Nearly 600 years ago a young girl who grew up playing with fairies and hearing voices led a fatigued and demoralized French army to a series of victories over the most powerful kingdom in the world, at the age of seventeen.
Louis Kossuth, a great Hungarian revolutionary hero and champion of liberty in the 19th century said this about Joan of Arc.
"Consider this unique and imposing distinction. Since the writing of human history began, Joan of Arc is the only person, of either sex, who has ever held supreme command of the military forces of a nation at the age of seventeen."
Let me give you a brief overview of her life.
Most of us have heard the story of Joan of Arc, the French girl born January 6, 1412, who had visions and heard voices from St. Michael, St. Catherine of
Alexandria, and St. Margaret of . The voices started at age 13½, the summer of 1425. Antioch
By May 1428, she no longer doubted the source of the voices and their insistence she must help the king of
. She was to lead the French army against the English and stop the English from conquering France . When her voices told her to see the king's commander, she made the trip in June and faced disrespect by the rude and dissolute soldier. France
On October 12, 1428, English troops surrounded the town of
, and laid siege, a truly tragic turn of events. As the ever more insistent voices demanded she see the king, she went again in January 1429 and got to the king on March 8. Orlѐans
Upon convincing the king of her sincerity and determination, Joan became supreme commander of the French army, and on April 30, Joan led the previously demoralized French army into Orlѐans. By May 8, Joan had captured all the surrounding English forts and raised the siege.
On July 29, 1429, Charles VII, with Joan at his side, was crowned King in the city of
Joan continued her ferocious assault on the English and on May 24, 1430, an overwhelming Burgundian force, loyal to the English, captured Joan after the battle of Compiègne.
Sold to the English, Joan went to prison where her hands, feet, and neck where locked in chains, while being held for an Ecclesiastical court trial, where she was charged with witchcraft and heresy.
The trial started February 21, 1431, convicted Joan of being a heretic on May 29, 1431, and burnt her at the stake May 30, 1431. She died at nineteen years of age.
Consider the brief career of one of the most beloved heroes in French history and successful military commanders in the history of warfare. By age 13, Joan began hearing voices. These voices convinced her to go to the king by age 17 with her plan to save
She spent one year, until age 18, leading her troops in driving the English from
Northern provinces of . Once captured, she spent her final year as a prisoner of the English before her death at the stake, at just 19½ years old. France
In the end, the king she installed and the country she saved had abandoned Joan, as had her beloved Roman Catholic Church. Joan of Arc, God's warrior, and French martyr, disappeared and seemed forgotten.
So how did this convicted heretic become one of the most popular and least understood saints in the church?
That, my friends, is the rest of the story and what a story Joan has to tell.
To discover the truth about Joan of Arc we must journey through a story with all the elements of an Academy Award winning movie. Her story was set against a backdrop of the previous millennium, when
earned recognition as "God's special country" for Roman Catholics, with her people dedicated to faith and the church. France
Timeline - All Dates Anno Domini A.D. the year of our Lord
33 Death of Jesus
305 Death of Saint Catherine of
306 Death of Saint Margaret of
calls the Council of Nicea Constantine
1291 Crusades end
1347 Black Death Plague hits
1336 Hundred Years War between
England, Scotland, and begins France
1412 Joan of Arc born in
Province Domremy, Lorraine
1425 Joan first hears voices & saw visions
1428 June - Joan tries to reach French King
1428 October - English lay siege to Orlѐans
1429 March 8 - Joan finally meets French king
1429 April 30 - Joan, Supreme Commander of French army, enters Orlѐans
1429 May 8 - English abandon siege of Orlѐans
1429 July 29 - Charles VII, with Joan at his side, is crowned King in
1430 May 24 - Joan is captured at Compiѐgne & sold to English
1431 February 21 - Joan's trial begins for witchcraft & heresy
1431 May 29 - Joan convicted of being heretic
1431 May 30 - Joan burnt at the stake
1455 King & Pope seek revision of her trial results
Appellate Court reverses and annuls verdict
Lorraine Province (Domremy) joins French Kingdom
1787 French Revolution begins
1793 Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette put to death
1803 Napoleon begins rehabilitating Joan's reputation
1869 Bishop of Orlѐans requests investigation for beautification
1896 Mark Twain anomalously publishes Joan of Arc
1909 April 11 - Pope Pius X issues beatification decree
1920 Pope Benedict XV canonizes Joan a Saint
Early in the millennium,
Europe had just completed the crusades (1095 until 1291).
