...and a caveat...this is not journalism. It is part of a diary and a quest to find Joan of Arc...
It was only after Joan of Arc died that she came alive for me. She is also known as Jeanne d'Arc in modern French, and Jehanne Darc in medieval French.
Witnessing the circumstances of her death and walking the streets where she was dragged and shackled in a cart through Rouen brought Joan's humanity home to me. She was one of us and she was also a "daughter of God."
"Va va fille de Dieu"
"Go go daughter of God," the angels said to her when she was still living in her parents village. She was rightfully questioning her ability to raise an army to defend the King. The angels and saints began speaking to her when she was thirteen years old. The first time she heard the voices was when the bells tolled at the church a hundred steps or so from her father's garden where she was kneeling in prayer. Joan tells this story in the transcripts of her trial of condemnation. The political trail was led by the French Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon. Cauchon was paid off by the English to debunk her exploits and attribute her success to the devil.
But now I am way ahead of myself.
Joan was also the daughter of earthly parents, Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Romme, who were farmers in the village of Domremy. Joan sewed with her mother, went to Mass everyday, tended the sheep and cattle, and played with the other children in the village. It was Isabelle who approached King Charles VII 20 years after Joan's death to have her retried and her name cleared. Jacques died shortly after Joan was burned at the stake. Testimony says his body gave out from the stress of it all.
Joan must have received some of her strength from her mother. Thinking about women's place in society in the mid 1400's, it seems unthinkable that Isabelle would be so bold as to approach the King, especially since he abandoned Joan to the English after she was captured by the Burgundians and did not try to ransom her. He literally washed his hands of Joan, even though without her he would never have become King, and France would not exist.
This is the reality of the life story of a barely nineteen year old girl, who in her last earthly hours had her head shaved, a dunce cap placed on her bald scalp, and who was stripped and clothed in a black robe. Or perhaps it was an off-white robe. One thing that becomes obvious when one walks in Joan of Arc's footsteps is that the only completely reliable record is found in two sets of Trial transcripts. One is the written testimony of her trail and condemnation, and the other is in the testimony recorded from her trial of reclamation.
Still, the factual written accounts of her life and death confound reasonable explanation. In 1429, during the height of Joan's successful military campaign, the northern half of the country above the Louire River was under the control of either the English or the Duke of Burgandy. The true identity of the French King was up for grabs in what amounted to a huge family feud. The monarchies were hopelessly inbred and the 1420 Treaty of Troyes had France's Charles VI abandoning his bloodline in favor of Henry V of England and his offspring, which were many. Henry won big in the Battle of Agincourt and subsequent military campaigns of the Hundred Years War.
This is very confusing. So let's simplify things and look at Joan's timeline.
In 1412 Joan of Arc was born in Domremy, a tiny village in the territory of Lorraine, literally a stone's throw from the boundary of modern day Germany. Her home was situated on the main road (think Medieval times) that went in front of her father's home. Travelers would stop for food and gather around the family hearth with news of the outside world and the War.
In 1425 Joan started to hear the voices of St. Margaret, St. Catherine and St. Michael the Archangel. She told no one. Not even her mother. We know Joan was good at keeping secrets. This went on for four years and Joan gives testimony in her trail, but hers is the only first person account. This is when faith kicks in for the pilgrim in modern times. Can you believe in ghosts and not believe in saints and angels in a garden?
A greater part of her day was spent tending sheep in the bucolic landscape. The land is much the same today and sheep still graze there. Poppies still grow wild in the fields, the sun, moon, and stars hold the same places in the skies, but in almost 600 years, much has obviously changed. Her home has been revamped on the outside, the church burned down, was rebuilt, and moved to change its orientation on the foundation. No one can explain why.
The rough limestone holy water "stoup" dates from the 14th century and the baptismal font are also from that era, so it is safe to say Joan was baptized at the font and used the stoup. It occurred to me that Joan's hand was one of the thousands that wore the stone smooth. The turret also dates from the 14th century and those facts afford a good retort to the Joan relic debunkers. A third class relic is anything the Saint is said to have touched. I had to look that up.
You may be shocked, as was I, to learn that there are Joan debunkers living in Domremy. Word gets around that a writer was visiting and I was approached. That is not to say there is always something to be learned from all sides of a story, but I consider the encounter a test of faith.
Back to the voices.
This went on for four years and the messages changed from admonition to be a good girl and say your prayers to instructions to lead an army to save France. Go, go Daughter of God, indeed! It is 1428 and Joan is 16 years old.
How can she lead an army? Where can she FIND an army?
The voices instructed her to visit the local commander at the city of Vaucoulers to obtain a Royal escort to the Court of Charles VII. His authority and right as King was not recognized since he was not anointed with the holy oil at Rheims. Not to mention the suggestion that he was a bastard son of the Queen. Meanwhile the English were sending forces to the Loire Valley to stage the offensive move on Orleans which would effectively cut it off from Free France on the south side of the River Loire. A coronation at Rheims would put Charles ahead of England's Henry VI who was an infant.
