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Also known as Jeanne d’Arc, Jean D’arc, Jehanne d’Arc, the Maid of Orleans, and La Pucelle, Joan of Arc was born in the Lorraine region of France in 1412.

Although considered part of the peasant class, her parents were not poor. As a child, Joan tended the family’s animals, learned domestic skills, and spent time in pious devotion and prayer, but she never learned to read or write.

France and England had been engaged in sporadic wars over disputed provinces since 1337, over which England had the upper hand, particularly since the legal heir to the throne of France was yet an infant.

At the age of thirteen, Joan began hearing voices accompanied by blazes of light. At first, the voices told her to go to church and to be good. Later, Joan identified the voices as Saint Michael the Archangel, as well as Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Margaret of Antioch, both of whom were popular at the time. They spoke to Joan often, and eventually became visible to her as well. They told her that she was to lead an army against the English, come to the rescue of the French at Orleans, which was under siege, and to have Charles VII, who by that time was no longer an infant but still a child, crowned king of France.

Joan protested that she was just a young girl, without military training or the ability to lead an army. The voices persuaded her that it was God’s will so, in 1428, Joan’s uncle took her to meet with the commander of the remaining French forces. She explained her mission but was rejected by the French commander, who demanded that she return home.

She was back the following year and was able to get an audience with the heir to the throne of France. Eventually, she received permission to lead a military expedition, fulfilling a prophecy that a virgin maiden would come from the forests of Lorraine to lead the king to victory and restore all of France. Although by all accounts, English forces were far superior, Joan demanded that the English forces withdraw from France. When the English refused, she and her forces entered Orleans, a city that had long been under siege, bolstering the morale of the French defenders, who captured all of the surrounding English forts within a few days.

On June 17, 1429, Charles VII was crowned king of France, with Joan standing at his side in full armor. King Charles VII raised Joan and her family to the class of nobles. When hostilities resumed nearly a year later, Joan’s voices told her that she would be taken prisoner. As she had been told, she was captured by the English on May 24, 1830.

For reasons that are unclear, King Charles VII refused an opportunity to exchange her for a prisoner held by the French. Enraged by her military successes, the English charged her with being a witch and a heretic. A tribunal of theologians and doctors was empaneled, most of whom were English supporters, and she was questioned about her visions, the voices, and her choice to wear men’s clothing. She was charged with seventy counts of sorcery, heresy, prophesying, conjuring, and divining, but that number was later reduced to twelve.

Ordered to recant, she refused. A couple of months later, a stake was erected in Saint Owen cemetery upon which she was to be burned. Joan’s courage failed, and she signed a retraction, stating that her voices were lies and agreeing to wear only women’s clothing.

While still in prison, she resumed wearing men’s clothing. Although there were stories that her jailers had left her with none other than men’s apparel, she was condemned as a relapsed heretic and sentenced to be burned at the stake. The next morning, she was led to the stake, dressed in a long white garment and wearing a mitre cap upon which were written the words, “Heretic, Relapsed, Apostate, Idolator.” She asked for a cross to hold. She called out “Jesus” until the end, and the legend is that her heart did not burn but was found whole in the ashes. An English soldier swore that he saw a white dove rise up our of the fire. Joan was nineteen years old.

In 1454, Joan’s mother and brothers appealed to the Vatican to reopen the case, and Pope Callistus III appointed a commission to reexamine the proceedings. The pope’s appellate panel reversed and annulled the sentence on July 7, 1456. In 1909, she was beatified by Pope Saint Pius X, and she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

Saint Joan of Arc is the patron saint of captives, martyrs, people opposed to Church authorities, people ridiculed for piety, rape victims, servicewomen, and France.

 

 

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