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Jeanne D’Arc: Warrior Saint

The Life, Impact,

and Influence of

Joan of Arc

 by: Stephen Nash

 

 

The name Joan of Arc (Jeanne D’Arc in French) is a very familiar one. She is talked about in both history books and religion books and is probably one of the most recognizable names in history today with the title of both hero and saint. She has risen as one of the most colorful and inspiring women of the ages and has influenced many with her courage, hope, strength, determination, and cunning.

Joan was born to peasant farmers in the village of Domremy, France in 1412 (the actual date has never been recorded). Much of her youth was spent helping her parents tend to the fields, raising crops, and herding & feeding the animals. While working with her father, he would tell her of the war between England and France, and how their country’s prospects were grim. This distressed Joan very much and her thoughts began to ponder as to what she could do. Then one day in 1428, as Joan was tending the land, she began to hear noises that sounded like voices. When she looked up she saw the visions of St. Michael the Archangel and the virgin martyrs St. Catherine and St. Margaret.

 The words they spoke to her were, “Joan, you can deliver the land from the English. Go to the relief of King Charles,” implying God had chosen her to free France from the English help crown a new king.

Joan was unsure if she should trust the voices, but as time passed, the voices kept at her to fulfill her destiny, and with the permission and sadness of her parents, went to see Robert de Baudricort, the general of the French army. She insisted to him to let her lead the army against the English, but her lack of education and being a woman caused Baudricort to think her mad and dismissed her. While discouraged, she persisted to him the importance of her mission, and he finally relented and sent her to the king. Sources extremely differ on the characteristics of Charles VII, as history and religion have painted him differently, ranging from weakness to cowardice to ruthlessness. Nonetheless they all agree he feared to take the throne due to his father Charles VI suffering from a mental illness he believed to be hereditary. Charles was very aware of Joan’s growing popularity, and upon hearing her say she could identify him without ever having seen him, he dressed in servant’s clothes, placed a double on the throne, and mingled amongst his court.

When Joan arrived, wearing her white armor, she pointed through the crowd, and bowing at Charles exclaimed, “Dauphin (regent), I have been sent from God to bring help to the kingdom and yourself.”  Charles was still skeptical and asked a group of priests to interview Joan on her claims. After careful examination by the priests and a private meeting , the heir apparent allowed her to lead the French forces against the English. In April 1429 Joan, dressed in her armor, and brandishing France’s flag, which at the time was white with a golden lily with the names of Mary and Jesus printed on it, led the French to the City of Orleans.

By this time most people quit trying to persuade Joan not to lead the army, but the fear the men would not obey the commands of a woman still existed. Joan proved her critics wrong by instilling in the men impassioned speeches and words of courage and hope that had them rousing behind her. On May 7th, she led the men full gallop to the city and the battle began. Right at the turning point of the battle, Joan was wounded by a English archer and as the men were about to flee, she spoke out, “Wait, eat and drink and rest; for as soon as I recover I will touch the walls with my banner and you shall enter the fort.” Within a few minutes Joan was riding toward the fort and touched it with her banner, as promised. The next day, May 8th,  Joan’s forces overwhelmed the English army and they retreated from the city. The men, in gratitude to Joan, dubbed her the “Maid of Orleans”, a name which many in France still call her.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RK5rf1S5Dx8

After her major victory at Orleans, Joan’s popularity spread, and French and English alike soon came to believe she was instilled with super human abilities from some higher power. By early 1429 her army had captured nine other cities and prospects looked good for a French victory. With her army doing well and the English at bay, Joan proceeded with her next mission: the crowning of Charles VII as King in the city of Reims. Charles was still uncertain of his destiny, but Joan convinced him that she saw great things for him as king. Charles decided to accept his fate, and allowed Joan to escort him to the coronation. Joan kept constant vigil on Charles as the English still intended to put the young Henry VI on the throne. They made it successfully to Reims and on July 16th, 1429, the ceremony to crown Charles as king commenced.

