St. Joan of Arc

Icon of Saint Joan of Arc
Icon of Saint Joan of Arc

About Joan of Arc

Fear is a powerful thing. We all have been afraid at some point in our lives. Knowing fear is what makes us admire the courageous, those who fight in spite of fear. St. Joan of Arc, often called La Pucelle, or the Maid of Orléans, was one who fought despite her fears. Her love and trust in God and her country gave her the courage to face her trials.

Joan of Arc was the youngest of five children living in the village of Domremy in Champagne, France during the Hundred Years War between England and France. When she was thirteen, Joan heard voices. Typically when people start to hear voices, we send them to a nice comfortable room with no sharp edges or hard surfaces. However, Joan of Arc did not hear voices in that way. At first, it was a single voice, as though someone close by was speaking to her. Later others joined in the conversation. She called them her “voices” or her “counsel”, and recognized them as St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Margaret of Antioch, and other saints.

God’s call to Joan came gradually. It wasn’t until she was sixteen that she was certain that she was supposed to go to the aid of the dauphin Charles VII, heir to the throne of France. Charles had to get to Reims, then under English control, in order to be consecrated king. Upon the voices insistence, she visited the town of Valcouleurs and spoke to Robert Baudricourt, the dauphin’s representative. The sixteen year old told him she was sent on a mission to help the dauphin. Not surprisingly, the soldier was unimpressed by the young girl and her mission, and sent her away, even recommending that she be whipped.

Meanwhile, the war was looking grim for Charles VII and his supporters. Complete defeat seemed imminent. St. Joan’s voices became urgent, responding to her protests of not knowing how to ride or fight by saying “It is God who commands it.” January 1429, she left her family and went to Valcouleurs for the second time. Meeting with an important figure is nerve racking enough, but meeting with them for a second time after they’ve already rejected you is even worse. Yet Joan of Arc had faith and met with Baudricourt again. In February, she predicted a defeat of the French outside of Orléans, and after an official confirmation of the defeat a few days later, she was sent to see the dauphin in Chinon.

As she was a seventeen year old girl traveling with six men, she wore men’s attire and slept fully clothed in order to maintain her modesty. On March eighth, Joan met with the dauphin. Charles VII had decided to test Joan, so he hid himself among his attendants. It was basically a 1429 “Where’s Waldo?” Yet through the grace of God, Joan immediately picked her dauphin out of the crowd and saluted him. Joan was able to convince Charles VII of the legitimacy of her mission by affirming that he was the legitimate heir to the throne.

St Therese dressed as Joan of Arc
St Therese dressed as Joan of Arc

Before she was given an army, Joan was sent to Poitiers and examined by a committee of theologians, learned bishops and doctors. They found nothing heretical in her claims to supernatural guidance and gave their permission that she might be safely employed.

She returned to Chinon to prepare for the campaign. Upon her request, she was given an ancient sword found precisely where her voices had said it would be, buried behind the altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois. She led her men to victory, retaking Orléans and vanquishing the English forts surrounding it. She won victory after victory, ending in June with a great victory at Patay. Joan moved quickly, despite the dauphin’s hesitations, and retook Troyes, then Reims. Because of this seventeen year-old’s bravery, Charles VII was crowned in Reims as king of France.

Joan was part of one final battle before the winter truce. In an attack on Paris, she was shot with a crossbow bolt in the leg. Crossbows were strong enough to shoot a bolt that would penetrate bone, and now she had one sticking out of her leg. In spite of her wound, they almost had to force Joan off the field. It was her first failure. The assault was abandoned, and Joan spent the beginning of the winter recovering from her wound.

Joan had to spend the winter truce at the court of the king. There were no battles to distract her, only jealous officials. King Charles VII ennobled her and her family, giving them lilies on their coat of arms and the name Du Lis. With the rise to nobility, they were entitled to their own land.

With April came the end of the truce and the beginning of the end for Joan. The voices of the saints told her that she would be taken prisoner before Midsummer Day. It did not take long. May 24, during a fight in defense of the town Compiègne, she was taken prisoner. Joan was sold to the English for a price equaling that of a king or dauphin. In modern money, it would amount to some hundred thousand dollars. In spite of King Charles VII’s efforts to have her released the English would not give her up. The English were rather frightened of Joan and brought her to trial as a heretic. February 1431, Joan first appeared before her English chosen judges, many of which were French. There were about forty men, including the Vicar of the Inquisition. The now nineteen Joan was not allowed a lawyer to help her defend herself.

Joan was charged with heresy. Since she dressed in men’s clothing, she was not allowed to go to Mass, receive the Eucharist, or go to confession. She was kept in irons. She was questioned first in a public trial, then in a private trial within the prison. She took her oath to speak truthfully only on what was in the case of the trial. In spite all the efforts to trap her, with the help of her voices, she answered all questions with strength and good sense.