In May Joan arranged for her uncle, Durand Lassois, to take her to Lord Robert de Baudricourt who had remained loyal Charles despite the mixed up family relations I alluded to earlier. Baudricourt dismissed her and she returned home only to have Domremy sacked by the Burgundians in July. After Vaucouleurs suffered the same fate, the Royals figured they had nothing to lose and besides there WAS a prophecy that a virgin from the region of Lorraine would save France.
On February 13 1429, Joan finally marched through the gates of Vaucoulers and arrived in Chinon to meet with Charles on February 24. The docent at the Vaucoulers museum will tell the story that Joan initially set out in the wrong direction for Chinon and had to turn around and start over. Not an auspicious beginning for one sent from God and it is problematic. The faithful come up with their own reasons for this, and perhaps there is no reason. Reason must be suspended if one believes in Joan to begin with.
I have my own theories, but they do not matter. A clue is that I believe each of the "official" Joan of Arc sites want to retain a piece of history that belongs to them alone. It remains unclear whether we are relying on written testimony, oral testimony, or myth. Question them closely and they remain evasive.
It is fact that Joan tied her horse to the 600 year old Linden tree that still stands outside of the reconstructed church. Only remnants of the castle remain, but there is a crypt under the church where Joan prayed. We know this from the written testimony of a young boy who to followed her there and who later became a bishop. I had the extraordinary opportunity to kneel in the same spot in prayer. Readers can also if they make the journey. Did I feel closer to the events of that time? Yes.
On or about February 24 Joan finally arrives in Chinon to meet the King. Embarrassing inspections of her state of virginity occur and also some subterfuge where the King dresses as a commoner and Joan has to pick him out from the crowd, which she does.
Now with the King's army behind her. Joan battles her way to Orleans. On July 17, 1429, Charles is anointed with the holy oil as Joan watches from a pillar near the main altar.
As I said, As one visits the sites of Joan's battles, her encounters with royalty, and sponsors of her military campaign, it is obvious that the sites are in competition with one another in terms of proprietary bragging rights to the "accurate " information, including relics, first-person accounts and minutiae such as the statues she prayed in front of.
There is a small Chapel in the hills above Domremy. La Chapelle de Bermont. Now we have to sort through written record, oral tradition, and myth. So far the only completely reliable record is in the trial transcript and the reclamation transcripts which contain Joan's testimony and that of her mother Isabelle, friends, family and fellow soldiers. Was she here? Positive proof in testimony from the 1456 Trial of Rehabilitation?
“Jeanne was born at Domremy and was baptized at the Parish Church of Saint Remy, in that place. Her father was named Jacques d'Arc, her mother Isabelle - both laborers living together at Domremy. They were, as I saw and knew, good and faithful Catholics, laborers of good repute and honest life. I lived much with them, I was one of the godfathers of Jeannette. She had three godmothers, the wife of Etienne Thévenin, Beatrix, widow Estellin, both living at Domremy; and Jeannette, widow of Thiesselin of Viteaux, living at Neufchâteau. From her early youth, Jeannette was brought up with care in the Faith, and in good morals; she was so good that all the village of Domremy loved her. Jeannette knew her Belief and her Pater and Ave as well as any of her companions. She had modest ways, as becomes one whose parents were not rich. Up to the time she left her parents she followed the plough and sometimes minded the cattle in the fields. Also she did the usual duties of women, such as spinning, and other things. I know it pleased her to go often to the Hermitage of the Blessed Marie of Bermont, near Domremy. Often I saw her go there. She was there when her parents thought her with the plough or in the fields; and when she heard the Mass-bell, if she were in the fields, she would go back to the village and to the Church, in order to hear Mass. I have been witness of this many times. I have seen her confess at Easter-tide and other solemn Feasts. I saw her confess to Messire Guillaume Fronte, who was then Cure of the Parish of Saint Remy.” Jean Morel, of Greux, laborer.
There are also some recently discovered drawings made by hermits who lived in the area in that era of a young girl who came to pray. I am sure there is an explanation somewhere. But that is not my quest. No photos allowed of the drawings but I do have a postcard of the images.
There are also Joan of Arc conspiracy theorists and genuine private scholars who may or may not believe that Joan existed, was born in Domremy, or could possibly be the bastard daughter of royalty who was hidden away in the home of Jacques d'Arc and Isabelle Rome. Perhaps the river was rerouted, the town burnt down, the baptismal church destroyed, moved and rebuilt, and statues stolen or figments of the imagination. Look her and there and find old stone foundations that housed Celtic castles, remnants of bridges said not to exist and stone boundary markers that indicate that Domremy was not part of France in the early 14th century.
But the court records and written testimonies do exist regarding Joan's words and actions.
Today, Joan of Arc's image can be found on everything from beer bottles to cheese, not to mention cups, plates, saucers and fake gold coins. There are Joan of Arc ice cream vendors and cookies. The Basilica dedicated to her name burns her in effigy after a laser sound show on an annual basis.
