Happy feast day of St. Joan of Arc!
She is one of the most popular saints, and for good reason! She came from peasant parents and became a warrior and then a saint. I’ve been reading about her life a lot lately, and honestly, her life is pretty incredible
Here is a cool triptych that I found of her that neatly sums up her life!
Some Background Stuff
In order to appreciate Joan of Arc, you have to appreciate the turmoil in France at the time she was born, aka the Hundred Years War. And trust me, it was a mess.
The Hundred Years War first started as an inheritance dispute. See, Charles VI, the king of France at the time of Joan’s birth, was crazy. And by that, I mean that every once and a while, he would lasp in these delusions where he believed that he was made out of glass. So, with the king clearly insane, the king’s brother, the Duke of Orleans, and the king’s cousin, the Duke of Burgundy, fought over who should take control of France in the meantime, with the children being so young.
And that was the beginning of a civil war!
But, of course, it gets worse from there. You see, England saw that France was fighting among themselves, and so they took advantage of this situation and invaded. This was not very popular with the Frenchmen — the English tended to use the scorched earth treatment to make France submit to them. But, it was effective. In fact, Charles VI disinherited his son, Charles VII, the heir apparent to the throne, and named Henry V — the king of England! — as the successor.
Did I mention that this was all on the heels of the Black Plague, which basically decimated France? And that France never really had a chance to recover from this before all of this political unrest?
However, there was still hope. After all, there was a prophecy that a young virgin from Lorraine would lead them out and save France…
From Peasant Origins
Enter: Joan of Arc.
Born of peasant origins, Joan of Arc had profound mystical experiences. For example! When she was only thirteen, she had her first experience in which St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret came to her and told her she would drive out the English and bring the Dauphin to be crowned at Rheims. She described that the experience was so beautiful, she cried after they left.
Here is a picture of St. Michael and St. Catherine visiting her:
When God tells you to do something, you do it! And so she did!
At sixteen, she finally went to a nearby commander and asked that he escort her to the king. He refused. Undeterred, she came later and requested it again. This time, they listened to her and brought her to the king, Charles VII.
At the time, the king was a bit desperate. Nothing seemed to be working, no matter what they tried. And so, after talking with her to make sure she wasn’t crazy (and after his father, one would suspect he would know how to spot crazy) and after making sure that she was virtuous by letting the clergy interview her, he accepted her. After all, how much worse could things get?
Well, he brought her to Orleans, where there was a siege, with hopes to lift the siege. Nine days after the battle began… the siege was lifted. For the military, which had undergone humiliating loss after humiliating loss, suddenly there was hope.
Not only that, but suddenly there was excitement in this war. Before Joan of Arc, the dispute was very much between the nobility, though many were caught in the crossfire. With Joan of Arc stating quite clearly that she was on a mission given to her by God, suddenly the conflict became bigger in the eyes of the common man. People began to think of this war as a sort of holy war and began to fight with lots more zeal.
Joan of Arc claimed to have never killed anyone,. She was the standard bearer, and proud of it. As a standard bearer, she held the flag aloft and inspired the troops to keep fighting. Take a look at this picture, which shows an accurate portrayal of what historians believe her standard to look like…
Still, while she was in the army, she made numerous suggestions that aided the military. She also helped out on the battlefield by alerting people about hazards that she saw coming towards people — for instance, she saved the life of Duke of Alençon by alerting him that he was about to be fired upon by a cannon!
One victory started another and the English hated that this little girl was able to humiliate them so effectively…
Her Trial and Death
Alas! After a series of bad military mistakes, Joan of Arc was finally captured by the English!
The English were brutal toward her and basically wanted to kill her. However, they wanted to do it in a way to positively humiliate the French. They did this by starting a phony inquisition to question her orthodoxy.
Basically, if they could prove that she really wasn’t sent by God by having her utter some heresy, they could use this to discredit the French. Plus! They could claim that she was a sorceress that was being used by the devil to further demoralize the French.
It didn’t work.
Not only did it not work, but their attempts to get her to admit to heresy ended up embarrassing them. For instance! Once, they asked her if she were in God’s grace. Which is a trick question… theologically speaking, one cannot know if they are in a state of grace as ascertained by God. If she said yes, that would have been heresy. If she had said no, that would have indicated that she knew she was not in a state of grace, which meant that she had done something horrible.
Her response to this query? “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.”
Finally, they decided to abandon the charges of heresy and instead charge her for crossdressing instead, which was illegal at the time, unless certain special circumstances required crossdressing to avert a higher evil. And their case for that was as flimsy as you can imagine — for instance, they accused her of crossdressing in the prison. BUT. The reason why she wore male clothes in the prison was because the prison guards kept trying to rape her, and it was harder for them to do so with male clothes. Yet, when she argued this, they ignored her.
The trial was such a farce that the court records were used posthumously to look at her conduct to see whether she was wronged. And indeed — she was cleared of all charges posthumously by an investigation into the trial started by Pope Callixtus III as to whether the inquisition followed canon law. Which it didn’t — not by a long shot. The results? Not only was her sentence reversed and she declared innocent, but the bishop who convicted her was charged with heresy for condemning a woman to death for political purposes!
Anyway. The point was, they were determined to kill her. And so they did. She was charged with crossdressing and, for this crime, she was burnt at the stake. Her last words were cries of “Jesus!”
Here is a picture of the moments before her death:
The English were so determined not to make a martyr out of her that they burnt her not once, not twice, but three times. The first time they burnt her, they showed the public her corpse so that there was no confusion that she survived. Then they burnt her corpse two more times so that nobody would ever have any relics from her.
Well… they destroyed any chance of relics. But, they made a martyr out of her. Charles VII would eventually ascend the throne and reign as the crowned King of France. There, he declared her innocent and a martyr.
And, in 1920, she was finally formally canonized. She is the patron saint of France and soldiers.
St. Joan of Arc, pray for us!