to relieve Compiègne, she was captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English while Charles and the French did nothing to save her even though they held several English prisoners whom they could easily have traded for her safety . After months of imprisonment, she was tried at Rouen by a tribunal presided over by the Bishop of Beauvais, who hoped that by co-operating with them to get rid of Joan, the English would help him to become archbishop.
Throughout her trial, Joan held fast to her account of voices and a mission from God. She countered all disbelieving questioning with calm sureness. But her unfamiliarity with the technicalities of theology eventually trapped her. She made a few damaging statements and actions. She was treated cruelly in prison and threatened with torture, but still refused to retract the assertion that it was the saints of God who had commanded her to do what she had done. She was condemned to death as a heretic, sorceress, and adulteress, and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431.
Joan of Arc was nineteen years old. Some thirty years later, she was exonerated of all guilt and she was ultimately canonized in 1920, making official what the people had known for centuries.
Was Joan of Arc a visionary with a special mission from God, or a romantic, naive young woman with delusions of grandeur? It seems certain that despite attempts by her enemies of the time and historians since then, that she was honest and sincere in her accounts. After intense investigation, she was canonized in 1920, an assertion that the Church has established the
Saint Joan of Arc is the patroness of soldiers and of France. On January 6, 1412, Joan of Arc was born to pious parents of the French peasant class, at the obscure village of Domremy, near the province of Lorraine. A pious child, who enjoyed solitude in the woods near her home, at a very early age, she heard voices. Eventually she came to understand that they were those of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. At first their messages were personal and general.
But by the time Joan was sixteen, the state of France had gone from bad to worse. Joan's by now familiar saints, the "Brothers of Paradise" as she called them, began to visit her frequently until the day the Voice of God gave her words that would change her life. 'You must go, you must go!'
In May, 1428, her voices told Joan to go to the King of France and help him re-conquer his kingdom torn by years of war between France and England, in what came to be know as the Hundred Years War. For at that time the English king was after the throne of France, and the Duke of Burgundy, the chief rival of the French king, was siding with him and gobbling up evermore French territory.
From Joan's own account we read, 'I was thirteen when I had a Voice from God for my help and guidance. The first time I heard this Voice I was a young child, and I was much afraid. It seemed to come to me from lips I should reverence. I believe it was sent to me from God.'
The voices of God and her saints advised her to go the aid of a certain man, the 'dauphin', later be known as King Charles the VII, who was kept from the throne by the English during the Hundred Years War. Joan began her destiny by aiding Robert de Baudricourt, who was the captain of the dauphin's forces in Vaucouleurs. Her role as a mascot for the army of France provided a boost in the morale of the French troops. This deed lead to Joan receiving an interview with the dauphin. With six companions riding with her, she made the journey - in male attire. Though it seems sure that she donned male clothing for safety while travelling, it later counted heavily against her in her trials.
Joan met the dauphin at the Castle of Chinon and convinced him of her divine mission. Despite the fact that he hid himself in a crowd of courtiers at their first meeting, the simple and uneducated Joan recognized him right away, walked straight to him and convinced him of her mission by speaking news that only he could have known. She emphasized to him what her voices had told her that she only had 'a year and a little more' to accomplish what she had been given to do.
After being investigated and accepted as a visionary by the theologians at Poitiers, Charles provided her with troops and gave her free rein. Her inexperience should have been her and her army's downfall, but events proved that spirit and morale counted for a lot more in this situation than military might. On May 8, 1429, Joan succeeded in ending the long siege of Orleans, and in June, Joan captured the English fort of Jargeau on the 12th., and the English fort of Beaugency on the 17th. The fall of these English posts on the Loire River in France lead to the defeat of the English at Patay on June 18. This lead the way for Charles to be crowned king. The dauphin was crowned at Rheims on July 17 with Joan at his side during his coronation. Joan's mission was accomplished.
But the English still held several important French towns. Perhaps her mission was not yet complete. Despite that fact that she wished only to return quietly home, Joan obeyed her voices and the King and set out to recapture Paris. On September 8, Joan led a failed siege of Paris. Then the following spring, during the battle of Compiègne on May 14-23, Joan was captured by the Burgundian army, who were allied with the English. After some time, she was sold to the English who wanted to see her influence on the French ended by her execution.
During her capture and incarceration, Charles the VII made no attempt to rescue or gain Joan's freedom. Why had he abandoned her after all she had done to help him? How could he turn his back of God's messenger? No-one seems sure. Perhaps with his throne and future seemingly secure, Charles resented the idea that a mere slip of a young girl was responsible for placing him there.
In an effort to avoid responsibility for Joan's likely execution, the English turned her over to the ecclesiastical court at Rouen. In the presence of many French clerics who supported the English, Joan was tried for witchcraft and heresy. What was referred to as her most serious crime during the trial was Joan's claim that she received direct inspiration from God. Surely these were the rantings of a hysterical girl or the ravings of a witch who was in league with the Devil. In the eyes of the church, this claim meant that Joan refused to accept the church hierarchy, therefore committing heresy.
Joan bravely stood up to her inquisitors during her trial, imprisonment, and threats of torture. On May 23, exhausted and frightened, Joan recanted when she was sentenced to be turned over to the secular court. For this recantment, she received life imprisonment. However, one day later, she retracted her abjuration at Saint-Ouen cemetery. On May 28, Joan was retried as a relapsed heretic before the secular court. On May 30, 1431, in the center of the Old Market Place at Rouen, holding a crucifix, Joan of Arc met her end as she was burned at the stake.
On July 7, 1456, 25 years after Joan of Arc's execution, Charles the VII recognized Joan's service to France with a trial that annulled her verdict of guilt. On May 16, 1920, Joan of Arc became a saint when Pope Benedict XV canonized her.
The image at the beginning of this saint's profile is from Joan of Arc a web site run by SaintBernadette Catholic Church in Albuquerque. Click on the image to go there. A complete history of the life, mission and execution of Saint Joan of Arc can be seen at the Catholic Enclycopedia.
|Book related to this story ...|
Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses by Regine Pernoud