Joan of Arc Burning at the Stake
Joan of Arc Burning at the Stake

Joan was questioned for nearly a month. She remained strong despite their threats of torture and death. She was exposed to public ridicule, suffering through long admonitions by her judges. She was told she was a scandal to the Church. She requested that her case be brought before the pope. They refused.

Exhausted from the long interrogations and abuse Joan relented and signed a retraction. She made and pronounced her recantation and abjuration before a multitude of clergy and people. She was spared being burned, but was sentenced to perpetual imprisonment. She once again wore woman’s dress.

A few days later, she had donned man’s clothing, and said that her voices told her that she had damned herself to save her life. She had never meant to deny that her revelations were true, and had never meant to revoke anything except at God’s pleasure. She stood fast by what she had said at the trial, saying that her retraction had been only for fear of the fire. She would rather die than to be kept in prison.

May 30, 1431, Joan of Arc was taken before a crowd and placed on a scaffold. A doctor of theology read a sermon and Joan was once more admonished. She embraced a cross, and asked that it be held before her so that she may see it as she died. They set the fire. Joan cried out that her voices truly came from God and that they had not deceived her. She called on the name of Jesus until she died. Her ashes were thrown into the Seine.

In 1456 Joan’s case was retried by a papal court, and she was declared innocent. In 1920 she was declared a saint and patron of France.

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More About Saint Joan of Arc

An important religious and historical figure, St. Joan of Arc is known as a brave young woman who followed God’s call fearlessly and with great devotion. A peasant girl growing up in France during the Hundred Years’ War, St. Joan of Arc was familiar with the religious fervor of her people, as well as the persecution and atrocities that could (and often did) follow. Yet, this threat did not frighten St. Joan of Arc. When she heard the voice of God calling her to go to battle to defend her people and their faith, she boldly accepted the challenge, knowing the Lord would not leave her abandoned.

Born in Domremy, France in 1412 to parents Isabelle Romee and Jacques d’Arc, St. Joan of Arc’s childhood was strongly influenced by the Hundred Years’ War that had been taking place between France and England since 1337. Several raids took place by the warring groups in St. Joan of Arc’s area while she was young, and once her village was burned. It is not until St. Joan of Arc was twelve years old, though, that her name became known to history. At this time, St. Joan of Arc began having visions of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. In her visions, these saints encouraged St. Joan of Arc to support Charles VII and drive the English out of France, ending the English domination of her country.

St Joan of Arc in Soldiers Armor holding a Banner
St Joan of Arc in Soldiers Armor holding a Banner

St. Joan of Arc knew that God was calling her to carry out an extraordinary mission. When she was met with adversity from those in governmental positions, she persisted in her request to join the king’s side and fight for France. When scoffed at, St. Joan of Arc decided to try a new approach. She dressed in a male disguise and journeyed alone to meet with the king in his royal court. Impressed by what St. Joan of Arc told him of her mission, he granted her permission to travel with the army and wear protective armor (which was donated by those who supported her). The royal court considered her to be their only hope.

Charles VII’s court requested that St. Joan of Arc be examined for any theological or moral failings which might cause his opposition to question her motives. Because sorcery and witchcraft were so highly feared and suspected at this time in history, the royal court saw it necessary to deem St. Joan of Arc free of any evil motives in order to protect her and the court. After undergoing an examination, it was stated that St. Joan of Arc was “of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty, and simplicity.” With such a positive report, the royal court sent her forward with their blessing.

St. Joan of Arc’s leadership in battle helped the French to regain the cities of Orleans, Rheims, Paris, and many other towns which the English had been controlling. St. Joan of Arc’s dedication and bravery was lauded by the French, and they considered her a hero for their people. At the same time, her involvement in removing the English from her homeland had angered the English people, and they sought to bring her down. She was accused of heresy and imprisoned at Beaurevoir Castle. St. Joan of Arc attempted to escape several times. Her allies also tried to rescue her, but to no avail. St. Joan of Arc was transferred to Rouen, which was the English military headquarters in France. Charles VII, who St. Joan of Arc had fought to restore as the rightful ruler in France, made threats against anyone who would bring her down – for he knew she was an upright, holy, and good woman, and was certainly not a heretic!

The trial of St. Joan of Arc was conducted with much bias, including making illegal moves and decisions at will. For example, when examined by a clerical notary, no evidence of heresy was found to be held against St. Joan of Arc, which meant a trial should not have been held. However, the trial went forward anyway, headed by Bishop Cauchon, who was a pro-English cleric receiving financial support from the English. The medieval Church’s requirements for an inquisitorial trial for those accused of heresy stated that the tribunal must consist of impartial clerics. The trial held against St. Joan of Arc was comprised of a tribunal of English and English-supporters. When the trial was opened, St. Joan of Arc requested that French clerics be included in the tribunal in order to provide balance, but no such changes were made. The French who attempted to stand up to the inequality were threatened by the English clerics. This was most clearly against Church rulings; however, the trial continued forward.

