Saint Joan of Arc
January 6, 1412 - May 30, 1431
|Joan of Arc, or Jeanne D'Arc, was a French saint
and national heroine known as the Maid of Orléans. She was born the
daughter of a farmer in Domreémy-la-Pucelle, an ancient villenie of
Vaucouleurs (known as "the valley of colors" because of its beautiful
hues that are seen during the summer sun), on the Meuse River, in
Eastern France on January 6, 1412. Joan's parents were rich as far as
wealth of a Domrémy citizen was measured. At the time of Joan's birth,
the Hundred Years War was in its last quarter and it was a hard time
for patriotism in France. The battle of Agincourt had caused France to
lose her chivalry, and the battle of Verneuil, her spirit. France was
in need of a king who would keep the country together. It was in these
surroundings that Joan grew into girlhood.
Her heart was filled with laughter and gaiety, dutiful obedience to her parents and the church, but her heart also held the pain of misfortune and war. As Joan grew into womanhood, all of these feelings 'fused into a great passion of the pity there was for the realm of France. Just like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc began to have visions at a young age, most notably those of Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret. Joan frequently confessed her sins and attended mass daily. She frequented the church and sacred places on a regular basis. Joan gave flowers to the alters, candles for the saints, loving service to all about her, and on occasion her bed to the poor. Many of the girls with whom she spun and worked with criticized her for her devotion to the church. For four years, Joan struggled with her growing belief that she was the one chosen to save France and therefore put aside the gaiety of girlhood and led a simple, devout, tender life.
When Joan was sixteen, the state of France had gone from bad to worse. Joan's 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!' spoke the mouth of God. It was time for Joan to fulfill her destiny. The day had come where Heaven opened its gate and that it should nevermore be closed to her.
Said Joan, "I was thirteen when I heard 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 give aid to a 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.
Joan met the dauphin at the Castle of Chinon and subjugated his cynicism about her divine mission. After being investigated and accepted as a visionary by the theologians at Poitiers, Charles furnished her with troops. Her leadership lacked military prowess, but it possessed spirit and moral which counted for a lot more than military might. On May 8, 1429, Joan succeeded in ending the long siege of Orléans, 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. This was the highlight of Joan's life.
On September 8, Joan led a failed siege of Paris. Despite this failure, Joan and her family were given the patent of nobility by Charles the VII for Joan's bravery. However, the following spring, during the battle of Compiègne on May 14-23, Joan was captured by the Burgundian army. 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. In an effort to avoid responsibility for Joan's outcome, the English turned her over to the ecclesiastical court at Rouen. In the presence of Pierre Cauchon and other 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. In the eyes of the church, this claim meant that Joan refused to accept the church hierarchy, therefore constituting heresy.
Joan bravely fought her inquisitors during her trial, imprisonment, and threats of torture. On May 23, at the end of her trial, 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, 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. In 1909, France declared a decree of beatification for Joan of Arc which recognized the deeds she performed at the cost of her life. Eleven years later, on May 16, 1920, Joan of Arc becomes a saint when Pope Benedict XV canonizes her.
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