(Feast: May 30)
Burned alive for what some would call ‘hardcore’ devotion to Christ, Joan was only 19 when she died – rejected by her own people. Joan’s life has been made legendary since then. So, what facts do we know about the patron saint of prisoners?
The Faithful Maid
Saint Joan was born on January 6, 1412, in the village of Domremy to Jacques and Isabelle d’Arc. Joan was the youngest of their five children. While growing up among the fields and pastures of her village, she was called Jeannette but when she entered into her mission, her name was changed to Jeanne, la Pucelle, in English – Joan, the Maid.
As a child, she was taught domestic skills as well as her religion by her mother. Joan would later say, “As for spinning and sewing, I fear no woman in Rouen.” And again, “It was my mother alone who taught me the ‘Our Father’ and ‘Hail Mary’ and the ‘Creed;’ and from none other was I taught my faith.”
From her earliest of years Joan was known for her obedience to her parents, religious fervor, goodness, unselfish generosity and kindness toward her neighbors. Simonin Munier, one of Joan’s childhood friends, tells how Joan had nursed him back to health when he was sick. Some of her playmates teased her for being ‘too pious.’ Others remembered how she would give up her bed to the homeless stranger who came to her father’s door asking for shelter.
“I place trust in God, my creator, in all things; I love Him with all my heart.” – Jeanne
She was ‘like all the others’ in her village until age 13. “When I was about thirteen, I received revelation from Our Lord by a voice which told me to be good and attend church often and that God would help me.” She stated that her ‘Voices’ were Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. At first her ‘Voices’ came to her two or three times a week, but five years later, they visited her daily telling her to ‘Go into France’ to militarily raise the siege of Orleans, conduct the Dauphin Charles to Reims for his crowning, and to drive the English from the land.
Joan went to the neighboring town of Vaucouleurs, which means Valley of Many Colors. There, she spoke to the loyal French governor by the name of Sir Robert de Baudricourt. After many rejections, he finally agreed to send her to the Dauphin who at the time was living at the castle of Chinon.
On the evening of February 23, 1429, she began her military mission for God. In the company of six men, she rode through the Gate of France on her way to Chinon. Joan reached this town on March 6th, but was not received by Dauphin Charles, until the evening of March 9th.
After being accepted and approved by a Church council headed by the Archbishop of Reims, Joan was allowed to lead the Dauphin’s army. This part of her career was meteoric. She entered Orleans on the evening of April 29th and by May 8th the city had been freed from captivity of the English army. The Loire campaign started on June 9th and by June 19th the English were driven out of the Loire valley. The march to Reims started on June 29th and by July 17th Charles was crowned King of France in the cathedral of Reims.
Rejected and Imprisoned
From this time on, for reasons known only to King Charles, the king no longer valued Joan’s advice and guidance. She had always told him that God had given her ‘a year and a little longer’ to accomplish His will but the king seemed to take no notice of it. For almost a year he wasted what time remained to Joan, until in frustration, she left the court. Her last military campaign lasted from the middle of March until she was captured at the town of Compiegne on May 23rd, 1430. Her ‘year and a little longer’ was over.
Abandoned by her king and friends, she started her year of captivity. As a prisoner of the Burgundians she was treated fairly but that all changed when on November 21st, 1430, she was handed over the English. How she survived their harsh treatment of her is a miracle in itself.
The English not only wanted to kill Joan (who was a hero to the French people) but they also wanted to discredit King Charles as a false king by having Joan condemned by the Church as a witch and a heretic. To obtain this goal, the English used only Church authorities who were corrupt and devoted to the English officials. The staunchest of these was Bishop Cauchon.
Joan’s trial of condemnation lasted from February 21st until May 23rd. She was finally burnt at the stake in Rouen’s market square on May 30th, 1431. Her final request: “Hold the crucifix up before my eyes so I may see it until I die.”
Twenty-five years later the findings of Joan’s first trial were overturned and declared ‘null and void’ by another Church court. It was not until 1920 that the Church of Rome officially declared Joan to be a saint.
Watch the acclaimed film
Too few of us are aware that a committee of bishops called the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, in 1995, released a list of important films. These represent “many worthwhile productions during the first hundred years of [films’] existence.” Number 3 on the list: La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (The Passion of Joan of Arc) – a silent 1928 film with breathtaking actress Renée Jeanne Falconetti as the star. We highly recommend this film, to understand more about the heroic woman whom we ask for heavenly help.
Saint Joan of Arc, pray for us – for prisoners, ex-convicts, and all Christians – that we may live as disciples of the Risen Lord Jesus!