During the one hundred years before Joan lived, from 1347-1352 the Black Death plague killed 20 million Europeans, (forty to fifty percent of the entire European population), and up to one hundred million people would die worldwide before it was through.
From 1336 to 1443, the Hundred Years War raged between
France, England, and . By the time Joan was born, Scotland France was nearly devastated, England was prepared to appoint the next king of France, the French had lost most of the populous , and the French army was a disgrace. Northern provinces
Such was the world as we enter the age of Joan in 1412.
How often do biographies of Saints talk about a childhood raised in an environment that finds a blending of ancient magic, mystery, and fairies with modern Christianity, at least modern in 1412?
Most people do not know that Joan, the patron saint of
France, was not a native of France and did not live in France when told she must save . France
On several occasions, her voices shared prophecy with Joan, which she passed on to authorities at a time the Inquisition was suspicious of any metaphysical or mystical activities including seers and prophets.
The total disregard for law, morality, respect, and justice played out between the French, the English, the church, and Joan's accusers during the Ecclesiastical court trial and her death by burning at the stake, is among the most malicious, evil, and heinous acts in history.
During her one year as a prisoner of the English in
, Joan received the most disgusting, degrading, humiliating, and demeaning treatment humanly possible from extreme mental to physical abuse. Rouen
No one of authority in the church or
made any effort to help Joan in her defense or attempt to ransom her. France
Why did it take the church 489 years, nearly one-half a century, to complete the canonization of St. Joan?
From the time Joan was born in 1412 until her canonization in 1920, there were 53 popes and 3 antipopes including two who ignored her direct appeal for help.
Why did English writers and historians in the 17th century, and then Scottish writers in the 19th century become the first to champion her cause for sainthood?
Perhaps most unusual of all, why did beloved American storyteller Mark Twain write a most extraordinary and thoroughly documented biography about Joan of Arc, a book he considered his best work, which took Samuel Clemens 12 years to research and two more years to write?
Mark Twain's story, Joan of Arc, appeared in serial form in 1896 and book form in 1899, just a decade before Pope Pius X issued her beautification decree April 11, 1909, and two decades before her canonization in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.
As you can see, I have a lot to cover to do justice to the reputation and stature of one of my favorite saints.
As Mark Twain noted, the details of the life of Joan of Arc form a biography, which is unique among the world's biographies in one respect: It is the only story of a human life, which comes to us under oath, the only one that comes to us from the witness stand.
The official records of the Great Trial of 1431, and of the Process of Rehabilitation of a quarter of a century later, remain preserved in the National Archives of France, and they furnish with remarkable fullness the facts of her life.
Joan was born in the
village of Domremy, in the east of . It was part of the independent Duchy of Bar, itself part of France , the last province to join the French kingdom in 1776. Joan was not even a citizen of Lorraine although Domremy was loyal to the French King Charles VII. France
Just outside the village lay an ancient and magical forest, and for over 500 years, the Fairies of the forest watched over the village children. To honor their protectors, on summer days the children gathered in the forest around a magnificent beech tree, to sing and dance for hours together.
Here they made wreathes of flowers and placed them on the tree and in the spring beside the tree, to please the fairies that lived there. For hundreds of years, the kids of Domremy were the Children of the Tree. Joan was one of these children according to the court transcripts.
When she was 13, Joan began hearing voices she identified as Saint Michael, Saint Catherine of
Alexandria, and Saint Margaret of . Catherine and Margaret were among the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of ancient Catholic martyrs and saints called upon to help Antioch Europe overcome the Black Death Plague just 50 years earlier.
