Discovering the Person

 

Jacques d’Arc and Isabelle Romée lived in the tiny village of Domrémy in France, which was perched on the left bank of the River Meuse.  Jacques and Isabelle raised three boys; Jacques, Jean, Pierre; and two girls; Jehanne, and Catherine.  “The name Jehanne is rooted in the Latin Johanna, the feminine of Johannes, or John; in English the name takes many forms, of which includes, Joan (Spoto; 2007).”  Consequently, thus begins the history of Joan of Arc.

Joan was born around 1412, since in medieval society had no concern for specific date’s, the date of her birth, January 6, was only given for symbolic reasons.  As for her name, Jean Minet, which she was baptized with, it was to honor two of her godmothers and five godfathers named Jean.  During the first twelve to thirteen years of Joan’s life was nothing that was extraordinary, so we have modest if any history on this period of her life.

As accounts have it, Joan was burned at the stake, early on the morning of May 30, 1431, under “heresy,” “witchcraft,” and “sorcery.”

Joan as a Devout Catholic

Joan was a devout Catholic all her life and attended Mass frequently.  As a child she was raised in the faith, learning the Lord’s Prayer, the Ave Maria, and the Credo from her mother.  She also received her religious education through various means: sacrament, or communion, through her village priest; various episodes from the Bible, through sermons at Mass; and the events in the lives of Christ and the Saints, through the paintings, statues, and windows in the church.

At the age of 12 or 13, Joan began having her visions and hearing voices, of which were Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret of Antioch, early Christian martyrs, and also of Saint Michael, the Archangel.  It was said that because she “heard voices,” she was a mystic.  The voices of the Saints expressed to her to pray often and attend church frequently.  Later in these visions, the Saints would tell her to lead an army against the English and the Burgundians.  It was during these battles that Joan would foretell events that would eventually happen to her, including injuries in battle and even her own death.

The Hundred Years’ War

In May of 1337, a war between the English and the French broke out, eventually known as the hundred years’ war.  It was not until 1453 that this war would end.  It is said this war was to have been started by the English king, Edward III, “by asserting a claim to the French throne when the French king Charles IV died without an heir (Kagan, Ozment, Turner; 2004).  It was during this war that Joan was born and died.

In 1429, Joan had convinced the captain of the dauphin’s force, along with the dauphin himself, which she had a calling to help the army fight for the rightful king of France, Charles VII.  After being given troops and commanding them as their captain, Joan led a miraculous victory over the English at the battle of Orleans in May of the same year.  During her battles, Joan was known for carrying “a banner with a picture of ‘Our Savior’ holding the world ‘with two angels at his sides,’ on a white background with gold fleurs-de-lis (archive.joan-of-arc.org; 2008).”  Her victory at Orleans would bring about the crowning of King Charles VII of France at his coronation, July 17, 1429.

Les than a year later, in April of 1430, Joan received another vision informing her that she would be captured and imprisoned before “Saint John’s Day” (June 24).

The Young Lady as a Man

Medieval Theology had a great hold on Christian beliefs during the fifteenth century.  One of these beliefs was regarding the issue of “cross-dressing.”

In the “Summa Theologica,” which was written during the 13th century by St. Thomas Aquinas, “[cross-dressing] may at times be done without sin due to some necessity (Williamson; 2008).”  It was during the 12th century that St. Hildegard von Bingen wrote in her theological work “Scivias,” “men and women should not wear each other’s clothes except in necessity.  A man should never put on a feminine dress or a woman use male attire…Unless…a woman’s chastity is in danger (2008).”

When it actually come’s to the fact of Joan wearing men’s clothes, she explained that she obeyed the voices of the saints by “cutting her hair, dressing in a man’s uniform, and picking up the arms.”  Later, it would be because she was forced as a prisoner, once again, to wear men’s clothes that she would be sentenced to death.

The Trial and Execution of Jean “the maiden”

The trial and execution of Joan “the maiden,” was a farce at best accounts.  Pierre Cauchon had bribed church officials concerning “a murder” that was ordered by Duke John -the-Fearless of Burgundy.  This murder would be under the guise of an Inquisitorial trial.

During her imprisonment, although Inquisitorial procedures required women prisoners to be held in the church-run prisons and guarded by nuns, Joan was imprisoned in a secular prison and was left with no choice but to cling to her soldiers’ outfit.  This was “her only means of defending herself against rape since a dress didn’t offer much protection (Williamson; 2008).” 

Joan’s trial was such a farce with charges of, “having magical powers,” “pouring wax on small children’s’ heads,” “listening to demons,” “dressing in men’s clothes,” and eventually the charge that became her death sentence, “relapsed heretic.”  This so called relapse was brought on by the guards and by Cauchon, by ripping her dress off of her and giving her no choice but to wear the men’s clothes.

At her murder, Joan was given a cross made of sticks and placed it under her garments close to her breast.  This was the most likely her only way of trying to keep at peace during her suffering.  Donald Spoto explains Joan’s experience of death as such:

“Death by burning was considered so dreadful that there was a so-called merciful gesture performed just as the fire was lit: the executioner climbed a ladder behind the stake and either cut the throat or strangled the victim to death.  This was not done to Joan, who endured a protracted torture and death because the pyre was built unusually high for all to see (2007).”

This last act allowed one final wish for Joan throughout her agonizing torture; “with her last breath, (she) sang out the name of the Lord Jesus (2007).”

Joan Darc’s Exoneration

It wasn’t until 1449 that the appeal of Joan’s case would be initiated.  In 1455, the appellate court finally began hearing testimonies regarding the “murder” of Joan of Arc.  Finally on July 7, 1456, in ritual tradition, once Joan had been exonerated, a copy of the original verdict against Jean “the maiden” was torn up.

Although it wasn’t until 1869 that the beatification process was initiated, Joan would not be beatified until 1909 and finally canonized into sainthood on May 16, 1920, by Pope Benedict XV.

References:

Kagan, D., Ozment, S., Turner; F.M., (2004).  The Western Heritage (Eighth Edition):  Prentice-Hall, Inc.

 

Spoto, D.; (2007).  Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heritic Who Became a Saint.: New York, NY, Harper One

 

Williamson, A.; (2008).  Joan of Arc Archive.,Retrieved May 3, 2008, from web site: http://archive.joan-of-arc.org

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