St. Joan of Arc

      Joan of Arc, nicknamed "The Maid of Orléans," was born in 1412 in Domrémy, Bar, France. A national heroine of France, Joan of Arc led the French army to victory over the British at Orléans, at age 18. Captured a year later, Joan was burned by the English and their French collaborators as a heretic. She was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint 500 years later, on May 16, 1920.

       In 1412 (on January 6, according to some sources), Joan of Arc was born into the French peasant class to devoutly religious parents in the village of Domremy. Beginning around age 12, she heard voices: those of St. Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret. She also possessed many characteristics common to her contemporary female visionaries, who were a notable fixture of her time—extreme piety, claims of direct communication with the saints, and a reliance on individual experience, as opposed to that found through the institutions of the church, of the presence of God.

       As history would prove, beyond these traits, she also possessed remarkable mental and physical courage.

        The crown of France during Joan’s time was in dispute between the dauphin, Charles (later Charles VII), and the English king, Henry VI. Henry's armies were occupying much of the northern part of the kingdom with the Burgundians (loyal to the Duke of Burgundy and allied to the English), and the dauphin's state was more tenuous yet, since, five years after his father's death, he still had not been crowned king of France.

       Joan's village was on the frontier between the two factions, and villagers had already had to abandon their homes. Led by the voices of the saints, in May 1428 Joan traveled to Vaucouleurs, where she asked for permission to join the dauphin and his cause. She and her visions were promptly dismissed, and the 16-year-old Joan went home. The next year, undeterred, she returned.

 

       "Whilst I was at Tours, or at Chinon, I sent to seek for a sword which was in the Church of Saint Catherine de Fierbois, behind the altar; it was found there at once; the sword was in the ground, and rusty; upon it were five crosses; I knew by my Voice where it was . . . It was under the earth, not very deeply buried, behind the altar, so it seemed to me: I do not know exactly if it were before or behind the altar, but I believe I wrote saying that it was at the back. As soon as it was found, the Priests of the Church rubbed it, and the rust fell off at once without effort." (Pernoud and Clin, Joan of Arc: Her Story, 225)