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Saint Joan of Arc

Saint Joan of Arc
  • Century: 15th Century
  • Patronage: France, soldiers, martyrs, captives, militants, people ridiculed for piety, servicewomen
  • Feast Day: May 30th

Born in 1412 on the Feast of the Epiphany, Jeanne la Pucelle, or St. Joan of Arch, found home to be the humble, respectable dwelling of a farmer and his wife amid four other children.  St. Joan of Arc was versed in domestic arts by her mother; but having never learned to read or write, she spent her years near her home, helping neighbors, or in the Church.  While she enjoyed a happy childhood, it was during that time that King Henry V of England invaded France and set in motion a wave of disorder that eventually reached St. Joan of Arc’s humble family and village.

Plunged into civil strife and foreign invasion, France was crippled.  St. Joan of Arc’s family had already fled to another town removed from violence by the time she was fourteen.  It was at this young age that the child began receiving interlocutions, whose frequency and sources multiplied over time.  The voices of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Catherine and St. Margaret were all urging the young lady to save France.  Scared and hesitant to reveal these occurrences, she resolved to keep quiet.  But by May 1428 the voices were adamant and unrelenting.  They told her how to proceed, and she ultimately followed their instructions.

She was to present herself to Robert Baudricourt, the commander of the king’s forces.  However, upon telling him her story, he dismissed her as laughable.  However, she was told to return and foretell the details of future defeat of the French forces.  Baudricourt heard her, dismissed her again, but quickly summoned her back after details emerged concerning a defeat that matched St. Joan of Arc’s description.  At that, Baudicourt sent her to the king with military escort and dressed as a knight. 

On March 8, 1429, St. Joan of Arc was given audience with the king at which time a secret, supernatural sign was conveyed from her to him that attested to the divine mission she was undertaking.  Asking for soldiers to lead a charge to relieve Orleans, King Charles sent her first to be examined by theologians at Poitiers.  She passed muster with the delegation, who further advised King Charles to listen to her.  Accordingly, she was given command of an expeditionary force that she led into Orleans on April 29.  Clad in white armor under a special standard bearing the words, “Jesus:Maria,” French control of the area was restored by May 8. 

While the voices detailed a series of events that should take place, the political and ecclesial bureaucrats were hesitant to heed St. Joan of Arc’s promptings, being more deliberate than she wished.  Nonetheless, authorities ultimately did what she said, although not as quickly as she directed.  Further campaigns by St. Joan of Arc were undertaken, victories won, as well as wounds received.  The French court looked skeptically and suspiciously upon the outsider who seemed to have the king’s favor. 

On May 23, 1430, however, St. Joan of Arc’s string of success came to a resounding halt when she and a portion of her company were left outside the gates of Compiegne when the drawbridge was taken up before she could retire into the city.  She was taken prisoner by French rebels who waited for King Charles of France to ransom her; but, alas, no ransom from the king came.  Instead, the English were more than willing to pay to take custody of the prisoner.  On November 21, 1430 she was handed over to the English in exchange the modern equivalent of over $500,000. 

In English hands, St. Joan of Arc could not face penalty for defeating the English in battle.  Therefore, English authorities set about to find accusations against her that would enable them to put her to death.  Having St. Joan of Arc’s reputation, as well as her own testimony, ecclesial officials in England hurriedly twisted her faithful interlocutions into charges of sorcery and heresy.  A sham tribunal was assembled which provided tireless interrogation and confusion for a young woman not well versed in theological terms, not to mention her own ignorance of reading and writing.  St. Joan of Arc was asked to retract her witness to the voices in order to save her own life; but she refused.  Sentenced to death, the saint was taken to the place of execution, when in a moment of weakness, she succumbed, demonstrating a willingness to recant.  However, upon here being taken to authorities to deny her actions, she was given Grace to remain steadfast, and, again, was sentenced to die. 

On May 29, 1431, she was lead into a public square in Rouen to be burned at the stake.  In order to keep her focus and strength, St. Joan requested that a Dominican friar hold up a Crucifix at her eye level while she was being executed.  Before she surrendered to death, she cried out to Jesus.  This lead one of King Henry’s own secretaries, John Tressart, to exclaim amid the crowd of spectators, “We are lost: we have burned a saint!” 

While St. Joan of Arc was not prosecuted and executed under an official action of the Church in Rome, the condemning English ecclesial authorities that conducted the sham trial and pronounced the sentence had representation from the Church.  After her death, St. Joan of Arc’s own mother and brothers appealed to the Vatican to reopen her case.  On July 7, 1456, Pope Callistus III announced that the appointed commission found evidence leading him to quash the verdict and remove the conviction.  Her conviction and execution remains “a blot on the history of England…[who] were not the only people who earned disgrace.”  Over 450 years after the record was righted, St. Joan of Arc was canonized on May 16, 1920.

Practical Take-Away: 

So often in the history of salvation, we are presented with critical actors who did not sign-up for the tasks God had planned for them.  Not only did they not sign-up, but would have preferred to run-away from the responsibilities.  Too often we see ourselves as unworthy or incapable of succeeding at the Lord’s requests.  We see this with Moses, who pointed to his own speech impediment as a reason for God to find another.  We see this with the prophet Jeremiah who amidst anxiety says to the Lord, “Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jer. 1:6).  The same was the case with St. Joan of Arc, who after she was first dismissed from Robert Baudricourt’s company, resigned to never try again, protesting to the voices of the saints that she was a poor girl who could neither ride nor fight—obviously, it seemed, they had made a mistake.

            However, it is often we who have made the mistake.  We too readily dismiss the possibilities because we forget that what God asks of us we will be enabled to do not as loners, but by cooperating with His Grace—we always leave this critical element out of the equation.  He will give us the Grace!  With Him, all things are possible!  Indeed, just as God said to Jeremiah, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth;’ for to all to whom I send you you shall go, and whatever I command you you shall speak” (Jer. 1:7); the voices of the saints speaking to St. Joan of Arc replied to her resignation—“It is God who commands it.”  With that, she went forth; and with that, she received her Crown of Glory.