During the trial, questions were asked of St. Joan of Arc that were meant to entrap her in heresy. One such question asked if she knew she was in God’s grace. Her response was, “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God keep me.” Had she answered “yes” she would have been accused of heresy, as the Church taught that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace. If she had answered no, however, she would have been accused of admitting her guilt. The notary recording the trial wrote that “those who were interrogating her were stupefied.” Knowing that St. Joan of Arc would prove herself a morally upright woman, the transcripts of the trial were doctored by those seeking to convict her. As an illiterate young woman, St. Joan of Arc would not have known if they had changed her words on the transcripts, and thus those who set her up were able to get away with their dishonesty. She signed these doctored transcripts, verifying her statements were true, under penalty of immediate execution.

The Execution of St Joan of Arc
The Execution of St Joan of Arc

The prison in which St. Joan of Arc was kept was a secular prison, containing men. The rulings of the Church stated that women should be kept under the watch of women only; however, this was ignored in her case. When she signed the transcripts verifying her statements were true, St. Joan of Arc was ordered to wear only feminine clothing (i.e. a dress). In the secular prison, wearing a dress made it much easier for the men to take advantage of St. Joan of Arc. After several attempts on her, St. Joan of Arc refused to wear the dress and resumed wearing the masculine clothing, which provided more protection against attack. This change of clothing was seen as a sign she was resuming her ways as a heretic, and she was sentenced to death.

On May 30, 1431, St. Joan of Arc was tied to a pillar. She asked two priests to hold a crucifix before her as she was being executed. An English soldier also constructed a small cross of sticks for her, which he affixed to her dress. She was then burned to death, at age 19. After her death, the English raked back the coals to expose her charred body. Then they burned the body twice more, reducing it to ashes in order to prove that she was truly dead and to prevent any of her supporters from seeking relics to preserve. Her ashes were cast into the Seine River. Her executioner later realized what he had done, and stated that he “greatly feared to be damned.”

Years after her death, Pope Callixtus III opened a retrial of St. Joan of Arc’s case at the request of the Inquisitor General and St. Joan of Arc’s mother. A formal investigation was begun in 1452. The appeal for her case was begun in 1455. A panel of theologians analyzed testimony from 115 witnesses. In June 1456, the verdict was made that St. Joan of Arc was indeed a martyr, an innocent woman killed under the guise of heresy, when in reality her only “crime” was angering the English by protecting her native France. The appellate court declared her innocent on July 7, 1456. St. Joan of Arc’s heroism became a symbol of the Catholic League during the 16th century; however, it was not until 1909 that she was beatified. On May 16, 1920 Pope Benedict XV canonized St. Joan of Arc, making her the patron saint of prisoners, France, and soldiers – particularly those who are women.

Patronage of St. Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc is the patron saint of France, prisoners, people ridiculed for their piety, rape victims, and soldiers (particularly women who are soldiers). Often those in the military will wear a St. Joan of Arc medal to seek her intercession in God’s protection over them while they are serving their country.

St. Joan of Arc in Art

In art, St. Joan of Arc is pictured as a young woman dressed in armor. She is usually holding in her hands a sword, a banner, or a flag.

At other times, St. Joan of Arc is shown tied to the stake where she was to be burned to death. Often shown near her are a cross or a priest, showing her strength of faith to the very end.

 

Joan of Arc kissing the cross before being burned at the stake
Joan of Arc kissing the cross before being burned at the stake

Prayers of St. Joan of Arc

For Faith

In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.

Prayer for the Intercession of St. Joan of Arc

Dear Sweet Patron Saint,

I implore you in the name of God to intercede on my behalf and guide me. Help me to be strong when people are against me and question my belief in God. Help me to stand by my faith and my decisions concerning my faith. I wish to do only God’s will, and I beg of you, O Patron Saint, to help keep me on His true path, and guide me in His will. I need friends now, more than ever before, and I choose God as my first and foremost best friend, above all others. But I also choose you as a close and special friend to relate to and to talk to. Please counsel me by any means necessary that is in the will of God to do.

Please let me have the wisdom and understanding to receive his message and the patience and virtue to listen so that I may understand his word.

St. Joan, Pray for us.

Amen.

Prayer for the Intercession of St. Joan of Arc

O Lord, you wondrously raised up Joan, your virgin, to defend the Faith and her country in Your name. Through her intercession grant that the Church may overcome the snares of her enemies, and attain lasting peace. Amen

St. Joan, pray for us.

A Soldiers Prayer to St. Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc, humble maiden of France, your heavenly Father miraculously endowed you with every military skill and knowledge, and raised you up as the Commander of the armies of France for the blessing of His Church, the protection of His people, and the glory of His Holy Name. By your merits and prayers may God also endow all military men and women with every military skill and knowledge necessary for his station of duty. May his mission always be righteous, and his actions always be courageous, compassionate, and just. And just as you showed your ardent love for Jesus in offering up your life for Him, so may they fulfill all that their duty requires. St. Joan of Arc pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

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