Ironically, both Saints were beautiful, humble, strong, and defiant and died teenage virgins, killed because they refused to marry prominent Roman officials. Saint Margaret was 15 years old when she died in 306 AD and Saint Catherine was 18 in 305 AD when she died. They shared many attributes with Joan.
On several occasions, her voices told her prophecies to pass on to others, in order to overcome roadblocks. For example, she was able to convince the French commander to help her see the king with the help of her voices. The second time she saw the commander, in February, she told him the French suffered a great defeat in the Battle of Herring, which proved to be true.
When she finally met the king, she went straight to the disguised monarch and bowed, stunning the room full of the king's court and the king. When she told the king his secret that no one else knew, it convinced the skeptical king to let her proceed. Her voices guided her through all the traps
Joan prepared to take command of the army, and her voices told her to create a standard, bearing the words Jesus and Maria, with a picture of God the Father, and kneeling angels presenting a fleur-de-lis.
"I had a banner, the field of which was sown with lilies. On it the world was represented [the image of God holding the world] and two angels at the sides. It was of linen or white boucassin. There was written upon it, as it seems to me, these words: Jesus Maria, and it was fringed with silk."
Joan of Arc's description of her banner at her trial in
Joan of Arc carried a special banner (battle standard) made by a Scottish painter (Hauves Poulvoir) while she was at
The king offered her a sword to carry when leading the army but she begged to search for an ancient sword buried behind the alter in the chyapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois.
In the very spot her voices indicated, they found the sword.
Perhaps the most interesting fact connected with her voices at this early stage of her mission is a letter Sire de Rotslaer wrote from Lyons on April 22, 1429, delivered at Brussels and duly registered, as the manuscript to this day attests, before any of the events occurred.
The Maid, he reports, said
"that she would save Orléans and would compel the English to raise the siege, that she herself in a battle before Orléans would be wounded by a shaft, but would not die of it, and that the King, in the course of the coming summer, would be crowned at Reims, together with other things which the King keeps secret."
All came true.
The accuracy of the prophecies of Joan, her use of men's white armor to hide her beauty and protect her virginity, the strict discipline and morality she demanded of her army, and her fearless tendency to lead her troops into battle brandishing only her Banner, won over the king and the military.
Make no mistake, in a few short years our poor, illiterate village girl who knew nothing about commanding armies and could not even ride a horse, was Supreme Commander of the French army leading her worn out troops into battle on her magnificent stallion, against one of the world superpowers,
Calling upon faith stronger than most can ever imagine, she stopped a siege, drove the English into retreat, and brought to an inglorious end the Hundred Years War
England fought against France and . Her brilliant military strategy enabled Scotland France to beat the odds and in time drive the English out of . France
When they captured Joan under mysterious circumstances, she already knew from her voices she would live for just one more year, and it would be the most difficult year of her life. Her freedom was still possible through ransom or a prisoner exchange by the French or the church but no one tried, so her captures sold her to English supporters.
Politics, greed, deceit, fear, humiliation, all drove those in power to want her to go away, vanish from the history books. There can be no doubt that the English feared their prisoner with a superstitious terror, and were ashamed of the dread which she inspired, so they were determined at all costs to take her life.
An Ecclesiastical court trial of Joan began in the English-held city of
. Her attitude was always fearless, and March 1 while being interrogated, Joan boldly announced that, "within seven years' space the English would have to forfeit a bigger prize than Orléans." In fact,Paris was lost to Henry VI on November 12, 1437 — six years and eight months afterwards. Rouen
There is no time to explain the outrageous manipulation of the government, church, and rules of law as she was continually tortured, interrogated, and humiliated before the courts. On March 17, 1431, Joan stood accused of 70 counts of witchcraft and being a heretic, the number of charges then reduced to 12.
Torture and techniques to break her spirit continued until May 9 when it was clear she would not break. In the end, they dropped the witchcraft charges and convicted her of being a heretic, with the most prominent charge being she wore the clothes of a male.
