On May 16, 1920, Pope Benedict XV conducted a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to canonize Joan of Arc, often referred to as the Maid of Orleans. This ceremony was the final step in a process that was begun in 1849 by the Bishop of Orleans, Felix Dupanloup, over 400 years after St. Joan’s was tried, convicted and executed in the name of the Church. A study of her heroic deeds and an intensive review of her life, virtues and the trial transcripts that condemned her to be burned at the stake, resulted first in her beatification in 1909, and finally her canonization 11 years later in 1920 (Pernoud 245). Amazingly, two years after that, the woman who had been condemned, put to death, and then canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church, was declared the patroness of France (McBride 82).
Jeanne d’Arc was born around January 6, 1412, in the village of Domremy in France (Thurston). At the time of her birth, France and England had been engaged in the longest war in history, which has come to be known as the Hundred Years’ War. These two countries were fighting over whose right it was to rule. The English had occupied much of northern France, and the primary issue became the survival of France as an independent state rather than as part of an Anglo-French empire ruled by the English monarchy. The French were determined to drive the English out and crown Charles VII as their king (Reither 227-229).
Joan was a simple peasant girl who was rai...
sed in a Catholic home as the youngest of five children (Thurston). Her mother was very religious and had a big influence on Joan’s life. Joan never learned to read or write, but was skilled in spinning and sewing. She was also always very strong and healthy (Michelet 8). At the age of thirteen, Joan began to have holy visions and hear the voices of saints she identified as St. Margaret, St. Catherine, and St. Michael (Thurston). Her voices convinced her to vow to remain a virgin (Lucie-Smith).
When Joan was seventeen years old, the voices revealed her divine mission. Joan was told that she had been chosen to lead the French army into battle against the English, to drive them from French soil. The voices instructed her to go to see Robert Baudricourt, the Captain of Vaucouleurs, who would arrange for her to be taken to see the king (Michelet 12). On her second visit she was able to convince Baudricourt to allow her to see the king. She dressed in men’s clothing for the first time to make this trip (Thurston).
When she arrived, the council kept her waiting for two days while they debated whether she should be taken to the king. Eventually, it was agreed that the king would receive her. The king was doubtful and tested Joan by disguising himself. Joan identified him immediately, and won his confidence by assuring him that God recognized him as the true heir to the French throne. A committee made up of several bishops and doctors were assembled in Poitiers
to examine her and determine the truthfulness of her revelations (Michelet 18-20). Joan made a good impression on the committee members. Their final conclusion was that they could “find no evil but only good, humility, virginity, devotion, honesty, and simplicity” in Joan. They finally recommended that the king accept her help (Pernoud 30). King Charles gave her armor, and horses. A special banner was made for her to carry into battle (Michelet 22-23).
An army was assembled to lift the siege of Orleans and Joan rode with them. She was not a military commander, but acted more as a moral leader. Joan imposed strict rules and required her troops to go to confession and leave prostitutes behind. She traveled with the army and was there to inspire the troops with confidence for victory. After inviting the English to surrender, she developed the plan that was used to free the city of Orleans from the English. She was actually wounded in the battle, but returned to inspire her troops to a great victory (McBride 80).
She continued to lead her troops into battle against the English, resulting in great successes in many more battles. In a great victory at Patay, the English were completely defeated and forced to retreat. This opened the way for the fulfillment of her mission and the coronation of Charles VII as king of France in Reims on July 17, 1429 (Thurston). After the coronation, the king seemed less interested in Joan and the continuation of the campaign to remove the English from France (McBride 81). Joan was frustrated by the king’s attitude and a truce he had signed with the Duke of Burgundy (Thurston).
Finally, at the end of the truce, Joan once again rode with the troops to defend the town of Compiegne which was under siege from the English. Although her voices had predicted that she would be captured, she threw herself into the battle. She stayed to the rear to cover the retreat of her men, but ended up being pulled from her horse and captured. The man who had taken her prisoner sold her to John of Luxembourg (Michelet 50).
Joan’s capture was met with strong reactions. The English badly wanted to discredit Joan, especially her claim that God directed her. If true this would mean that God favored the French over the English (McBride 81). England was a government dominated by Bishops who were led by a Cardinal. Any suggestion that God favored Joan’s mission was intolerable (Michelet 62). The Vicar General of the Inquisitor demanded that Joan be sent to Paris for trial on the grounds that she was a heretic and a witch. A letter had been sent from the University of Paris to the Pope in Rome accusing Joan of heresy because she pretended to predict the future (Lucie-Smith 207).
Although Joan was in reality a political prisoner of war, the English leadership wanted a trial that was conducted by the Church (Michelet 63). Although the French people saw Joan as a hero and a saint, her name inspired fear and dread in the English people, and they were determined to
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