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Joan of Arc, c.1412-1431

joan.jpg (17544 bytes)The French patriot and martyr, Joan of Arc, was born the daughter of well-off peasants at Domrémy, a hamlet on the borders of Lorraine and Champagne, January 6. The English conquered the area in 1421 but their forces withdrew in 1424. Joan received no formal education but was endowed with an argumentative nature and shrewd common senses.

At the age of thirteen she thought she heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret bidding her rescue the Paris region from English domination. She presented herself before the local commander, Robert de Baudricourt, and persuaded him, after he had had her exorcised, to take her across the English-occupied territory to the dauphin at Chinon, which they reached March 6, 1429. According to legend, Joan was called into a gathering of courtiers, among them the dauphin in disguise, and her success in identifying him at once was interpreted as divine confirmation of his previously doubted legitimacy and claims to the throne. She was equally successful in ecclesiastical examination to which she was subjected at Poitiers and was consequently allowed to join the army assembled at Blois for the relief of Orleans. Clad in a suit of white armor and flying her own standard, she entered Orleans with an advance guard on April 29 and by May 8 forced the English to raise the siege and retire in June from the principal stronghold on the Loire.

To further aid French resistance, Joan took the dauphin with an army of 12,000 through English-held territory to be crowned Charles VII in Rheims cathedral on July 17, 1429. She then found it difficult to persuade him to undertake further military exploits, especially the relief of Paris. At last she set out on her own to relieve Compiègne from the Burgundians, was captured in a skirmish and sold to the English by John of Luxembourg for 10,000 crowns. She was put on trial (February 21-May 17, 1431) on charges of heresy and sorcery by an ecclesiastical court of the Inquisition, presided over by Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais.

Most of what we know about Joan's brief life are those preserved in the records of her trial. She was found guilty, taken out to the churchyard of St. Ouen on May 24 to be burnt, but at the last moment broke down and made a wild recantation. This she later abjured and suffered her martyrdom at the stake in the marketplace of Rouen on May 30, faithful to her "voices." The apparitor of the archiepiscopal court, Maugier Leparmentier, was present and recorded that:

The day when Joan was burned, the wood was got ready to burn her before the sermon was finished or the sentence had been pronounced. And no sooner the sentence uttered by the bishop, without any delay, she was taken to the fire, and I did not see that there was any sentence pronounced by the lay judge. But was at once taken to the fire. And in the fire she cried more than six times "Jesus," and above all with her last breath she cried in a loud voice "Jesus!" so that all present could hear her. Almost all wept with pity, and I have heard say that the ashes, after her burning, were gathered up and cast into the Seine.

The usher, Jean Massieu, added that:

The pious woman asked, requested, and begged me, as I was near her at her end, that I would go to the near-by church and fetch the cross to hold it raised right before her eyes until the threshold of death, that the cross with God hung upon be continually before her eyes in her lifetime. Being in the flames she ceased not until the end to proclaim and confess aloud the holy name of Jesus, imploring and invoking without cease the help of the saints in paradise. And what is more, in giving up the ghost and bowing her head, uttered to name of Jesus as a sign that she was fervent in the faith of God.

In 1456, in order to strengthen the validity of Charles VII's coronation, the trial was declared irregular. In 1904 she was designated Venerable, declared Blessed in 1908 and finally canonized in 1920.

Internet Resources
Joan of Arc bibliography
Joan of Arc biography at The Catholic Encyclopedia
Joan of Arc biography (Miles Hodges)
Joan or Arc Center
Joan of Arc FAQ
The Trial of Joan of Arc at The Medieval Sourcebook

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