Threatened and exhausted, at one point she signed a retraction witnesses said was just eight lines long, that took over a half hour to read, which included a provision if her life was spared she could never wear male clothes again. The jailers and prosecutors then conspired to threaten to rape her and within a few days of her agreement, she returned to wearing male clothing to discourage rape.
On May 29, a court of thirty-seven judges decided unanimously that the Maid was a relapsed heretic, thus sentencing her to death at the stake, a sentence actually carried out the next day, May 30, 1431.
The morning of the execution Joan made her confession and received Communion. Witnesses to her death said her demeanor at the stake was such as to move even her bitter enemies to tears.
She asked for a cross, which she embraced, and then held before her while she called continuously upon the name of Jesus, as the flames engulfed her. After her death, soldiers took her heart, which failed to burn, and her ashes, and unceremoniously threw them into the
to make sure no relics emerged. Seine River
Indeed, they almost succeeded in making her vanish for there was no protest, riots, or pilgrimages over Joan's conviction or burning at the stake. The fact the English controlled
In yet another peculiar twist to the Joan story, her brothers embraced another young girl and for the next 20 years declared that Joan had escaped the fire and was alive. As a result, her family continued to receive financial assistance from the province and the brothers made many appearances with the fake Joan receiving gifts and money.
About twenty-four years after her death, Charles VII, concerned that his monarchy was achieved thanks to a convicted heretic, and it might jeopardize hereditary claims to the throne in the future, sought a revision of her trial, the procès de réhabilitation.
This time the French monarchy and Pope were deeply involved as both wanted to correct a major failure to defend Joan during the first trial. Now an appellate court constituted by the pope, after long inquiry and examination of witnesses, reversed and annulled the sentence pronounced by a local tribunal under Cauchon's presidency.
The illegality of the former proceedings was clear, and it speaks well for the sincerity of this new inquiry. With the rejection of the original sentence, there was some degree of reproach upon both the King of France and the Church at large, seeing that so great an injustice existed for such a long time.
Still little came of the action in terms of Joan and her standing in the church and history books. English writers beginning in the seventeenth century began writing favorably about the Maid and by the nineteenth century De Quincey, in particular, showed more respect for her than those in her own land.
France, the St. Joan of Arc Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico describes the political and secular issues in during the ensuing years as follows. France
The powers in charge during the French Revolution (1787 -1799) were very cruel to Joan of Arc's memory. They canceled the May 8th procession that had been held at
continuously since two years after Joan's death. They also destroyed statues and crosses that were set up to honor Joan of Arc and they burned her relics, consisting of her hat that she gave to Charlotte, her standard and a sword that had belonged to her. Orleans
For the next ten years Joan's memory was relegated to the shadows of French life as on July 14, 1789, the Parisian crowd seized the Bastille, a symbol of royal tyranny. On June 20–21, 1791, Louis XVI tried to flee the country, but was captured at Varennes, and brought back to
Believing they were betrayed by the king and the aristocrats, the
Paris revolutionaries rose on August 10, 1792, occupied Tuileries Palace, where Louis XVI was living, and imprisoned the royal family in the . At the beginning of September, the Parisian crowd broke into the prisons and massacred the nobles and clergy held there. Temple
Meanwhile, the National Convention was divided between the Girondins, who wanted to organize a bourgeois republic in France and to spread the Revolution over the whole of Europe, and the Montagnards (“Mountain Men”), who, with Robespierre, wanted to give the lower classes a greater share in political and economic power
In spite of efforts by the Girondins to save him, judgment on Louis XVI was passed by the National Convention of revolutionaries, he was condemned to death for treason, and executed on January 21, 1793; the queen, Marie-Antoinette, was guillotined nine months later.
It was not until 1803, when Napoleon once more made it 'politically correct' to honor Joan of Arc, by giving his permission for the May 8th ceremonies at Orleans to be resumed. Because Joan had fought the English, Napoleon made use of her to further his own campaign against them. He made her an official symbol of French patriotism and a national heroine.
