SAINTS: JOAN OF ARC

Saint of the day: Saint Joan

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Joan of Arc (1412–1431) A French peasant girl who, spurred on by divine voices and visions, fought the English and secured the coronation of the dauphin Charles as king of France. Contrary to popular belief, she was not executed by the English on charges of witchcraft but for being a relapsed heretic who denied the authority of the Church.

Saint Joan of the Cross
“In the evening of life I shall be judged by love.”—Saint Joan

Joan was born a plowman’s daughter in Domrémy, a village between the Champagne and Lorraine districts of France. Early in her life, she Demonstrated exceptional piety and was hardworking and industrious. She began to hear voices and have visions at age 13 and identified them as the saints Michael, Catherine and Margaret. They told her to go to the dauphin and that she would raise the English siege of Orléans.

At that time, the crown of France was in dispute between the dauphin Charles, son of king Charles VI, and the English, who held control over portions of France. When Joan was 16, her voices led her to Vaucouleurs, a French loyalist stronghold, where she begged a captain to see the dauphin. She was refused; a year later, in 1429, she tried again. She convinced the captain that she was not a witch and that her visions were divine.

Charles received her, and she impressed the superstitious dauphin by telling him his daily personal prayer to God. Her mission, she said, was to defeat the English and get him crowned king of France. He had her interviewed by the clergy; Joan passed their inspection. The dauphin gave Joan troops, and she led them into battle against the English. True to her visions, she raised the siege of Orléans in may 1429.

The dauphin was crowned Charles VII about two months later, on July 17. He ennobled Joan and her family, and she enjoyed enormous popularity among the people as the savior of France.

France, however, was far from unified. Though the English grip was weakened, it was not broken. Paris and parts of Normandy and Burgundy remained loyal to the English. Joan attempted to take Paris but was ordered to retreat before the battle was decided.

On may 23, 1430, Joan attempted to raise a siege of Compiègne. She was unhorsed and captured, and imprisoned in a castle by the Duke of Burgundy, an ally of the English. She unsuccessfully attempted to escape by jumping out of the tower into the moat but didn’t hurt herself seriously.

In exchange for 10,000 francs, the Duke of Burgundy turned Joan over to the Bishop of Beauvais, also an English ally. It was the intent of the English to execute Joan, but first they set out to discredit her as a witch and thus weaken Charles VII.

In an informal ecclesiastical hearing, Joan came through exceptionally well. It was verified that she was a virgin, which weakened the case for witchcraft, because all witches were supposed to copulate with the Devil, according to belief at the time. Character witnesses painted a shining picture of her piety and virtue. All of this testimony was repressed by the Bishop of Beauvais.

Following the informal hearings, the clergy began interrogations of Joan in her prison cell. She acknowledged that she could see, kiss and embrace her three saints.

Joan was brought to formal trial before 37 clerical judges on 70 charges, among them being a sorceress, witch, diviner, pseudoprophetess, invoker of evil spirits, conjurer and “given to the arts of magic.” She was also accused of heresy. Her inquisitors did not torture her, to avoid the appearance of coercion.

The charges of sorcery and witchcraft could not be substantiated and were dropped. The 70 charges were reduced to 12, the main ones being her heresy in refusing to accept the authority of the Church, her wearing of men’s clothing and her ability to see apparitions.

Joan refused to recant, even under the threat of torture or being turned over to the English secular arm for punishment, which was certain execution.

On May 24, 1431, Joan was publicly condemned as a heretic and turned over to the English, who were ready to burn her on the spot. At the last minute, she recanted and signed a hastily written confession renouncing her visions and voices as false, and swearing to return to and obey the Church. This saved her from the pyre, and she was sent to prison for life.

But in prison, she donned men’s clothing—allegedly because her voices told her to, but perhaps because her English guards took her women’s garb and left her with nothing else to wear. On May 28 she was condemned as a relapsed heretic. She recanted her confession. On May 30 Joan was excommunicated and delivered at last to the English secular arm. She was burned at the stake the same day in Rouen. Legend has it that the executioner was spooked by her death, claiming that her heart refused to burn and he found it whole in the ashes. Throughout her ordeal, Charles VII, to whom she had delivered the crown of France, declined to come to her aid.

In 1450 Pope Calixtus III had her sentence annulled. Joan was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV. A national festival in her honour is held in France on the second Sunday in May.

  • Pernoud, Regine. Joan of Arc: By Herself and Her Witnesses. New York: Dorset, 1964. First published 1962.
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1972.

Joan of Arc (1412−ca. 1431) To those who study the paranormal, Jeanne D’Arc of Orléans, France, who is better known today as Joan of Arc, is considered a classic example of someone endowed with extrasensory-perception —particularly of a type known as clairaudience, which involves the hearing of voices from an unknown, mysterious source. In the fifteenth century, Joan was a thirteen-year-old peasant who heard voices that she was convinced were those of Saint Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine. The voices told Joan they were bringing messages from God concerning her future. They commanded the girl to do various things in order to realize her destiny, which, according to the voices, was to lead an army against the English, who at that time were occupying much of France. Skeptics dismiss the idea that Joan was hearing saints’ voices, instead suggesting that she had a mental illness such as schizophrenia. Others, particularly devout Catholics, in whose church she has been canonized as a saint, insist that she really was receiving divine messages. In support of the belief that Joan’s experiences were real, Catholics point to a message involving the sword Joan would use in battling the English. One of the voices commanded her to look near the altar of the Church of Saint Catherine at Fierbois, France, for a buried sword whose blade had five inscribed crosses. Priests subsequently unearthed the sword exactly where Joan directed, and after the soil and rust were removed from its blade, they saw that it did indeed have five crosses. Joan went on to use the sword in fighting the English in the Siege of Orléans in 1429, and, as her voices also predicted, she was wounded in the battle. People who believe that Joan had ESP say these predictions came not from the saints but from Joan’s own mind, suggesting that she had precognition (an ability to see images of future events). They also say that Joan’s knowledge of the sword’s location came from her own ability to receive images of hidden objects psychically. The English, who captured Joan during the Siege of Orléans, believed that her knowledge was the result of witchcraft and burned her at the stake in 1431.