“One life is all we have and we live it as we believe in living it. But to sacrifice what you are and to live without belief, that is a fate more terrible than dying.” Joan of Arc
At Rouen in English-controlled Normandy, Joan of Arc, the peasant girl who became the savior of France, is burned at the stake for heresy.
Joan was born in 1412, the daughter of a tenant farmer at Domremy, on the borders of the duchies of Bar and Lorraine. In 1415, the Hundred Years War between England and France entered a crucial phase when the young King Henry V of England invaded France and won a series of decisive victories against the forces of King Charles VI. By the time of Henry’s death in August 1422, the English and their French-Burgundian allies controlled Aquitaine and most of northern France, including Paris. Charles VI, long incapacitated, died one month later, and his son, Charles, regent from 1418, prepared to take the throne. However, Reims, the traditional city of French coronation, was held by the Anglo-Burgundians, and the Dauphin (heir apparent to the French throne) remained uncrowned. Meanwhile, King Henry VI of England, the infant son of Henry V and Catherine of Valois, the daughter of Charles VI, was proclaimed king of France by the English.
Joan’s village of Domremy lay on the frontier between the France of the Dauphin and that of the Anglo-Burgundians. In the midst of this unstable environment, Joan began hearing “voices” of three Christian saints—St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret. When she was about 16, these voices exhorted her to aid the Dauphin in capturing Reims and therefore the French throne. In May 1428, she traveled to Vaucouleurs, a stronghold of the Dauphin, and told the captain of the garrison of her visions. Disbelieving the young peasant girl, he sent her home. In January 1429, she returned, and the captain, impressed by her piety and determination, agreed to allow her passage to the Dauphin at Chinon.
Dressed in men’s clothes and accompanied by six soldiers, she reached the Dauphin’s castle at Chinon in February 1429 and was granted an audience. Charles hid himself among his courtiers, but Joan immediately picked him out and informed him of her divine mission. For several weeks, Charles had Joan questioned by theologians at Poitiers, who concluded that, given his desperate straits, the Dauphin would be well-advised to make use of this strange and charismatic girl.
Charles furnished her with a small army, and on April 27, 1429, she set out for Orleans, besieged by the English since October 1428. On April 29, as a French sortie distracted the English troops on the west side of Orleans, Joan entered unopposed by its eastern gate. She brought greatly needed supplies and reinforcements and inspired the French to a passionate resistance. She personally led the charge in several battles and on May 7 was struck by an arrow. After quickly dressing her wound, she returned to the fight, and the French won the day. On May 8, the English retreated from Orleans.
During the next five weeks, Joan and the French commanders led the French into a string of stunning victories over the English. On July 16, the royal army reached Reims, which opened its gates to Joan and the Dauphin. The next day, Charles VII was crowned king of France, with Joan standing nearby holding up her standard: an image of Christ in judgment. After the ceremony, she knelt before Charles, joyously calling him king for the first time.
On September 8, the king and Joan attacked Paris. During the battle, Joan carried her standard up to the earthworks and called on the Parisians to surrender the city to the king of France. She was wounded but continued to rally the king’s troops until Charles ordered an end to the unsuccessful siege. That year, she led several more small campaigns, capturing the town of Saint-Pierre-le-Moitier. In December, Charles ennobled Joan, her parents, and her brothers.
In May 1430, the Burgundians laid siege to Compiegne, and Joan stole into the town under the cover of darkness to aid in its defense. On May 23, while leading a sortie against the Burgundians, she was captured. The Burgundians sold her to the English, and in March 1431 she went on trial before ecclesiastical authorities in Rouen on charges of heresy. Her most serious crime, according to the tribunal, was her rejection of church authority in favor of direct inspiration from God. After refusing to submit to the church, her sentence was read on May 24: She was to be turned over to secular authorities and executed. Reacting with horror to the pronouncement, Joan agreed to recant and was condemned instead to perpetual imprisonment.
Ordered to put on women’s clothes, she obeyed, but a few days later the judges went to her cell and found her dressed again in male attire. Questioned, she told them that St. Catherine and St. Margaret had reproached her for giving in to the church against their will. She was found to be a relapsed heretic and on May 29 ordered handed over to secular officials. On May 30, Joan, 19 years old, was burned at the stake at the Place du Vieux-Marche in Rouen. Before the pyre was lit, she instructed a priest to hold high a crucifix for her to see and to shout out prayers loud enough to be heard above the roar of the flames.
It was on that day that Joan of Arc, the Deliverer of France, was cruelly executed at the stake as a criminal and heretic, though she was innocent. There can be no greater objective in life, and no greater compliment to give another, than that their life is an imitation of Christ. And Joan of Arc’s life so resembles that of Christ’s that we are in awe of His handiwork. Joan carried out her mission with unyielding faith, hope, and love. She was wrongfully accused; she refused to deny her faith and call, and she therefore was unjustly executed as a mere criminal.
The earth did not shake, but many miracles did take place when she died. The cry of “Jesus!” was her last exclamation before expiring, and the name “Jesus” was seen written in the flames. Tough English soldiers repented and confessed on the spot. The executioner testified that her heart would not burn. A soldier spotted a white dove flying out of the flames and toward unoccupied, free France. I am convinced that after that dove circled the hills, valleys, and meadows of the French countryside, it soared through the gates of heaven, bursting on arrival into that brilliant, colorful expression referenced above and then was painted across the sky by the swift and mighty hand of Jesus Himself. That last part is not written in any of the history books, but it is written in my heart.
As a source of military inspiration, Joan of Arc helped turn the Hundred Years War firmly in France’s favor. By 1453, Charles VII had reconquered all of France except for Calais, which the English relinquished in 1558. In 1920, Joan of Arc, one of the great heroes of French history, was recognized as a Christian saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Her feast day is May 30.
There are a great many prayers to Saint Joan, but here is one of the more popular ones.
Pray for us, Saint Joan of Arc.
Novena in Honor of Saint Joan of Arc
✞ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. ✞
St. Joan of Arc, Filled with compassion, For those who invoke you, Filled with love for those who suffer, Heavily laden with the weight of my troubles, I kneel at your feet and humbly beg you, To take my present need, Under your special protection. (Mention your request here)
Grant to recommend it, To the Blessed Virgin Mary, And lay it before the throne of Jesus. Cease not to intercede for me, Until my request is granted.
Above all, obtain for me, The grace to one day, Meet God face to face, And with you and Mary, And all the angels and saints, Praise Him through all eternity.
O most powerful Saint Joan, Do not let me lose my soul, But obtain for me the grace Of winning my way to heaven, Forever and ever. Amen.
Pray the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be
“We want our heroism cut from the air, pristine and timeless, free from all contingencies, rather than shifting in the soil of circumstance.” Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism by Marina Warner
“Oh, what an honor to the female sex! That God loves it is clear with all these wretched people and traitors who laid waste the whole kingdom cast out and the realm elevated and restored by a woman – something a hundred thousand men could not have done! Before, one would not have believed it possible.”
– from ‘Le Ditie de Jehanne d’Arc’ by Christine de Pizan
You, who call me a w h o r e…
I feel pity for you,
for your soul…
and for the souls of your men!