Joan of Arc can be an alien if you want her to be, and this where the seeker must take a step back from all of the hoopla if one is ever to know her.
There is no doubt that she is part of the historical record of France. Look at the statues and paintings from that era. The secular Joan belongs to France and she is almost always clothed in battle gear. The Saint Joan is pictured with angels, she is wearing robes or peasant dress and almost always in prayer surrounded by angels and saints.
Joan had been listening to the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret since she was thirteen, and of course her Inquisitors could not admit that THEY had not heard the voices of the angels, Saints or God. It was common belief in the Middle Ages that God directly intervened in earthly events. Ipso facto, she must indeed be a witch. Who was this girl who foretold the future and talked to God? How dare she say so?
But let's recap. In the year after she left Domremy, Joan had to convince the French nobility to introduce her to a King in exile, Charles. She had to persuade the Dauphin King that she was sent by God to have him crowned at Reims, which she accomplished by liberating the city of Orleans after she had organized an army of thousands.
She survived having a stone split her helmet in two while she was climbing a ladder at Jargeau, knocking her off the ladder she was using to scale a stone wall while clad in a suit of armor. This was about a month after she liberated Orleans and Jargeau was her first offensive battle. It was the first sustained French offensive in the Hundred Year's War. When the English fled, Joan chased them and her army killed many. It is recorded that Joan never killed an enemy soldier. This is why she carried her banner; so she could easily be seen and so she did not have to wield her sword while leading 5,000 soldiers.
Joan testified that she never killed anyone, but that if God had asked her to, she would have. After Orleans, on June 18 the English were defeated at Patay in one of the bloodiest battles of her campaign. Thousands of English were slaughtered on the battlefield and only a few dozen of Joan's soldiers were killed. Testimony at her trial of reclamation says that she would cradle the dying English in her arms and pray for them.
At Orleans, she had an arrow pierce through an opening in her armor just above her left breast. She had a vision a month before that this would happen. Upon being struck, she panicked and cried and went to lie down. The English thought they had killed her and were totally freaked out when she picked up her banner and began leading the charge once again the following morning.
"At eight o’clock, despite all the English who never attempted to prevent it, she entered, armed at all points, riding upon a white horse; and she caused her standard to be borne before her, which was likewise white, on which were two angels, holding each a fleur-de-lys in their hands; and on the pennon was painted an annunciation (this is the image of Our Lady having before her an angel giving her a lily). She entered thus into Orleans."
At Jargeau, Le Duc d’Alencon, Joan’s friend and a commanding officer, said, “Joan breathed the will of God into French troops, ensuring them their victory, saying, ‘Act, and God will act!’ This was moments before the stone hit her on the head where (it split in two against her helmet).
Joan slept in her armor and developed bleeding skin sores as a result.
On May 23,1430 Joan was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundians, who were allied with the English. She was later handed over to the English and put on trial in January of 1431by the Bishop of Beauvais Pierre Cauchon on a variety of charges. The one causing her to be burned at the stake being wearing men's clothing. After Cauchon declared her guilty on May 30, 1431 she was immolated in the Market square in Rouen. She was 19.
Charles would go on to unite France in the next 20 years. Before that fateful day at Compeigne, Joan had also lost the Sieges of Paris and LaCharite. Joan's voices did not command her to keep fighting, but she did continue her battles after the victories in the Loire Campaign, and lost every battle. When her voices gave directions she won. Why did she guarantee her own death? We will never know, but her victories are fact.
At the village church in Jargeau I had the strangest experience as we were looking at a statue of St. Michael plunging a sword into Satan. It is an ugly depiction, especially since the face of the archangel expresses hate that is palpable. I was so uncomfortable and began to feel a sensation of electric shocks going up and down my spine. I was forced to moved to the other end of the Church and it took many minutes for the sensation to diminish. But even now as I write this I feel the vestiges.
Evil was a simple matter in the Middle Ages. Joan knew exactly what she was fighting against. And God spoke directly to her, giving her short life meaning and purpose. Yes she suffered greatly because of her devotion to God's will, but she had the assurance that she would go to heaven.
In this day and age, evil is cloaked in shades of grey. There seems to be no absolute right or wrong and society has been secularized to the extent that heaven is a concept that is a mystery even to believers. Many of us are unsure heaven exists.
So what did I learn? Believe in yourself. DO NOT be afraid to speak power. I do not mean the trite saying. What is your power? Whom do you listen to? Are your voices trustworthy?
Joan's execution was an exercise in brutality. Finally convicted of heresy for wearing men's clothing, she was burned three times to ensure her death. Mercifully the eyewitness accounts say she died of asphyxiation. The whole exercise was designed to destroy her legacy as a messenger from God and with it, the legitimacy of the French crown. Her executioner, Geoffroy Thérage, said that he "greatly feared to be damned".
Was Joan sent from God or an accidental military genius?
This is the quest of the Pilgrim and although the reader will want to know, I remain silent. Faith is a private matter.
If you want to read the written record, her trial transcripts are here.