Therefore, her popularity among the people grew. All during the first half of the nineteenth century France was struggling against England in one way or another and during this time many 'histories' were written about her.
It took Jules Quicherat, a French historian, five years from 1841-1845 to compile all the documents concerning Joan of Arc into five volumes. Not only did he publish the complete texts of the trial of Condemnation and Nullification but he also gathered excerpts from chronicles, literary works, letters, public documents and the accounting ledgers from the city of
into his scholarly work. Orleans
Single handedly Quicherat sparked a renaissance of interest in Joan of Arc among the scholars who in turn translated the Latin and Old French into modern French. By doing this the general public could finally read for themselves Joan's own words and at last she became for them a real historical figure.
With this development, the whole spectrum of political ideologies began to claim her. Joan became the champion for many causes from the atheistic anticlerical Freemasons, the Socialist Nationalists and Communists to the conservative Catholic Monarchists. From the 1850's on
was shaken by a savage anticlerical movement. Those who supported the Church decried the rapid spread of atheistic secular-humanism and the growing immorality of the nation and they used Joan of Arc as a symbol to reclaim these souls. France
The Church was not blind to the upsurge in popularity that Joan of Arc had achieved and on May 8, 1869, Bishop Dupanloup of
Orleans with the support of eleven other French Bishops petitioned to begin the process of Canonization. Bishop Dupanloup declared, "Not only Rome Orleans and but also the whole world venerate God's actions through Joan of Arc, the piety and enthusiasm of this young girl, her purity and selflessness with which she always carried out the will of God. France
"We wish that Your Holiness would now honor and exalt her memory. This would be a just tribute to Joan of Arc, who in freeing her country also saved it from the heresy which might have become a danger. It would also constitute a title of honor to the French people."
Unfortunately, with the coming of the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and
's ensuing defeat, Bishop Dupanloup's request was put on hold. During this war, France France lost the provinces of Alsace and to the Germans and the French politicians used Joan of Arc as a symbol for a crusade to regain these territories. Lorraine
In 1893, the French people overwhelmingly elected a Socialist government into power. Eight months later on January 27, 1894, Pope Leo XIII, in hopes of improving relations between the
and the French government, extended an olive branch to them by officially beginning the process of Joan's Beatification. In doing so he proclaimed the Maid to have been the venerable handmaiden of God. Vatican
As I mentioned earlier, Mark Twain's magnificent story, Joan of Arc, appeared in serial form in 1896 and book form in 1899, just a decade before Pope Pius X issued her beatification decree April 11, 1909, and two decades before her canonization in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV. Her sainthood was again delayed, this time by the outbreak of World War I.
Today it has been 603 years since the birth of this French heroine, but only 95 years since her canonization as a saint. We are just beginning to understand the amazing story of faith Joan lived and her place in history as a military genius, a visionary and prophet, a sanctified virgin, and a soldier of God.
Joan's story is far too vast to give justice to and far too meaningful to interpret in such a short presentation as this but I hope she understands, and I urge all of you to learn more about Jehanne la Pucelle, Joan the Maid, our beloved Jeanne d'Arc, Joan of Arc.
In his book, Mark Twain wrote the following closing paragraphs about Joan of Arc. Since Mark is my favorite American author and humorist - satirist, and about the most unlikely person on Earth to write about a Saint, I take his observations very seriously. This is what he said about Joan the Maid.
"We know what Joan of Arc was like, without asking -- merely by what she did. The artist should paint her spirit -- then he could not fail to paint her body aright. She would rise before us, then, a vision to win us, not repel: a lithe young slender figure, instinct with "the unbought grace of youth," dear and bonny and lovable, the face beautiful, and transfigured with the light of that lustrous intellect and the fires of that unquenchable spirit.
"Taking into account, as I have suggested before, all the circumstances -- her origin, youth, sex, illiteracy, early environment, and the obstructing conditions under which she exploited her high gifts and made her conquests in the field and before the courts that tried her for her life -- she is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced."
Thank you for sharing a few moments with me, thank Joan of Arc, and dieu vous bénisse.