When the priest placed the crown on Charles’ head, Joan knelt before him and recognized him as King. Knowing her mission to be completed she asked Charles if she could turn over command to someone else and return to her family in Demremy. Charles, now fully convinced of Joan’s capabilities begged her to stay on a while longer as the men had her trust, believing they’d obey no one as they did her. Joan was unsure her presence was still needed, but obliged, warning Charles “I hear the heavenly voices no more and I am afraid.”  Joan took part in several more battles, winning most of them, with the exception of the siege of Paris, which remained a haven for the British invaders.

In May of 1430 during the campaign for the city of Compiegne against the Duke of Burgundy, Joan was thrown form her horse and seized by enemy troops. The partisans, who fiercely supported English dominance in France, ordered Joan to be handed to English Inquisitors at the city of Rouen, which was still under English control, to be tried as a heretic. The English intended to prove Joan was a fraud, and have Charles VII usurped off the throne. In January 1431, the Inquisitors subjected Joan to various forms of interrogation and torture, but she remained firm. When no French aid seemed to be coming to her rescue, Joan felt tempted to sign a document that declared her visions to be the work of the devil, but she stayed strong and recanted this previous statement saying to the judges, “God has always been my guide in all I have done. The devil has never had power over me.” The courts ruled Joan guilty of the charge of heresy and ordered her to be burn at the stake. On May 30th, 1431 Joan was led to the bonfire that would be her execution site. A soldier made a cross from a wooden stick he carried, and gave it to her. She accepted the cross and placed it on her chest as a priest read the rights for the dying to her. Joan’s final words as the flames consumed her were, “Jesus, Jesus”; she was only 19 years old.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zm2dxrKwCHo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-VvDjRg4nA

In 1441, on what would have been Joan’s 29th birthday, the French finally succeeded in claiming victory over the invading English. For several centuries afterward, many priests and scholars demanded the verdict of guilty placed on Joan by the English be retracted. In 1452, Pope Callixtus III ordered a re-examination of the trial and had the verdict overturned in 1456. In 1909 Pope Pius X beatified Joan for her service to the Catholic faith and on May 30th 1920 Pope Benedict XV performed the ceremony that canonized her as a saint. Joan was then named the patron of soldiers, prisoners, women in the military, and those condemned for their piety and faith.

Joan’s popularity has become so wide spread over the years that literature, plays, and particularly films, have been done about her. Some of the most famous films are: La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc), a 1927 French silent film, starring Renée Falconetti and directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer, focusing mainly on Joan’s trial and execution. The Passion has been considered by many critics and historians to be the best film about Joan as it focused on the faces and expressions of the actors, and for the impassioned performance of its star, Renée Falconetti. Joan of Arc (1948) and Giovanna D’Arco al Rogo (Joan of Arc Burned at the Stake) (1953) both starring Ingrid Bergman, directed by Victor Flemming and Roberto Rossellini respectively, were good historic, somewhat fictitious accounts of the heroine, but were not well praised as Bergman was twice Joan’s age.  A more recent adaptation of Joan’s life is The Messenger: the Story of Joan of Arc (1999) starring Milla Jovovich and directed by Luc Besson. The film had mixed reactions as it mixed fact and fiction too much; insinuating Joan was not the courageous heroine history depicts, but a mad woman bent on revenge, and Charles VII as a manipulative monarch, using Joan to steal his way to the throne. Critics however did praise the film’s imagery and the attentive detail to attire, scenery, and mannerisms of the period.

Joan’s sacrifice and courage still inspires and intrigues people to this day. She is a model for those who wish to speak out against cruelty and injustice, encourages those to take action against evil, and gives hope to those who feel small. Many to this day still look to her for inspiration and continue to follow her example of determination and spirit.  She remains the most celebrated saint and her home town of Demremy has an annual celebration in honor of her feast day. While she’s not celebrated on the Christian calendar, she is still the most revered and most cherished of all Saints and Heros. 

All images from www.google.com

clips from www.youtube.com

Information on Joan of Arc from:

http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/joan-of-arc.htm

http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=aa41

and the book Saints and Feast Days: Lives of the Saints with a Calander and Ways to Celebrate by: The Sisters of Notre Dame in Chardon, Ohio from Loyola University Press

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_of_Arc

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passion_of_Joan_of_Arc, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_of_Arc_(1948_film), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Messenger:_The_Story_of_Joan_of_Arc

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